Germany says no to simplified spelling

August 11, 2000

German university professors have joined the rebellion against new spelling rules for the German language, which were agreed two years ago in German-speaking countries.

The Deutsche Hochschulverband, the professional association that represents 17,500 university professors and lecturers, has said it will revert to the old spelling rules from October 1 for all its written documents. The Hochschulverband called on the conference of education ministers "to undertake corrections to the spelling reform to protect the German language from damage".

Hartmut Schiedermair, president of the Hochschulverband, said some of the reform's supposed simplifications had in fact "unacceptably narrowed the possibilities of expression". Language is one of the fundamental elements of a country's culture and should not be allowed to fall victim to misplaced reform zeal, said Professor Schiedermair.

University professors are joining a campaign spearheaded by Germany's high-brow daily newspaper, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, which recently announced it would return to the old rules from the beginning of the month.

Nobel prize laureate Gunter Grass said the paper should feel free to continue writing nonsense about him, as long as it was with words spelled by the old rules.

Nearly all German-language publications have adopted the revised system since an agreement on the reform was signed in 1996 by the council of education ministers, along with their counterparts from Austria, Switzerland and Liechtenstein, as well as countries with German-speaking minorities. It followed years of discussion by education ministers and linguistic experts.

A new edition of the authoritative German dictionary, Duden, containing the changes, is now in widespread use.

Education ministers argued that the new rules would make learning German easier, but the scheme has been dogged by controversy from the start.

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