One of my greatest concerns is an orthography reform that is being forced upon the German people. The matter is especially severe with our school children who are going to score "mistakes" from August 1st, 2006 onwards for spelling German the usual way. Arguments against the reform include:
- More than 90 per cent of the people are against the reform (polls vary).
- The orthography reform is objected by the most famous authors and all serious linguists. It is not followed by many leading newspapers.
- Large parts of the reform are simply a take-over of an orthography reform that was planned by the Nazis in 1944 but which did not see the light of day due to the end of the war.
--- Correction 8.9.2005: It turned out now that "large parts" is even a too mild way to put it: About 95% of the changes were already part of the Nazi reform! ---
LINK POIS: Text about this issue
- Most of the new spelling rules simply do not make sense.
- The reform is an act of oppression of our culture.
German politicians' decision on March 30th, 2006:
Nazi orthography becomes obligatory in German schools!
If children spell German the usual way, they will get "mistakes".
Strong protest necessary!
Thank you for reading this page and therewith getting more information on an important issue.
The Nazi spelling reform ideas
In the twelve years that the National Socialist regime ruled in Germany (1933-1945), there was a vivid activity in all kinds of pseudo-science based on the ideology, e. g. to demonstrate an alleged "inferiority of the Jewish race". This affected scholarship dealing with language, too. For example, someone wrote in a periodical called "Die Rasse" ("The Race") about a poem by Heinrich Heine that it showed "the same imbalance and unrest of rhythmical movement" that was "according to research so far, peculiar to all Jewish writers, and only them" (quoted after Birken-Bertsch / Markner, p. 64, my translation).
Rooted within this ideological context, also an orthography reform was planned. The purpose was to "make German easier to learn for the subjugated peoples" (quote). The changes which the orthography reform consisted of were far from being wise. They will be turned to later on. The person involved most in the reform was the minister of education, Bernhard Rust, but many others were, too, including Adolf Hitler himself. In 1944, Hitler then postponed the reform because, as he said, it was "not important for the war". This does not imply, however, that he had given it up. The history of the Nazi orthography reform, and partly also its relationship to the "new orthography", is investigated in this book:
Hanno Birken-Bertsch / Reinhard Markner:
Rechtschreibreform und Nationalsozialismus.
more about the book
Having known already before about the connection, I got hold of a copy of the book in August 2005. As a linguist, I can confirm the discoveries of the two historians, and I have to add others. In some points, the two authors are too modest in relation to the size of the scandal they have begun to uncover.
The so-called "new orthography"
The allegedly "new" orthography was kept secret by its inventors and collaborating politicians and made public only shortly before its introduction. It was first used by some newspapers in 1999, but many have given it up again since then; the liberal FAZ (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung), e. g., returned to usual spelling already in 2000. The "new" orthography has been taught by many teachers (by most of them because they were forced to) even a little longer. But it was never a must; pupils could spell according to the traditional spelling rules of German, too, and would not get a mistake for doing this.
But now, on March 30th, 2006, the chief ministers of the German Lands (Bundesländer) decided that the "new" orthography will become obligatory in school with the official date of August 1st, 2006! This means that children are forced to use it. Otherwise they will get "mistakes" and, consequently, worse marks.
The orthography reform has had a strong opposition right from the beginning. Of course, the German language does ünot need an orthography reform at all. Almost all famous German writers, e. g. Günter Grass, Reiner Kunze, Siegfried Lenz, refused that their texts be changed according to the reform. The result is in many cases that their literature is intentionally not used in schools any more. There was only little opposition, however, within the established parties of Germany. Although many politicians sooner or later realized that the reform made very little sense, they did not want to "lose their face" by admitting they had been on the wrong track, and thus they pushed the reform further and further. It is politicians of a lower level acting here. The behaviour of Merkel is that she simply has not said a single word about this issue for years (though the man in the street would like to hear one).
My personal involvement in the struggle against the orthography reform began already before 2000. In 2000, then, I learned that there had been an attempt of an orthography reform with the Nazis, and that there was some connection between the two reforms. It was, however, not possible to learn any details from the German media.
On February 22nd 2005, I held a talk in the connection of which I critisized the reform (paper published in the internet now, it puts forward a lot of arguments, e. g. it demonstrates the damage for the economy and warns of the link between writing and thinking). Only in the course of 2005, provided by more information, I realized how close the connections between both reforms actually are.
Finally I discovered that about 95% of the changes oppressed now were also part of the Nazi spelling reform. This astonishingly high figure is for the most part due to a certain redistribution of ss and the special German letter ß which is exactly the same in both reforms.
In some points, very curiously, the reform is even more than a spelling reform but it changes the language, too. For example, the word selbständig "independent" is changed into selbstständig with two times st, and it is supposed to be pronounced this way, too. This is a particularly weird instance.
In order to see the matter work in an example, let us have a look at this (note also the abolition of the comma in both reforms):
Damit muß Schluß sein, und das Potential muß genutzt werden.
