New spelling is madneß, say angry Germans

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The Independent Online

Law-abiding Germans don't need to be reminded to recycle their tins or to wait patiently when the little red man shows at a pedestrian crossing.

Law-abiding Germans don't need to be reminded to recycle their tins or to wait patiently when the little red man shows at a pedestrian crossing.

But tell dutiful citizens that they must now spell "spaghetti" without an "h", or write "Afro-look" without a hyphen, and they are prone to yank their children from school, start a petition, and take the case against orthographic reform to the highest court in the land.

A wave of angst swept the country after a government-supported spelling reform was first publicised in 1995. The new orthography, which finally took effect in schools and state offices two years ago, has been met with a barrage of court cases, petitions and polemics - all to no avail.

Now Germany's leading newspaper has reopened the debate by declaring that on Tuesday it will revert to the old spellings. The conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, renowned for its verbose journalism, justified the decision by announcing that the reform had failed. Instead of simplifying matters, the newspaper claimed, the new rules only confused the public.

Christian Democrat Dietrich Austermann suggested that the Bundestag should debate the issue, and his colleague Norbert Geis called the new orthography "an unnecessary reform that's not accepted by the people. Stamp it out as fast as possible." In the early Nineties, linguists of the three German-speaking countries drew up proposals to simplify a language in which compound words can contain half-a-dozen elements. The reform was never codified in law, but rather approved by culture officials of the German, Austrian and Swiss governments.

At the Frankfurt Book Fair in 1996, some 100 German writers launched an attack on the proposed changes. Ordinary citizens started petitions, and voters in the state of Schleswig-Holstein rejected the reform in a referendum.

The new rules include significant changes in capitalisation; the old-fashioned double "s" - a letter that resembles the cursive Greek letter Beta - is replaced by "ss"; and "mmm", "rrr", "lll", "eee" and "sss" are now permitted. An anxious condition becomes a "Stresssituation".

Inconsistent or seemingly arbitrary changes are frustrating students of the new rules. Hyphens have vanished and capital letters popped up in unlikely places. And what could be the logic behind "No-future-Generation" becoming "No-Future-Generation"? Why should "Orthographie" now be spelled "Orthografie"?

Instead of bringing a Teutonic sense of order to the language, the orthographic reform has only spelled chaos - Germans' greatest enemy.

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