[Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society, J27, 2000/1 p13]
Also on this page: German news agencies.

Writing reforms in other languages.

Edited by Chris Upward.

JSSS has reported over the years on reforms of writing systems in other languages as follows:


, 1956 (mainland, plus now Hong Kong, but not Taiwan nor Singapore) JSSS J13, 1992/2, pp14-16.


, early 1950s, JSSS J17 1994/2, p33.


, 1948, JSSS J21, 1997/1, p20; JSSS, J25 1999/1, p23.


, 1815, 1934, 1954, JSSS J19 1995/2, pp11-13.


, 16-18th century, JSSS , J25 1999/1, pp11-15.


, 1740, 1835, 1878, JSSS J10 1989/1, p11; 1990 JSSS J15 1993/2, pp3-5.


, 1901-2, 1996 (for Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and German-speakers elsewhere, mainly in E Europe), JSSS, J19 1995/2, pp18-21. JSSS, J21 1997/1, pp22-24, 36; JSSS, J22 1997/2, p24; JSSS, J23 1998/1, pp20-24.


, 1957, JSSS, J22 1997/2, pp19-23.


, 1612, JSSS, J20 1996/1, pp19-24.


, 1946, JSSS J19 1995/2, pp27-29.


, 1972, JSSS J11 1989/2, pp9-13.


, 1912 (Brazil), 1915 (Portugal), JSSS 21, 1997/1, p21).


, 1907, SSS Newsletter J1 Autumn 1985, pp8-9.


, 1860, 1904, JSSS J11 1989/2, p21.


, 1918, SSS Newsletter J2 Spring 1986, p13, §13.1, 13.2.


, 1815, JSSS J15 1993/2, pp15-21; also 1959.


, 1928, JSSS J18 1995/1, pp19-24.

Reforms are also known to have taken place in


, 1925.


, 1909.


, 1906/7.
Further information on these and other reforms is sought.


 English spelling reform is associated with: Noah Webster's dictionary (1st edition, 1828),
Theodore Roosevelt's instructions (1906, JSSS 23, 1998/1, p14),
and the Chicago Tribune's campaign 1934-75
(Pt.I, JSSS 24, 1998/2, pp3-10,
Pt.II, JSSS 25, 1999/1, pp3-10;
Pt.III, JSSS 26, 1999/2, pp16-19).
For an overview of Anglo-American differences, see JSSS 21, 1997/1, pp30-32.

[Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society, J27, 2000/1 p23]

German news agencies adopt (some) reformed spellings.

Edited by Chris Upward.

JSSS 26 (p20 [Augst], p35 [do Rock]) referred to the key role of the German News Agencies in ensuring widespread public adoption of the reformed spellings promulgated in 1996. We here summarize (with the occasional comment) a report on this development by Jürgen Dittmann, Professor of Germanic Philology at the University of Freiburg, that appeared in Sprachreport (4/99, pp17-19), the quarterly journal of the Institut für deutsche Sprache (Mannheim), which is the lead authority for questions of German spelling reform.

A crucial step.

On 1 August 1999 the leading German-language news agencies began systematically using reformed spellings in their reports. This was a crucial step, as agency sources determine the practice of newspaper editors, and the press will therefore now ensure the widest possible public familiarity with the new forms which had already been used in schools for two-and-a-half years. We here examine how the news agencies implemented the new spellings.

The decision to adopt the new spellings was taken by a working party representing a dozen leading German, Austrian and Swiss news agencies. A number of reasons were given: clients (the newspapers) needed orthographic uniformity; electronic text searches were more straightforward if every word had a single unvarying spelling; and newspaper readers, who skim many articles without reading them carefully, find the task easier if words are instantly recognizable in a fixed form. The agencies also published a list of the spellings to be used.

Eliminating alternatives.

One feature of the reform is that both old and new spellings are allowed for a wide range of words. The news agency working party's criteria required a choice to be made in such cases - so which alternatives did it adopt?

One set of alternatives concerns triple letters, which the reform allows to be written solid or broken by hyphens (eg, Balletttänzer or Ballett-Tänzer 'ballet-dancer'). The greater visual transparency of the hyphenated forms has much to be said for it, yet inexplicably the working party recommends hyphens only to break up triple vowels (eg, See-Elephant, not Seeelephant 'elephant seal'), but not triple consonants (so Balletttänzer is preferred).

Another set of alternatives allowed by the reform were the old endings -TIELL (eg, substantiell) alongside the new form -ZIELL (eg, substanziell) which sensibly aligns with the noun Substanz (cf, a reformed English substancial with C aligning with substance by analogy with financial/finance). The news agencies are now sensibly committed to using only the new ending -ZIELL.

For a number of foreign loanwords, the official reform allows regularized, germanized variants (eg, Ketschup, Portmonee, Spagetti) alongside the traditional foreign spellings. Here the news agencies are committed to keeping foreign forms derived, like Ketchup, Portemonnaie, Spaghetti, from modern, living languages, but they say that those from ancient, dead languages should adopt the reformed alternatives. The difficulty of knowing whether foreign words are of modern or ancient derivation is partially resolved by the rule-of-thumb that Greco-Latin PH, RH, TH become F, R, T - except that the official reform had compromised by keeping silent H in a few long-established words such as Philosophie, Rhetorik, Theater.

English compounds.

The reform attempted to bring some order to the haphazard patterns of separation, hyphenation and consolidation found in numerous loanwords from English. The news agencies' working party on the other hand seemed rather to go its own way. It amended the reform recommendations in preferring to hyphenate compounds consisting of pairs of nouns such as Cash-flow instead of merging them (reform Cashflow); but where the second element is an adverb, the position is often (though not always) reversed, the agencies writing Comeback, as against recommended Come-back. For combinations of adjective plus noun (eg, smalltalk) the working party decrees complete separation (Small Talk), where the reform recommended consolidation (Smalltalk). Altogether, consistency appears to be the loser.

Other deviations.

The news agencies' working party also adopts a number of other deviations from the official rules. Some of the old, strict rules for placing commas are retained. Adjectives are still to be capitalized in certain fixed phrases (eg, Erste Hilfe 'First Aid') and when derived from proper names (cf, English Newtonian physics). And the pronoun du is to remain capitalized when used in personal correspondence.


Professor Dittmann concludes that most of the working party's preferences for one spelling alternative over another have some justification, and it is certainly a positive development that they reinforce a particular standard. But the working party's thinking must be questioned where it has gone against the official spellings introduced by the reform. Such cases conflict with the spellings now taught in schools and given in dictionaries, and will therefore cause confusion. The news agencies themselves will find such deviations declared wrong by computers when run through computer programs for old-new spelling conversion and for spell-checking.

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