LINGUIST List 9.1520

Sat Oct 31 1998

Disc: German Spelling Reform

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>


  1. Peter T. Daniels, Re: 9.1517, Disc: German Spelling
  2. Patrick C. Ryan, RE: 9.1517, Disc: German Spelling
  3. Patrick C. Ryan, RE: 9.1518, Disc: German Spelling Reform
  4. manaster, Re: 9.1517, Disc: German Spelling

Message 1: Re: 9.1517, Disc: German Spelling

Date: Fri, 30 Oct 1998 18:49:43 -0500
From: Peter T. Daniels <>
Subject: Re: 9.1517, Disc: German Spelling

> From: "John R. Rennison" <>
> Some linguistic criteria that could be used are:
> 1. One-to-one correspondence between segments and graphemes. (It's
> possible with the existing alphabet.)

Then every dialect has its own spelling?

> 2. Compatibility with the spelling systems of other
> (esp. neighbouring) languages.

You mean, German should be spelled more like Dutch, Danish, or Polish? I
don't think so!

> And some pseudo-linguistic criteria that could be abandoned are:
> 1. Lexical morphemes should always be spelled the same way. (Untenable
> for ablaut verbs anyway)

This one has stood English in good stead for quite a few centuries. And
offhand I can think of two ways to accomplish it: invent a new set of
vowel symbols, each representing one ablaut-relation; or omit the vowels
in some or all syllables. This works fine for Arabic (and I also
suggested it for the Mayan language Chuj).

(Were there additional ones besides (1)? The introductory clause
suggests there were.)


> From: Ralf <>
> Subject: Re: 9.1511, Disc: German Spelling Reform
> and there is no discussion of the (ridiculous)
> RULE itself, namely to write nouns with a capital letter at the
> beginning (the argument for "better readability" being a claim, not a
> fact): "Der Hund spielt mit dem Ball." -- This rule is a major
> difficulty for L1 and L2 learners, and it has no plausible linguistic
> background. The "Hauptwort" (noun) is not the "main" word of the
> sentence, it is not "main" in any respect, and, additionally, there are
> nouns which are less noun than other nouns, e.g. "anderes" in "etwas
> anderes", or "bezug" in the phrase "in bezug auf" (which should perhaps
> be written "inbezugauf"); or infinitives ("das Loben": *"Er ist ihn
> Loben gegangen / lobengegangen" (?)); or single Demonstrative articles
> (*"geht Der jetzt" (?)); etc.. It makes electronic processing of texts
> more difficult, and it is not in line with the standards of ALL other
> culturally proximate european languages using the same alphabet. [and it
> was common among the Grimms, f.ex.]

All nouns were capitalized in English in the 17th-18th centuries; for a
time, all proper nouns, moreover, were italicized. This latter was the
usage in the Transactions of the Royal Society in the 1680s, at least,
and I don't know when or why either practice was given up. Certainly it
doesn't interfere with reading.

> Thus, I would prefer orthography to be CONSEQUENTLY reformed by
> linguists, 

The English for "konsequent" is "consistent(ly)." ("Consequently" means
'therefore', 'as a consequence'.)

(Speaking of faux amis, the English word "terminology" doesn't have the
same meaning as in French or, apparently, other European languages; I'm
pretty sure the conference(s) announced yesterday(?) deal with

> From: "Jens S. Larsen" <>
> Subject: Re: 9.1511, Disc: German Spelling Reform
> > Date: Wed, 28 Oct 1998 18:11:54 -0500
> > From: "Peter T. Daniels" <>
> > Subject: Re: 9.1504, Disc: German Spelling Reform
> >
> > Why should spelling be a matter of legislation?
> Because legislation is a matter of spelling.

?? Maybe this one should go to the sci.lang newsgroup (where we met).
Peter T. Daniels
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Message 2: RE: 9.1517, Disc: German Spelling

Date: Fri, 30 Oct 1998 20:16:42 -0600
From: Patrick C. Ryan <>
Subject: RE: 9.1517, Disc: German Spelling

> -------------------------------- Message 2 -------------------------------
> Date: Thu, 29 Oct 1998 18:47:56 +0100
> From: Ralf <>
> Subject: Re: 9.1511, Disc: German Spelling Reform
> Certainly, I would not follow "right-wing argumentations" for keeping
> the German orthography as it was (since 1901). The 'hidden agenda' of
> conservatives was made clear in what Haspelmath stated earlier in this
> disc: social discrimination of those not knowing the rules.
> Interregional understandability is certainly much less important than
> this sociological function.

