The German Spelling Reform

’The "Reform der deutschen Rechtschreibung" has proved to be far more of a curse than a blessing.’

Essay, 2012
9 Pages


1.’The Reform der deutschen Rechtschreibung has proved to be far more of a curse than a blessing.’

The German spelling reform, implemented in 1996, was meant to improve certain aspects of the German language in order to make the rules clearer and the language as a whole easier to learn. However, the agreement also wanted to minimise complication for native speakers who were used to the original rules. Already the 20th century had seen several attempts to adjust German orthography; therefore it was obviously a significant problem. The original orthographic rules were unclear and subject to much variation: “...weil die Zahl der Regeln und Ausnahmen, teilweise gesteuert, teilweise ungesteuert, seit 1901 ständig größer geworden ist...“ (Augst, 1985: 101). In spite of this necessity, were the changes themselves worth the subsequent trouble?

Firstly, the scharfes s {ß} character’s usage was minimized: it now appears only after a long vowel or diphthong. This in itself was considered quite problematic for several reasons. For example, could the average German speaker be expected to know the difference between a long and short vowel, or does this decision cause confusion? Furthmore “... the emphasis on a phoneme-grapheme relationship based on standard German pronunciation may well lead to some difficulties for speakers of other varieties.” (Johnson 2005: 75). Additional factors, such as the abolition of the character in Swiss German, and the lack of a capital scharfes s, emphasised the sense in removing the character from the German language altogether. On the other hand, Johnson argues that in one instance the reformed rules the scharfes s proves somewhat useful: “...the subordinating conjunction da ß (that) is now spelled dass, thereby retaining the lexical distinction from the definite article das...” (2005: 57).

Secondly, the reform aimed to clarify the rules regarding the capitalisation of nouns, which is a feature unique to German. They were suggestions of abolition, but at the fear of significant opposition “...reformers were obliged to opt for the less controversial strategy of harmonising the existing rules...” (2005: 67). This in turn lead to some inconsistency. For example, the phrase ein bi ß chen is seen as a pronoun, hence is not capitalised. However, historically , bi ß chen is a noun. The word sonntags is an adverbial phrase, as is letzten Sonntag, though the latter is capitalised and the former is not.

Thirdly the former tendency to omit a consonant where a compound word would result in a triple consonant was rejected in favour of writing out all three subsequent consonants: Schiffahrt became Schifffahrt. According to Johnson, this “...thereby [eliminated] previous inconsistencies with divided forms.” (2005: 58) As far as opposition to such a rule is concerned, many critics would simple point out the clumsiness of such orthography. From a linguistic consistency point of view, the common exceptions Mittags and dennoch should arguable be written Mitttags and dennnoch respectively, but they are not, from which extra confusion arises for the German speaker and learners of the language. What is more, this completely nullifies the elimination of inconsistency in divided forms argument.

Fourthly, the spelling of certain compound verb phrases has been altered. Phrases consisting of a verb and a) another verb, b) a noun, c) an adjective or d) an adverb which can stand alone as an adjective. Kennenzulernen is now the form of the original kennen zu lernen, for example. Previously “... this principle had never been operated entirely consistently...” (2005: 63), but under the reform seems to clarify this particular element of the language fairly efficiently and may be the only success of the 1996 German Orthography reform.


Excerpt out of 9 pages


The German Spelling Reform
’The "Reform der deutschen Rechtschreibung" has proved to be far more of a curse than a blessing.’
University of Birmingham
BA Modern Languages
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
758 KB
german, spelling, reform, rechtschreibung
Quote paper
Laura Smith (Author), 2012, The German Spelling Reform, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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