German spelling reform / Rechtschreibreform

Last weekend there were traffic jams on the northbound motorways as the school holidays came to an end in some parts of Germany. It was a brilliant tactic by the Axel Springer Verlag and Der Spiegel to dump the spelling reform at this time. I remember thinking to myself that the German authors were a bit slow to come out against it after it had started at schools. I wonder how many extra copies Der Spiegel sold today?

And it’s a perfect topic for discussion in the dog days, meatier than most. My favourite idea is a referendum. I wonder what percentage of those who would be referendumed can spell anyway? Translators’ mailing lists have been polarized on the topic for days. Either you are waving a flag and jumping for joy, or you are muttering about the poor children who would have to relearn everything.

Taccuino di traduzione links to Arts & Letters Daily, whence we see that the topic has hit the English-language press too. It’s often referred to as German language reforms’, perhaps because people can’t understand the excitement elicited by mere spelling, and certainly not in the singular. Marcel Reich-Ranicki apparently called the reform ‘a national catastrophe’ – I suppose he doesn’t care too much about the Swiss and Austrians. Here he is in the Guardian version:

bq. Leading literary critic Marcel Reich-Ranicki dismissed the changes last week as a ‘national catastrophe’. In an essay, he declared: ‘Chaos has broken out … In no other major European country is the gap so deep between the language of the people and the language of literature.’

Surely he must be speaking about Switzerland here? We have to interpret ‘major’ to work that one out.

At the moment taz and Frankfurter Rundschau are keeping to the new system. I like the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, which says it never used all the reform suggestions. The paper was always somewhat sceptical of the reform and treated some changes as desirable and some not. It published a guide to its own approach in May 2000 – see here. The NZZ departs from the reform in cases like sitzenbleiben, for instance, keeping sitzen bleiben for remaining seated and sitzenbleiben for the figurative use, meaning to repeat a year at school.

(Of course the Swiss don’t use ß but ss, which would have helped the German translator who proudly wrote that she decided long ago to use the new spelling and is sticking to it – and ended her message with Grüsse, which of course is not permitted in either old or new spelling except in Switzerland).

I am a bit uncertain on this topic. I tend to agree that the reform should be kept in part, but I can see there are problems in replacing two systems by multiple. However, it definitely makes the news more fun. The other main topic in Germany is whether, if you demonstrate against Schröder on Monday, you can call it a Monday Demonstration, recalling those that helped end the German Democratic Republic. I suppose if they demonstrated on Tuesday it would be just as reminiscent.

4 thoughts on “German spelling reform / Rechtschreibreform

  1. I would only call it a Monday Demonstration if it _didn’t_ happen on a Monday, personally, otherwise you risk persons mistaking a kind of demonstration for a mere quirk of scheduling.

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