It is with the deepest sadness that I am forced to note from these remarks
that communist dogma can be espoused by a linguist in modern German-speaking

What this writer will obviously never be capable of understanding is that
discrimination when choosing employees is only rational selection for
demonstrated abilities by a prejudicially inspired ideological label.

It seems almost too trivial to mention but a person who cannot master the
rules of spelling of a language like German, which is predominantly
phonetically coordinated, will also most probably not be able to use simple
arithmatic, or have acquired the common body of cultural information that
would make him a compatible team-member with fellow-workers who have the
normal range of learning abilities.

Who in his right mind can possibly believe that a company which values its
employees could possibly put a rotten apple in the barrel to sour all the
fresh apples?


> Only (conservative) institutions deciding on the basis of the mastery of
> orthographic (and other) rules whether a person can be considered --
> 'disciplined enough' (to have learned and accepted them), I suppose, in
> order to become a member of their ingroup...

People who cannot spell do not belong in an ingroup with any but those like
them who perform the simple tasks that require minimal interpersonal skills,
and little or no intelligence.

 And this is in constant
> contradiction to -- life. So, IMHO, I am not entirely sure about the
> necessity for a reform, but if confronted with the obvious "will" for a
> reform, I would propose to make a REFORM and NOT THAT.
> Finally, I would like to mention that the whole notion of "reform" as
> such accepts that there is or should be a "standard", and I want to
> remind the readers that a 150 years ago, orthography was more a personal
> characteristics -- which is sometimes vital even today for philologists
> when determining the authorship of manuscripts...

As those know who have to read these documents, lack of uniform spelling
sometimes creates decisive ambiguities.

Surely, universal elementary education was instituted in civilized nations
to avoid just those ambiguities among other goals.

 At that time, I think,
> there was simply not enough "problem consciousness"... The REAL
> (sociolinguistic) problem lies "inside": nobody needs a standard, nobody
> needs a reform.

Anarchy is very attractive to some disturbed individuals but societies that
espouse it, even partially, like the former Union of Soviet Socialist
Republics, inevitably die a painful death. These misguided doctrines should
be opposed by every clear-thinking individual, linguist or not!

The real problem is just that in our culture orthography
> is one of the features with which people are "measured", i.e.
> discriminated.

Selection by measurement and observation of demonstrated learning ability is
perfectly legitimate for any society aspiring to be rational.

 If we stop doing this, we need no longer get headaches
> about a reform; orthography could well be a self-organizing system as in
> the old times...

The punch-line: the myth of the communist Utopia. Over 50 years of misery
and some have learned nothing.

Ralf, believe whatever you personally wish to believe, but please do not
infect Germany with this suicidial virus.

> Ralf or Ralph or ralf or ralph

> Ralf Vollmann
> Institute of Linguistics
> University of Graz
> Merangasse 70
> A-8010 Graz
> Austria



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Message 3: RE: 9.1518, Disc: German Spelling Reform

Date: Fri, 30 Oct 1998 20:16:50 -0600
From: Patrick C. Ryan <>
Subject: RE: 9.1518, Disc: German Spelling Reform

> -------------------------------- Message 2 -------------------------------
> Date: Thu, 29 Oct 1998 18:46:06 -0500
> From: "Peter T. Daniels" <>
> Subject: Re: 9.1511, Disc: German Spelling Reform
> > From: "Patrick C. Ryan" <>
> >
> > Personally, I favor phonetic spelling of English so that GHOTI cannot be
> > read as /fish/ as GBS correctly observed it could be.
> <GHOTI> cannot be read as /fiS/, regardless of what the ill-informed
> Shaw suggested.

After having read what Shaw has written and what you have only edited, my
personal judgment is that George Bernard Shaw *demonstrated* a breadth of
knowledge that you may have but have never (been able to demonstrate?)

GBS is one of the greatest literary figures of English literature, and for
you, who has no status as a writer or a literary critic, to characterize him
as "ill-informed" shows utmost poor judgment.

 <gh> represents [f] only in the context <ou__> (and then
> only in a handful of forms);

Perhaps if Peter was a writer, he might know that the above is, of course,
expectedly incorrect. The last time I checked, educated people pronounced
<laugh> as /laf/. Does he spell this word *lough?

