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Lost In Reformation.
August 3, 2005 1:58 AM   Subscribe

As of today, the German language has changed, ending a 10 year state of flux which has seen new spelling rules mixed with the old ones. Under the new system, "extremely long compound words have been broken up, comma rules have been simplified, and in many cases a double-S replaces the old letter sign for the sound, which resembles a capital B." But given the strong resistance to the new rules from some in the German community, it may be a little premature to add the old German language to to the list of lost languages (previously discußed here) just yet. Anyway, for Mefite linguaphiles interested in this significant and now seemingly permanent change to the German language, check out the German spelling reform timeline.
posted by Effigy2000 (54 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
The new law is called
Der Rechtschreibschwächeetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz, or Poor Spelling Labeling Oversight Transfer Law.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 2:34 AM on August 3, 2005


Pity. I guess we won't see any more marvelous words like, Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz
(which won a special award in 1999 as the longest German word.)
posted by three blind mice at 2:40 AM on August 3, 2005


On preview, WGD, you not only beat me to it, your post was more clever!!
posted by three blind mice at 2:42 AM on August 3, 2005


WGP, that is....
posted by three blind mice at 2:42 AM on August 3, 2005


Obligatory Mark Twain reference.
posted by LeLiLo at 3:17 AM on August 3, 2005


previously discußed here

Cute.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 3:48 AM on August 3, 2005


It actually went into effect on Monday, although not nationwide. The states of Bavaria and North-Rhine Westphalia have rejected the changes, as have some newspapers, notably Bild (the most widely read paper in Germany) and the venerable FAZ. According to one poll, only 8% of people find the changes worthwhile, while the overwhelming majority of people seem to realize what a blunder this whole thing is.

Although proponents argue that the language is now more "logical," some of the changes are pretty grotesque. For example, there are now words with ungainly triple consonants, like Schifffart (ship journey), Balletttänzer (ballet dancer) and Betttuch. (bed sheets) The attack on the ß (the only uniquely German character in the alphabet) is also silly, in my opinion. I'm not against changes in the language per se, but I'd rather see them happen naturally -- not dictated from the top-down by a small council of besserwisser.

It's been estimated that Thomas Mann's Der Zauberberg now contains over 8000 errors because of this ridiculous thing. Pre-reform literature is actually an interesting conundrum. Should one rewrite the original words of people like Mann, Kafka, Hesse and others? (The Nobel prize winner Günter Grass is, among others, an outspoken critic of the reforms.) And if the classics are left alone, won't they serve to confuse people about how things are correctly written?

It's a mess. The timeline provided in the post is interesting, but missing some pre-history. The last time the German language underwent a reform was in 1901. Back then, the emphasis was on unifying the various ways of writing in German-speaking Europe. (It's worth remembering that Germany at the time had only existed for 30 years.) The next attempt to reform the language was in 1944, when the Nazis (predictably) wanted to "Germanize" all the dirty foreign words. They never managed to push it through, because the war took priority and they were gone a year later.

I don't know why this latest reform was so urgent, but here's hoping it fails as well.
posted by Ljubljana at 3:55 AM on August 3, 2005


Dear God, not the ß! That was the best part!
posted by the quidnunc kid at 4:05 AM on August 3, 2005


Actually, it makes next to no difference in normal usage. So it has not really been changed or simplified, more that a few "issues" have been corrected. This is more like German 1.01 than German 2.0
posted by markesh at 4:33 AM on August 3, 2005


haha, you said Schifffart
posted by ajbattrick at 4:34 AM on August 3, 2005


previously discußed

Excellent
posted by Frasermoo at 5:16 AM on August 3, 2005


This is a Zeitverschwendung (a complete waste of time), which is a beautifully self-descriptive word.

Honestly, step #1 to normalizing German would be to switch der, die, das, dem, des and any others I've forgotten (it's been a while) to 'the'.
posted by Ryvar at 5:24 AM on August 3, 2005


They kept noun capitalization? Why the heck did they keep noun capitalization?