Nazi orthography reform:
Damit muss schluss sein und das potenzial muss genutzt werden.
Comtemporary orthography reform:
Damit muss Schluss sein und das Potenzial muss genutzt werden.
English Translation: "This has to come to an end, and the potential has to be used."
As can be seen, in this example there is no difference except for that the nouns are spelled still with capitals in the "new orthography". In fact, the reformers wanted to abolish this traditional feature of German as well, but they met with too much resistance. If they had succeeded, their version of the sentence would have been identical to the Nazi version.
Or let us quote a Nazi himself, Martin Bormann, who namely applied the new rules already, as can be gathered from a letter of his written in 1942. He wrote, concerning the orthography reform itself, that it should be ensured, "dass die Arbeiten sachgemäß vorangetrieben werden, ohne dass viele Dienststellen damit befasst werden" (quoted from Birken-Bertsch / Markner, p. 95). Translation: "that work is driven forward properly without many departments being involved in it". This is exactly the spelling that children have to use now if they do not want to get a worse mark. Usual German spelling would be: "daß die Arbeiten sachgemäß vorangetrieben werden, ohne daß viele Dienststellen damit befaßt werden".
More on the issue of ss and ß: The usual German rule is that the choice between the two is to spell ss between a short vowel and another vowel, and ß in all other cases. The Nazi version and the reform version of today is to spell ss after short vowels and ß otherwise. The idea to do this is admittedly older, it stems from a man called Heyse in the 18th century. The rule, however, was never in use in Germany. It is connected to the Nazi orthography reform and the reform now. It will be obligatory in schools now; if a child does not follow it, he or she will score an alleged "mistake". This is pure horror for anyone who knows about the background.
The astonishing agreement is valid for many other points, too. Imagine someone would prescribe you to spell the word handful as hand full and thus write sentences like There were only a hand full of people in the store. This is nonsense, of course, because there is no actual hand which is full of something. Grammar is wrong then, too, because the verb form would have to be was. Exactly this happened to the German word Handvoll "handful" in the "new orthography", however; it was changed into Hand voll. In this way, more than 400 words were split up and thus abolished, as one linguist counted. This splitting up of words also already occurred in the Nazi reform.
Both reforms also agree in making words of foreign origin look more German, and often so in exactly the same way, e. g. Majonäse instead of Mayonnaise "mayonnaise" (Birken-Bertsch / Markner, p. 96). One of the most striking agreements is in words of the type potentiell "potential" (adjective) which are in both reforms supposed to be spelled potenziell. This affects all words stemming from Latin and French ending in -tial and -tiell. The probability that people have such a strange reform idea independently is close to zero.
Other agreements are in syllabification. In usual German, there is never a hyphen within the consonant group st, which has as a consequence that superlatives like die schönste "the prettiest" become die schön-ste when an end of a line intervenes. This has the advantage that the hyphen is at the place where the boundary between the parts of the word is as well. Both the Nazi reform and the "new orthography", however, put the hyphen between s and t: die schöns-te (Birken-Bertsch / Markner, p. 55).
Still another agreement is in punctuation. In German, a comma is put between two main clauses, which is a thoughtful rule because it avoids misunderstandings when reading. But both in the Nazi-reform and in the "new orthography", this comma is dropped. There are numerous other matches.
It can be seen thus that many ideas of the "new orthography" stem from the Nazi reform. Chance is definitely excluded. This is the conclusion both of Birken-Bertsch / Markner and myself. On the other hand, the propagators of the "new orthography" hardly added anything new to the rules they took over. They changed e. g. the word Tip "tip, hint, advice", which is from English, into Tipp in order to make it more German. But at the Nazi times, Tip simply did not exist yet in German.
Gerhard Augst, the leading figure behind the "new orthography", and the others, name as their main argument for their reform that it makes German "easier". However, this is not true. As many Germans, including newspapers and publishers, go on to spell the usual way, children are confronted with a non-unified spelling. This does not make it easier for them, but on the contrary, much more difficult. One reason why you learn to spell correctly is that you see a word always in the same way whenever you read it. Exactly this, however, is not the case any longer since the reform. A non-unified spelling is characteristic of countries which are still in a phase of finding their identity and establishing a standard language, e. g. Somalia. It is a strange anachronism for a country as developed as Germany. There are investigations that show that the number of spelling mistakes increases. It is also a damage when you use computers and try to find a word, e. g. in a data bank or in a search in the internet: Either you have to know by heart all possible spellings and type them in, which takes time, or the software has to do this job, which takes time for the programmer and costs the user more. Communities with no or hardly no alternatives in spelling, like any other European people, are of course better off in this respect.
Augst and his colleagues have to be reproached several points:
- that they oppressed the reform upon the country which would do damage even if there were no Nazi background.
- that they did not stop the reform when they were pointed to the fact that it was nothing but realizing a substantial part of what the Nazis had in mind - if they had not known it before anyway.
- that they earn a lot of money because new dictionaries, schools books etc. have to be printed, and they give their "scientific advice".