<o> represents [i] in a single, truly
> anomalous form, <women>;

Well, Peter did know that word.

 and <ti> represents [S] in a readily
> identifiable closed set of Latinate suffixes (details available in any
> compendium on English spelling).

Again, Peter should stick to editing what other say about writing systems.

The word <partial>, for example, is composed of the stem part- and the
suffix -ia:l-. Many speakers pronounce it /par-sh6l/.

In fact, it is a generally observable phenomenon for palatalized apicals
(and dorsals) to be fricatized.

> Shaw was simply wrong to suggest that an orthography must or should be
> surface-phonetic,

I find "simply" insufficient to persuade me that GBS' suggestion was poorly

 and the Shaw Alphabet devised under the terms of his
> will is singularly ill suited for the representation of English (because
> of insufficiently distinct letterforms,

I think that a reader of Chinese might immediately disagree. Small
differences can be perecived as easily as larger ones with proper teaching.

 in addition to the entirely
> non-morph(ophon)emic approach to spelling).

I am not sure what this means to Peter, so I cannot comment.

> Peter T. Daniels


> -------------------------------- Message 3 -------------------------------
> Date: Fri, 30 Oct 1998 08:50:07 +0000
> From: Martin Haspelmath <>
> Subject: Disc: Spelling Reform


> Patrick Ryan writes:
> Where is the disaster? Students with normal learning abilities have
> been mastering it for centuries.
> Yes, SOME students. But until a few decades ago, only the rich have been
> able to afford learning to read and write.

Not in this country, Professor Haspelmath, as I though any educated European
might know.

 Nowadays, everybody goes to
> school and most people learn to read, but few English-speaking people
> learn to spell their language correctly (of course, except for those
> whose professional work includes formal writing, i.e. everybody who is
> reading this posting).

With the truly disastrous changes in the method of teaching English spelling
which were instituted some years ago, students were required to supplement
their class learning with adaptations of the rational method of teaching
spelling which worked perfectly for several hundred years (phonics).

The "progressive reforms" were disastrous, and in districts still dominated
by educational ideologues, thank goodness, most families can afford phonics
materials to correct the unreal thinking of educators who refuse to see the

> I find a spelling system more democratic that gives everyone equal
> access to reading AND writing.

I am not sure that someone writing from Leipzig understands completely what
is meant by "democratic" in English. As for democracy in this context,
parents universally opposed the introdiction of non-phonic methods of
learning spelling, and were shamed into silence by the experts, whose ideas
have been completely discredited operationally.

But, standardized spelling was instituted in the first place to give
everyone equal access to written materials. Not everyone solves the riddles
posed by ignorant spellings equally well.

Of course, there are few such writing
> systems (Finnish and Serbo-Croatian are probably exceptional among major
> national languages), but that's because writing has rarely been
> "democratic" in the past.

Nor should it be in your non-English sense of "democratic" in the future.
Have you not learned that anarchy does not work well?

> As Gisbert Fanselow said in the context of the German spelling reform
> discussion, it's no accident that by and large, progressive observers
> have supported the reform, whereas the opponents have been
> conservatives.

Progressive, here, is a euphemism, for unregenerate communist.

> Martin Haspelmath
> Max-Planck-Institut fuer evolutionaere Anthropologie, Leipzig


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Message 4: Re: 9.1517, Disc: German Spelling

Date: Fri, 30 Oct 1998 22:16:30 -0500 (EST)
From: manaster <>
Subject: Re: 9.1517, Disc: German Spelling

I am puzzled by John Rennison's statement:

"Alexis Manaster-Ramer, Martin Haspelmath and Gisbert Fanselow make
several interesting points, but given the international coverage of
the Linguist List and the claim of Linguistics to universality, much
of what they say is (forgive me -- I say it as a citizen of Austria,
where German is the official language) parochial.
Put pointedly: Not only were the people who "reformed" German
spelling not linguists; not a single linguistic criterion has
been used in the so-called reform."

I never said that the reformers were linguists. What I said
was that people in Germany blame the linguists and asked
whether they were right to do so. I also pointed out
that my information was very limited and based solely
on Der Spiegel, which is hardly a parochial publication
to be sure. 

Anyway, what is so parochial about an American reading
a German magazine or calling for the topic of German
spelling reform to be discussed on this list? And the
response has hardly been parochial. Certainly Haspelmath
and Fanselow do not live in the same parish as me.


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