Overview of the Recent German Spelling Reform

With the spelling reform in 1996, German speakers were confronted with numerous innovations. Now, a new reform is happening. Fortunately, this reform was used to simplify things and for adjustments.

Overview

After the spelling reform in 1996, there was much debate. In the following years, there were endless discussions about certain topics, such as the correct spelling of certain words. Was it Delfin or Delphin? Schifffahrt or Schiffahrt? In the course of the disputes, a jurisprudence was founded, which gradually smoothed the waves.

Since 2004, the Council for German Orthography has been the authoritative instance of spelling. Its members come from the following German speaking countries and regions:

  • Germany
  • Austria
  • Switzerland
  • Principality of Liechtenstein
  • Autonomous Province of Bolzano-South Tyrol
  • German-speaking Community Belgium

Twenty-one years after the highly controversial reform, the said Council decided to make further changes. The Duden, has thus been adjusted again in some places. The changes are binding for the mentioned language communities and therefore are probably of interest to you as well if you work with the German language. However, all of these innovations can actually be regarded as simplifications and thus as a gain.

The following are the main reforms that the Council for German Orthography undertook recently:

1)     Big Eszett (ß)

An addition that does not concern the Swiss is the introduction of the big “ß”. The Council argues that this reform is important for the correct spelling of proper names in documents. However, opponents see primarily an unnecessary million dollar business for German textbook publishers.

2)     “Too extreme” changes:

A whole series of rather absurd spellings, which were allowed to be used until then, was taken out of circulation by the Council. Now, Ketschup becomes Ketchup again, Majonäse becomes Mayonnaise and Grislibär becomes Grizzlibär. Anyone who chooses the conservative spellings anyway, must hardly adapt.

The following words were also deleted from the previously valid word list:

Anschovis, Wandalismus, Belkanto, Varietee, Bravur, Roulett, Campagne, Rakett, Frotté, passee, Joga, Nessessär, Jockei, Negligee, Kalvinismus, Masurka, Kanossa, Komplice, Kargo, Kommunikee, and Kollier

The newly added words are: Entrée, Canapé, Soirée and Praliné as equal variants to the existing spellings for Entree, Kanapee, Soiree and Pralinee.

3)     Connecting adjectives and nouns

Normally, adjectives are lowercase. But if they enter into a fixed connection with a noun and then become a new proper name, you have to write them with uppercases.

Examples:

  • der Heilige Stuhl
  • der Grosse Wagen
  • die Vereinten Nationen

Experts always had doubt about this regulation. What should we do with words like weisse Brettthen? Should we write weisse with uppercase W?

The new regulation aims to create clarity. According to it, the lower case of the adjective is the norm. However, if the combination of adjective and noun results in a new overall expression, you can choose between uppercase and lowercase. Capitalization as a rule remains for titles, honors and official titles or for species and class designations in botany or zoology.

The main purpose of the reform is to pick out identifiable tendencies or to clarify problematic topics. Nevertheless, there are also cases where it does not pick up the trends and jeopardizes the precision of the German language.

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