Quarter Life Crisis

The world according to Sven-S. Porst

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Ha, my second ortho… post within a few days – let's hope that doesn't happen again. This time it's about spelling correctly. A few years ago they introduced the Rechtschreibreform, changing the spelling rules for German. After a few years in spelling limbo, the new rules are supposed to be 'official' next year. While being official means that the new spelling will be taught in schools and is required in certain places, the whole thing has been a complete mess. People who could spell before – including myself – refuse to use the new spelling, authors were appalled, newspapers adopted their own spelling in a pick-n-mix strategy.

That was because there were too many 'good intentions' around when they came up with the new rules that those planners lost sight of the fact that language is also a cultural and aesthetic endeavour. The main idea was to simplify things, but in some places it really looks like they were just dumbed down, making the spelling of a word not reflect its etymology anymore or making words look ugly.

The changes also include replacing many – but not all – of the pretty 'ß' by 'ss', which I don't appreciate for sure. On the other hand there are changes towards breaking down long words in the smaller pieces which sometimes has merit but at other times mutilates the words as those long combined words may have a slightly different meaning than their components put together separately. Sometimes I find it amazing how much difference a little space can make: Long words are read in one go and are a single expression, whereas a couple of short words are more of a description.

Anyway, right now there is so much confusion around that you can get away with writing however you like. That's an advantage, I guess. Interestingly the debate about how well things have been planned and how they're going is coming up again.

July 31, 2004, 16:14

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