Jun 21, 2012

German Spelling Now – Argh!

written by Kelly Smithson

To this day, I refuse to accept the German spelling reform of 1996 that went into effect in 2006. In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with the orthography from my childhood, and I am glad that I left Germany before the new spelling rules became mandatory.

The orthographic reform was introduced supposedly to make German spelling more logical and thus easier to learn. I believe I speak for many Germans of my generation in stating that the old orthography was not that difficult. This I can only ascribe to the excellent education we received growing up, including in literacy, and the support we received from our attentive parents along the way. Unfortunately, the economic situation in Germany has many parents spending less time with their children than before and appeasing the cravings of today’s youth for modern technology (over books as a form of entertainment) in order to quell any dissatisfaction from the offspring.

I wonder why other countries in Europe have not followed suit and made spelling changes to their national languages. I am sure French orthography could be simplified. With all its combinations of consonants, at least this spelling does not feature the same consonant three times in a row! That is one of the changes in German orthography that to me is nothing short of an eye sore. Now, “Brenn-” and “Nessel” are combined to form the compound word “Brennnessel” (“stinging nettle”) by adding all three n’s together instead of dropping one of them as before.

Another spelling change involves the letter “ß.” Nowadays, this letter more often than not is rendered in its expanded form, “ss.” I believe that the “ß” should have been left alone if only to promote its uniqueness to the German language; no other modern language features this letter in its alphabet. Moreover, changing “ß” to “ss” leads to more compound word formations featuring the same consonant three times in a row.

With all its supposed simplification, the new German orthography is not without exceptions. As if that was not enough to render the reform useless, the writer may choose between different spellings in certain cases. Words of foreign origin, for example, may be written as before or using German orthography. Thus, “hairdresser” can be rendered into German as “Friseur” or “Frisör,” respectively. If the reformers were worried about the influence of foreign languages on German, they should have just replaced foreign terms with words of German origin (in this case, the already existing “Haarschneider”). Besides, many Germans are already used to the original spelling of foreign terms from studying the related languages (including English and French) in school. Why introduce orthographic changes when there will be exceptions as before? Why give writers the option to spell as before only in certain cases, and how can they be expected to remember when they have that option? It is obvious that the German orthographic reform has generated more confusion than good, which is why I prefer to stick with the spelling I know.

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