Neat post, thanks. Seems like the process was as much a factor in the discontent as the end result:

...the widespread German displeasure with spelling reform is inspired by many factors, including how the reform came about. In fact I suspect that the main reason why many German-speakers object so strenuously to spelling reform has less to do with the actual reforms themselves and more to do with the politics of the reforms. Understandably, many people see the imposition of spelling reform by a committee (made up of representatives from all the German-speaking countries) as dictatorial and undemocratic. Der Spiegel editor-in-chief Stefan Aust called his magazine's decision to drop the reforms "ein Akt des zivilen Ungehorsams" (an act of civil disobedience).
posted by mediareport at 5:28 AM on August 3, 2005


Fascinating subject. German Spelling Reform at Wikipedia has lots more info, including this on the capitalization debate:

Many of the [1960s-era] reform suggestions called for the elimination of German's capitalization of all nouns, replacing it with a system like that in English, where only proper nouns are capitalized. Various Scandinavian countries had done just that after World War II.

A study in the Netherlands suggested that the German system seemed to improve the reading speed of test groups. The test subjects could read text samples in their native tongue more quickly if they were written with all nouns capitalized than with the English capitalization system. The report was quite influential, and in Britain it was soon suggested that this capitalization be taken over into English, though the attempt to do so failed completely.

posted by mediareport at 5:41 AM on August 3, 2005


Is this easier to read for English speakers? (Are gerunds capitalized?)

Many of the [1960s-Era] Reform Suggestions called for the Elimination of German's Capitalization of all Nouns, replacing it with a System like that in English, where only proper Nouns are capitalized. Various Scandinavian Countries had done just that after World War II.

A Study in the Netherlands suggested that the German System seemed to improve the Reading Speed of Test Groups. The Test Subjects could read Text Samples in their native Tongue more quickly if they were written with all Nouns capitalized than with the English Capitalization System. The Report was quite influential, and in Britain it was soon suggested that this Capitalization be taken over into English, though the Attempt to do so failed completely.


Interestingly, I was really tempted to combine adjacent capitalized nouns, even though I know no German.
posted by landtuna at 6:21 AM on August 3, 2005


Japan's had to deal with similar problems; there was a massive 20th century writing reform, including simplifying some characters and changing the spelling of a lot of words.

And while I'm glad for the writing reforms, the pre-war literature (which is printed, usually, in its original form) is awfully hard to read, and this places a greater burden on students to learn not just the present writing system, but the writing system of 100 years ago.
posted by Jeanne at 6:38 AM on August 3, 2005


So, do Prince Orlovsky's guests toast King Champagne a bit earlier, or not?
posted by Smart Dalek at 7:06 AM on August 3, 2005


The states of Bavaria and North-Rhine Westphalia have rejected the changes...
Many students of the language may be suprised to learn that the Bavarians were using the old rules of German, much less the new ones.
posted by kc8nod at 7:12 AM on August 3, 2005


If we english speakers started Capitalizing All Nouns, it would make it harder to Proper-Nounify Phrases. What would all those Slashdot Geeks do?
posted by delmoi at 7:26 AM on August 3, 2005


Maybe we should just color code diffrent parts of speech? That would probably improve reading speed even more.
posted by delmoi at 7:26 AM on August 3, 2005


[das ist gut]

...oh come on, someone had to say it!
posted by Robot Johnny at 7:27 AM on August 3, 2005


Many students of the language may be suprised to learn that the Bavarians were using the old rules of German, much less the new ones.

Many students of the language are regularly suprised to learn that the Bavarians are not speaking German at all.

*hopes there are no bavarian mefites*
posted by uncle harold at 7:32 AM on August 3, 2005


I'm reminded of my favorite German joke...

A German college student is late for class. He manages to sneak into the lecture hall un-noticed by the professor. He leans over to the girl sitting next to him, and says, "What's the professor talking about?" To which she replies, "I don't know. He hasn't gotten to the verb yet."
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 7:34 AM on August 3, 2005 [1 favorite]


If Noun Capitalization is a good thing and wordmerging is a good thing, does that mean StudlyCaps is a really good thing?
posted by Mr Stickfigure at 7:39 AM on August 3, 2005


[Dieses ist etwas besser als ein wenig Scheisse auf der Kuechewand.]
posted by pmbuko at 8:08 AM on August 3, 2005


31 July 2005: The transitional period ends. From this date on, only the new spelling rules will be accepted in all German-speaking countries.