A curious thing is that some of the reformers, including Augst himself, wrote historical treatments of the orthography reform ideas in Germany, but they remained very silent about 1933 to 1945 (as demonstrated by Birken-Bertsch / Markner, p. 10-15).
Hermann Zabel, one of the reformers, said, when confronted with the similarities, that contrary to the Nazis, his folks and he himself were "democratically legitimated" to make the reform. Even supposed this was true - it is quite debatable - it is certainly not the job of democratic institutions to fulfill the ideology-loaden cultural policies of a dictatorship which had not been able any more to do this itself. What German school children need today is certainly not an only slightly modernized version of a part of a reform whose original purpose was to "make German easier to learn for the subjugated peoples". This dangerous nonsense has to be stopped immediately.
It is evident that the Nazi dictatorship was one of the worst that there were in history. It is probably unnecessary to go into a detailed discussion on this here.
There is still a lot of discussion about the Nazi past nowadays in Germany. From time to time somebody resigns because he said something deemed wrong. However, the issue of the orthography reform has not been debated about in the context of the Nazi past. This is undoubtedly so because politicians of all parties in the Bundestag were responsible for the reform and still do not want to take it back, the only reason being that this would imply that they would "lose their face". The "culture politician" Johanna Wanka actually said that this was the reason. But this must not be regarded as a big problem, of course, taking into account what is at issue here. Note that taking a position against the "new orthography" does not mean obeying the rules of "political correctness". Raising one's voice in this respect is nothing but common sense.
Some reform critics said to me in personal communication that arguing against the reform with its Nazi past is the wrong way. Instead, one should point to the weaknesses of the reform itself. This line of reasoning is understandable. However, arguing with other points, e. g. the damage to the economy, has been done for several years already, and it did not work. This is why it is legitimate to point to the reform's past. Moreover, the full extent of the connection is just coming out right now. It has not been published elsewhere yet except for this very text on the internet.
According to a poll of the newspaper FAZ of 1.8.2005, only 8% of the Germans are in favour of the orthography reform. But the machinery still keeps on working. The connection to the Nazi reform is known to some insiders in the discussion (to varying degrees), but, as I can tell from numerous conversations, not to most of the public in Germany. This deplorable state of knowledge has to be changed. Many things you can read in the newspapers about the orthography reform are badly done. This is partly due to pro-reform propaganda. In other instances, the significance of the reform is played down. In these cases, it is not the most frequently visible changes that are addressed, but some very minor changes that become relevant maybe once or twice in a book of 200 pages.
What is going on in German schools?
The "Deutscher Elternverein" ("German parent's counsel") collected signatures this month in order to achieve that the children can also spell the usual way, i. e. as an alternative:
www.richtig-schreiben.com. They were granted this, but only for one year. After that, the problem will be there in its entirety. Anyway, it is of course not enough to have the usual spelling just as a "generously" tolerated alternative, no matter for how long a time. The orthography reform has to disappear.
In fact, the teachers have lost any control about the orthography in class. Often they do not know the prescribed rules themselves. Fortunately, many do not apply the "new" rules. But discussions crop up all the time, especially because orthography is important for the marks one gets. Time could be used for other things you need in the world of today, such as history, social issues, maths etc. In the PISA investigations (international investigations of schools in Western-oriented countries and of how students get along), Germany turned out to be at the lower end, and there is of course a connection to the orthography reform.
A good description of what is going on in German schools, as well as other information about the orthography reform, can be found in the article "Hit und Top, Tipp und Stopp" in DER SPIEGEL (a journal similar to Newsweek in the USA), No. 1 / 2006, pp. 124 - 132. DER SPIEGEL also published an article about the Nazi background of the orthography reform (now partly outdated): "Völkischer Aufbruch", No. 36 / 2004, pp. 161 - 164. Moreover, a good critique of the orthography reform by Thomas Paulwitz has been published a few days ago in Deutsche Sprachwelt (a newspaper dedicated to the German language, published four times a year), issue 23, spring 2006, p. 4. Theodor Ickler, a reform critic, said that the orthography reform is a "mankind-despising mass-experiment". The author Günter Grass said it is "contraproductive to our arduously-learned democratic behaviour".
It is extremely difficult, indeed virtually impossible, for the children to find orientation as long as there is a mixture of spellings surrounding them. But this will always be the case as long as the reform will be there.
It can only be estimated how many tears have already been shed because children fail to understand in each instance why they are not supposed to write in the way they see their parents writing, or good books and journals of any kind, etc., and why this is supposed to be important, and pressure is exerted to make them submissive.
The entirely crazy and appalling mistake of introducing the Nazi orthography reform to German schools has to be corrected immediately. In many countries today, politicians act in a way full of contempt of their peoples, and this is a severe instance. However, the problem will not be removed by Germany on its own. There are no signs that point towards that. International asking about what is going on here, and pressure, is needed. In this way the orthography reform can be removed again.
This is why I ask media from all over the world to report about this issue.
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