LINGUIST List 9.1540

Tue Nov 3 1998

Disc: German Spelling Reform

Editor for this issue: Brett Churchill <brettlinguistlist.org>


Directory

  1. Andrew Carstairs-McCarthy, German spelling variants
  2. Peter T. Daniels, Re: 9.1528, Disc: German Spelling Reform
  3. Robert Hoberman, Spelling

Message 1: German spelling variants

Date: Wed, 04 Nov 1998 09:59:34 +1300
From: Andrew Carstairs-McCarthy <a.carstairs-mccarthyling.canterbury.ac.nz>
Subject: German spelling variants

One aspect of the recent German spelling reform is that certain variant
spellings are now permitted as equally 'correct'. So I wonder if some of
the hostility to the reform could be generated by a factor which hasn't
been mentioned in the discussion yet but which linguists should have
something to say about, namely dislike of absolute synonymy.

A synonymy avoidance urge seems to be well documented by developmental
psycholinguists during vocabulary acquisition in childhood (see e.g. Eve
Clark _The Lexicon in Acquisition_). But allowing variant spellings will
yield two or more written forms which are *supposed to be* exactly
synonymous. Could it be that that goes against the grain for reasons quite
unconnected with orthographic conservatism or elitism?

In English, in the few instances where there are 'official' variant
spellings, there seems to be an urge to differentiate them semantically or
syntactically. Thus e.g. _dependant_ vs. _dependent_, _practice_ vs.
_practise_. Some dictionaries will tell you that (non-US) _enquiry_ and
_inquiry_ mean the same; but there's a tendency now in Britain to use
_inquiry_ for an official government investigation, etc., _enquiry_ for a
common-or-garden question.

In _Language Problems and Language Planning_, Einar Haugen said (if I
remember right) that, in Norway, an attempt to get nynorsk and bokmal to
converge by tolerating in each norm some 'radical' forms which were more
like the other norm only made matters worse. People behaved as if there
were now not two norms but four, for conservative and radical nynorsk and
bokmal respectively!

Of course, once upon a time spelling was a free-for-all in most languages.
But now that the idea of a spelling norm has taken hold, perhaps one effect
is that liberalising the norm runs up against an ingrained aversion to
exact synonymy.

Andrew Carstairs-McCarthy
Associate Professor
Department of Linguistics, University of Canterbury, Private Bag 4800,
Christchurch, New Zealand
phone (work) +64-3-364 2211; (home) +64-3-355 5108
fax +64-3-364 2969
e-mail a.c-mccling.canterbury.ac.nz
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Message 2: Re: 9.1528, Disc: German Spelling Reform

Date: Mon, 02 Nov 1998 12:25:38 -0500
From: Peter T. Daniels <grammatimworldnet.att.net>
Subject: Re: 9.1528, Disc: German Spelling Reform

> From: "John R. Rennison" <johnling.univie.ac.at>
> Subject: Re: 9.1517, Disc: German Spelling
>
> Peter T. Daniels wrote
> 
> "> 1. One-to-one correspondence between segments and graphemes. (It's
> > possible with the existing alphabet.)
> 
> Then every dialect has its own spelling?"
> 
> Yes, of course it has. But assuming that a standard language also has a 
pronunciation, then the standard spelling will be the spelling of that 
"dialect".

Is the suggestion, then, that every compositor become a specialist in
German dialects, so as to interpret each writer's idiosyncratic regional
spellings when putting their writings into standard spelling for
publication throughout the Germanophone world?

> "> 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!"
> 
> Yes indeed. Double vowels for long vowels (Dutch), a single symbol for "sch"
 (Polish -- at least for the palatalized one. But Czech and Serbo-Croatian 
would be better).

Picking this or that good feature from this or that neighboring language
is hardly a move toward compatibility. Changing German <sch> to Polish
<s'> (if that's the suggestion) doesn't increase compatibility with
Dutch spelling.

> "> 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."
> 
> I thought "swim - swam - swum" had different vowels. But the point is that 
no one needs it anyway. Kids get by fine with the spoken language. I didn't 
mention the fact that English has a lousy spelling system because I thought 
most linguists were aware of that.

I wasn't thinking of English's handful of strong verbs; I was thinking
of such standard examples as <photograph/photography/photographic>,
where the spelling of the base doesn't change as it goes through vowel
and stress alternations in its derivations.

(I suspect more linguists are sympathetic with the famous and perhaps a
bit exaggerated Chomsky/Halle judgment that English orthography is "near
optimal" than with other possible positions. In particular a
surface-phonetic orthography would be particularly unwise given
English's complicated morphophonemics and wide dialectal variation.)

> Finally -- if we're only discussing this so that German can "get by", then 
we don't need a reform at all. But if we reform the spelling, couldn't it be 
to something that linguists CAN subscribe to?

Not as the profession of linguistics has constituted itself for the past
century or more: as describers, not prescribers. It is simply outside
our brief. Of course it would be laudable for those who do feel the need
to tinker with their language's orthographic heritage to learn something
of its history and of linguistic methods and findings!
- 
Peter T. Daniels			grammatimworldnet.att.net
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Message 3: Spelling

Date: Tue, 3 Nov 1998 11:48:01 -0500
From: Robert Hoberman <rdhobermannotes.cc.sunysb.edu>
Subject: Spelling

It emerges from recent postings that one feature of the German spelling
reform is that some variation will now be acceptable. I'm wondering how
widespread such flexibility is in other languages. For instance, in modern
Hebrew in Israel there is considerable variation in the use of the letters
<v> and <y> to represent the vowels /u, o/ and /i, e/ respectively, as well
as doubling of those letters to represent the consonants /v/ and /y/. In
many words everyone would write <v> or <y>, in other words no one would,
but in many cases there is variation even among highly educated writers.
Although the Academy of the Hebrew Language has issued official rules, some
major, high-quality book and newspaper publishers have their own standards
which deviate from the Academy's rules. In other respects the spelling is
quite uniform. Does this kind of situation exist in other standardized
languages, languages with large-scale educational establishments and
publishing?

Bob Hoberman
robert.hobermansunysb.edu
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