That'd be Germany and who else?

Sometimes I wish English had this kind of oversight and was less of a free-for-all. Administering spelling would be a nightmare, but I'd like to see comma splices declared permissible, for example. And as a technical writer, I'd love to have all nouns capitalized; it'd simplify my working life.
posted by alumshubby at 8:19 AM on August 3, 2005


That'd be Germany and who else?

Austria and Switzerland, to name two.
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:24 AM on August 3, 2005


Although the content of this post makes me sad, I'm happy to see an uptick in language-related posts. Thanks.
posted by 김치 at 8:39 AM on August 3, 2005


Austria and Switzerland, to name two.

Don't forget Liechtenstein!
posted by bshort at 8:50 AM on August 3, 2005


That'd be Germany and who else?

Austria and Switzerland, to name two.


And Liechtenstein! The smallest country with the coolest name.
posted by leapingsheep at 8:51 AM on August 3, 2005


The Test Subjects could read Text Samples in their native Tongue more quickly if they were written with all Nouns capitalized than with the English Capitalization System.

That's interesting, in newspaper offices I've worked in the rule has always been to use lower case as often as possible (e.g. in job titles) because it supposedly made it easier to read, as if your eyes would glide over same-size letters more easily than having to jump in and out of caps-reading mode.

Though it might also have had something to do with stroppy hacks wanting to take officials down a peg or two by refusing to capitalise their titles.

Fascinating post.
posted by penguin pie at 9:09 AM on August 3, 2005


That'd be Germany and who else?

Austria and Switzerland, to name two.

And Liechtenstein! The smallest country with the coolest name.


und Luxembourg! und Belgium!
posted by Robot Johnny at 9:18 AM on August 3, 2005


OK, to take landtuna's post and germanify (germanize? germanate?) it even more:

Many of the [1960s-Era] Reformsuggestions called for the Elimination of German's Capitalization of all Nouns, it with a System like that in English replacing, where only proper Nouns capitalized are. Various scandinavian Countries had just that after World War II done.

A Study in the Netherlands suggested, that the german System seemed, the Readingspeed of Testgroups to improve. The Testsubjects could Textsamples in their native Tongue more quickly read, if they with all Nouns capitalized written were, than with the english Capitalizationsystem. The Report was quite influential and in Britain was it soon suggested, that this Capitalization into English over taken be, though the Attempt, so to do, completely failed.


Disclaimer: I am not a native speaker of German.
posted by oaf at 9:20 AM on August 3, 2005


The Test Subjects could read Text Samples in their native Tongue more quickly if they were written with all Nouns capitalized than with the English Capitalization System.

I'd guess this is simply because above a certain level of basic literacy, you don't read by piecing together letters but by pattern recognition. These patterns (words) are more difficult to recognize at once if capitalized, so overall speed drops.

I am much slower at reading English texts that are capitalized than regular ones, just as I'm slower reading German in all lowercase (and I am German). It's just being used to a certain way the words look, not any real difference in reading speed.
posted by uncle harold at 9:22 AM on August 3, 2005


Robot Johnny writes "und Luxembourg! und Belgium!"

Nej! Zij spreken niet duits, aber nederlands!
posted by clevershark at 9:28 AM on August 3, 2005


Pre-reform literature is actually an interesting conundrum. Should one rewrite the original words of people like Mann, Kafka, Hesse and others?

I distinctly recall that Kafka, at least, had decidedly non-standard spelling (in more modern terms).

No one has ever suggested rewriting Shakespeare -- why would anyone ever consider it for more recent authors?
posted by Slothrup at 9:32 AM on August 3, 2005


Nej! Zij spreken niet duits, aber nederlands!

