FluB flows into fluss but keeps capitals

October 18, 1996

Leading German intellectuals have launched a revolt against a reform of German spelling, claiming it will damage the reputation of the language at home and abroad. Authors Gunter Grass and Martin Walser, as well as Herbert Heckmann, president of the German Academy for Language and Literature, and philosopher Kurt Hubner are among more than 100 scholars and writers who have added their names to the protest.

In a statement called the Frankfurt Declaration, they have demanded an immediate stop to the reform, which aims to make German more logical and easier to learn. The protestors claim the spelling changes were "put forward by a small, largely anonymous expert group". They claim the reform is insignificant but will "waste millions of working hours, cause decades of confusion, damage the reputation of the German language at home and abroad and cost numerous million marks".

But their protest comes rather late in the day: representatives of German-speaking countries signed an accord for the revised German spelling in Austria in July this year, following years of discussion led by education ministers and a panel of linguistic experts. A new edition of the authoritative German dictionary, Duden, containing the changes was published in August. And many schools are already teaching the new rules, due to be formally introduced in August 1998 and to become binding in 2005.

Herbert Heckmann complained to the press that it was authors who determined modern German. "Why weren't they asked?" Professor Heckmann asked.

However, many academic linguists believe the reform does not go far enough. Dieter Herberg, of the Institute for the German Language, and one of the linguists who contributed to the reform, said the changes were "long overdue" and if anything "too modest".

Proposals to do away with capital letters for nouns were blocked by traditionalists.

The resulting compromise reform reduces rules governing where to put a comma from 52 to nine, and orthographic rules from 212 to 112.

The most noticeable change is that the "'" will become a "ss" after short-sounding vowels (for example a river is no longer a Flu' but a Fluss.) Also eye-catching is the appearance of triple consonants in compound words such as balletttanzer (ballet dancer).

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