LINGUIST List 7.455

Mon Mar 25 1996

Sum: German Orthography reform

Editor for this issue: T. Daniel Seely <>


  1. "GAVIN O'SHEA (LINGUISTICS) PG", Summary-German Orthography reform

Message 1: Summary-German Orthography reform

Date: Mon, 25 Mar 1996 09:57:32 GMT
Subject: Summary-German Orthography reform
A few weeks ago I posted a query on the List with regard to the
proposed spelling changes of German, with a question on the
electronic transcription of German, as well as any other language
that people might be familiar with. I received 22 replies in total.
The influence of the media used was in evidence as many of the replies
dealt only with the e-mail question. I hope I replied adequately to
all responses, if not, or if your name is missing from the list of
respondants below, my apologies. Thanks to all who contributed.

1) On the main question, that of German spelling reform, there were
14 specific responses, of which only 3 were for spelling reform in
general in German, 3 more felt reform could be needed, but that the
recent proposals were not what was required. Seven were more or less
against reform, with one reply non-committal, though noting that
others felt a need for change.
Reasons given against changes included disturbing the natural
progression of the language (which will change in its own time), or
where moves to a too-phonetic spelling would have consequences on
dialectal pronunciation; on the for side, ease of learning for
children and those with learning diffuculties was the main response.

2) On the subject of e-mail, there were 16 responses for German, 6
for other languages.
I asked if <ae, ss> were the most common way of sending umlauts and
eszett (or 'sharfes es' or even 'dreierlei-es' as it has also been called
(this latter from M. Hiller in Tubingen)), and what might be

<ae, oe, ue> (which in a written context are historically accurate,
and are also the forms recommended by the Duden) were far and away the most
 common forms used by the
respondants with 10 using these. However, some respondants either use
, or noted the use of <"a, "o, "e> or <a", o", u"> (which apparantly
in some cases has to do with TeX (I'm afraid I'm not that well up on
the computer jargon!)). The use of MIME characters, which apparantly
allows the transfer of special characters is on the increase.

<ss> is the preferred choice of 12 of the respondants (and is also
the Duden method, where the ligature is not available), just two said
they regularly use <sz>, although two more noted it was more
widespread in Austria. B. Kellner described how, in learning the
ligature as a child, it was taught as <sz>, from which the children
then progressed onto <ss>, so for her <sz> is a bit like child
language! Other ways noted for encoding eszett (how do you spell that
anyway (I got 3 different spellings for it!) were <"s> (G. Toops) and
</3> (M. Nullmeier).

3) As for other languages, there were just a few responses:
D. Jauntirans said that personally in Latvian e-mail, accents could
be ignored, though others use <'> for softening sign etc, M. Picard noted that
 in French e-mail accents are mostly dropped (I
wonder what that does to the people in the Acadamie?);
F. Lessing gave the example of the use of <h> in Portuguese, where
the accent or lack of it is distinctive e.g. esta 'this' v. estah
B. Chapman on Esperanto said that the circumflex over <g, c> becomes
an <x> or also <h>, thus <gx, cx>, <gh, ch> whilst in Welsh it tends to
In Danish, </> and <|> are used for the specific letters (H.
Haberland), and Irish uses </> for an acute accent.

Extensive surveys of Diacritics in e-mail for Hungarian and
transliteration from Slavic were sent in by P. Svigeta and G.H.
Toops respectively, they are however a little too long to go into
here. Should anyone like to see them, I can, if the autheors do not
object, certainly forward them on.
Interesting was that Hungarian also breaks down the umlaut <o> to
<oe>, for example, but that other methods have been more recently
developed, such as the TeX method </"o> for umlaut <o> or a
computational linguist's idea for codification which numbers the
accents, thus o-umlaut is <o2>.

Thus it stands. According to most recent reports (e.g Die Welt
07/03/96, there is nothing now to stop a reform of German
orthography as of 1998, at least as long as Austria and Switzerland are in
accordance (which will be decided in the |Summer). It is a move
which, as far as can be seen here neither enjoies very widespread
support, nor causes the same disbelief or outrage as previous
proposals have done.
On the other hand, the use of a number of variants in e-mail systems
suggests that it won't be too long before some kind of single system
might be introduced or conventionalised, although it may, who knows,
remain an area where one can vent one's disapproval at the rigidity of
modern life, and rebel against the system!

The following are those who kindly responded:
G. Daniel Bugel;
Hartmut Haberland;
Fred Lessing;
Suzanne K. Hilgendorf; s-hilgenuiuc-edu
Werner Richter;
Daina Jauntirans;
Birgit Kellner;
Clodagh Lynam;
Peter Szigetva; (sorry Peter, thats the best
I could do with the accents!)
Ocke Bohn;
Vanessa Will;
J"org Knappen; KNAPPENVKPMZD.kph.Uni-Mainz.DE
John M. Jeep;
Marc Picard;

Thanks again Gavin O Se
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