Dutch, Deutsch -- there are only two letters difference...
posted by Slothrup at 9:34 AM on August 3, 2005


Slothrup writes "No one has ever suggested rewriting Shakespeare"

Ahem.
posted by clevershark at 9:35 AM on August 3, 2005


kc8nod, ha! I lived in Thüringen and Hessen for three years, and I still can barely understand Bavarians.
posted by patrickje at 9:37 AM on August 3, 2005


Thanks, clevershark - now at last we can all read Shakespeare.
posted by piers at 10:02 AM on August 3, 2005


I lived in Thüringen and Hessen for three years, and I still can barely understand Bavarians.

I only lived in Hessen for two months, but the only Bavarian I can understand is the woman whose voice announces the MVV stops („nächste Haltestelle: Sendlinger Tor”). And she probably isn't Bavarian anyway.
posted by oaf at 10:04 AM on August 3, 2005


Robot Johnny writes "und Luxembourg! und Belgium!"

Nej! Zij spreken niet duits, aber nederlands!


There are bits near the border where they talk German. We used to go buy antiques there in the 70s. I forget where exactly, but to get there from K-town we'd have to drive along the F1 track at Spa for a ways.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:07 AM on August 3, 2005


Dutch, Deutsch -- there are only two letters difference...

Hey, according to Wikipedia, German is an official language of Belgium. Wikipedia wouldn't lie to me... would it??
posted by Robot Johnny at 10:10 AM on August 3, 2005




sehr interessant. Ich habe eine kleine bischen deutsch gelernen auf mein schule :
mein lehrer sagt mich:

berlin grust ihre gaste

und prugt der einwohner !

posted by sgt.serenity at 10:20 AM on August 3, 2005


I was in Vienna and when I got back people asked if I could understand their dialect which was much different than somebody from Germany. With my two years of high school German, it really didn't matter since I probably couldn't understand either. I think somebody told me they speak "high" German, which has been less unadulterated compared with Germany. The main phrase to know in Austria is: "das ist verboten"

Italy also has some German speakers, in the Dolomites. What about Poland?
posted by Meaney at 10:20 AM on August 3, 2005


From a Google search: "Languages — Belgium: Dutch (official) 60%, French (official) 40%, German (official) less than 1%"

I'll be damned. Why would a country make a language official if it's spoken by less than 1% of people in it?
posted by clevershark at 10:21 AM on August 3, 2005


Curses, I missed a good opportunity to make a "they forgot to change it after the war" joke.
posted by clevershark at 10:22 AM on August 3, 2005


No one has ever suggested rewriting Shakespeare

It's not a question of "rewriting," it's a question of modernizing spelling. Which is regularly done with Shakespeare. I don't remember any "ſir Iohn Falſtaffe" in the edition of Henry IV, Part 2 I read.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:34 AM on August 3, 2005


Why would a country make a language official if it's spoken by less than 1% of people in it?

Amazing the lengths some countries will go to treat their minorities fairly, isn't it?
posted by Mo Nickels at 11:36 AM on August 3, 2005


What with this and the new Terry Gilliam film coming out, Jacob Grimm's gonna surely be spinning in his grave.

/obscure reference filter.
posted by seanyboy at 1:30 PM on August 3, 2005


alumshubby: I'd like to see comma splices declared permissible

NOOOOOOOOOO!!!

[good post]
posted by dame at 1:53 PM on August 3, 2005


I actually own a German-Bavarian phrasebook! (Though personally, I've never had much of a problem understanding them...I learned German from a Salzburger the first 4 years, and so I have the equivalent of a Southern accent in German!)

Not so fond of the linguistic updates, personally...if only because I'd have to crack the books all over again to keep up!
posted by bitter-girl.com at 2:30 PM on August 3, 2005


What with this and the new Terry Gilliam film coming out, Jacob Grimm's gonna surely be spinning in his grave.

Saw the Grimm movie today. I adore Gilliam, aber das war echt furchtbar. Eine bittere Enttäuschung.

The Rechtschreibreform has turned me into Rip von Winkel--I left before, and when I go home now, I don't even know how to spell anymore. Vollidioten.
posted by muckster at 8:19 PM on August 3, 2005


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