LINGUIST List 9.1504

Wed Oct 28 1998

Disc: German Spelling Reform

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>


  1. Martin Haspelmath, Re: 9.1493, Disc: The Fight over German Spelling
  2. Gisbert Fanselow, Spelling reform in Germany
  3. Karin Laton, Germany 'Looking for Information?'

Message 1: Re: 9.1493, Disc: The Fight over German Spelling

Date: Mon, 26 Oct 1998 08:57:51 +0000
From: Martin Haspelmath <>
Subject: Re: 9.1493, Disc: The Fight over German Spelling

The ongoing discussion over German spelling reform is indeed
fascinating, and I have wondered for some time why nobody brought it up

For those who haven't heard about it yet:
On September 27th, 1998, a referendum on spelling reform was held in the
German state of Schlesiwg-Holstein, and the reform proposal was flatly
rejected (56%, I think).
(Since the other German states and the other German-writing countries
are carrying through the reform, we now have the situation of an
orthographic schism.)

I think that putting the "blame" for the reform on linguists isn't
completely wrong. Since Jacob Grimm's time, the majority of linguists
have had the feeling that German spelling is improvable, and there have
been numerous proposals. But of course the main "culprits" are educators
- they wanted to simplify the German spelling system in order to allow
more time for students to learn other things. In contrast to linguists,
they have political clout.

As far as "democratization of linguistic correctness" (Alexis's
desideratum) is concerned, many linguists have argued that the spelling
reform will give us exactly that: One of the main purposes of the reform
was to introduce more variant forms, and thereby greater liberalization.
Once you have this, it becomes more difficult to judge a person only on
the grounds of their spelling abilities (as often happens in selecting
someone for a job, even if the job does not involve writing at all).

The opponents of the reform have not really been interested in a
democratic process, because everyone knows that if a law passed by
parliament were required for spelling reform, there would be no such
reform (in Germany, all 16 state parliaments would have to pass the
law). The opponents' sole goal has been to stick to the Kaiser's
spelling rules (the current rules go back to 1901) and prevent any kind
of modernization, or, worse, liberalizaation.

Of course, spelling reform isn't popular, because people don't want to
get used to new rules. And for the non-linguist, wurds ritten in a nue
spelling simply look strainge.

In my view, linguists have indeed failed -- they have not accompanied
the reform with a broad public-relations offensive, explaining to the
public why certain ways of spelling are better than others, and why the
alternative (never changing anything, as in English spelling) would have
desastrous effects.


Dr. Martin Haspelmath (
Max-Planck-Institut fuer evolutionaere Anthropologie, Inselstr. 22
D-04103 Leipzig (Tel. (MPI) +49-341-9952 307, (priv.) +49-341-980 1616)
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Message 2: Spelling reform in Germany

Date: Mon, 26 Oct 1998 11:50:28 +0100 (MET)
From: Gisbert Fanselow <>
Subject: Spelling reform in Germany

Just three remarks on spelling reform

(1) Originally, the reform was desinged by experts,
including linguists, but there was a whole lot
of political intervention (the Bavarian minister of
culture fighting against new spellings for certain
words) so that some (most??) of the experts
dropped out of the process

(2) People blame politicians and bureaucrats, not
linguists. People don't know linguists exist. Linguists
did not say a whole lot in the debate. Writers &
journalists did

(3) Note it is, in my perception at least, RIGHT wing
people who resist spelling reform. They do not
think that 
"the German-writing people at large have
the right to determine the spelling" but rather they
want to impose their own concept of the purity
of the language onto others. 
Personally, I feel people should be less concerned
about this writing reforn that just affects schools. Nobody
would have to care about it really - and by simply ignoring 
it, a democratic way of determinigspelling would come about.

Gisbert Fanselow
Linguist - tough job, but someone's gotta do it. 

Linguistics Department
University of Potsdam 
P.O. Box 601553 
D-14415 Potsdam 
Fon: x49-331-977-2446
Fax: x49-331-977-2761
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Message 3: Germany 'Looking for Information?'

Date: Wed, 28 Oct 1998 14:15:46 +0100
From: Karin Laton <>
Subject: Germany 'Looking for Information?'

Please see our homepage
for detailed information on the subject "New German Spelling",
or write to:
Dr. Klaus Heller, Geschftsfhrer
der Zwischenstaatlichen Kommission fr deutsche Rechtschreibung
am Institut fr deutsche Sprache (IDS)
Postfach 10 16 21
D-68016 Mannheim/Germany

Sekretariat der Geschftsstelle der
Zwischenstaatlichen Kommission fr 
deutsche Rechtschreibung am IDS

Geschftsfhrer: Dr. Klaus Heller
Postfach 10 16 21
D-68016 Mannheim

Tel.: 0621/1581-418 (Heller)
Tel./Fax: -406 (Sekretariat)
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