Quarter Life Crisis

The world according to Sven-S. Porst

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Rechtschreibreform

689 words

Around the time I finished school they introduced a spelling-reform for German. That didn’t apply to my or my exams, so I was never too concerned about it. Besides, the inner conservativism of a teenager made me think that it’s all crap anyway. After all I had learned things differently. I still think that some parts of the reform are no good and those are the parts where I still think ‘ugh, ugly new spelling’ when I see them today.

Part of them is the dumbing down of spelling to match the sound of the spoken language rather than the word’s ethymology. You see ‘ph’ turned into ‘f’ for that or perhaps ‘e’ into ‘ä’ in some places. Luckily they didn’t go so far to suggest spelling ‘Physik’ as ‘Füsik’ – which I’d consider an ultimate sick joke on that topic.

Another part is a trend to keep words a little shorter; Where you used combined words before you’re encouraged to separate them to two words in writing. In some places that makes sense, in others it doesn’t. In particular, I sometimes find that a single word is more than the proverbial sum of its parts because it has a certain mood to it. Separating a long adjective into an adjective and an adverb, say, gives things a more neutral tone and often lacks that mood. The language is certainly more suited for spin doctors and PR agencies that way. But it always seems a bit dead. It also gives a different focus to the expressions in my opinion: For example the old word ‘Radfahren’ means cycling, the new pair of words ‘Rad fahren’ means riding a bike. To me it sounds much more utilitarian with a bigger focus on the verb ‘fahren’.

Strangely they also decided that some word should be stuck together now. This always strikes me as wrong when I see the word ‘zurzeit’ written which used to be ‘zur Zeit’. As I always read that word as ‘zurz-eit’ – which is ridiculously wrong – when I see it, I keep being baffled by it.

The quite possibly biggest thing in the reform, though, was what they did to the ß. For whichever reasons they decided there should be less ß in German spelling – but they didn’t ban the letter outright. Which – to me, anyway – means that in the old days™ it could be tricky to properly distinguish the cases where an ‘s’ and the ‘ß’ was used. The most notorious certainly being ‘das’ (the, for neutral gender) versus ‘daß (that). But now some of the cases where ‘ß’ was used have been changed to ‘ss’. Right – they didn’t just ban the nice letter from the language which I guess would have made things easier, if uglier. They just changed some of them to a different spelling. Where the ‘some’ bit is determined by the pronunciation of the word.

Allegedly this is easier for the school kids to learn. But for me it always looks like a single question ‘s’ or ‘ß’ has been replaced by two questions, ‘s’ or ‘ß’ and, in the latter case, write it as ‘ß’ or ‘ss’. At least I don’t find that easier.

And I don’t seem to be alone with that. Germans like street signs. If there’s a pretty road they’ll certainly find a way to uglify it by putting up some signs (just notice how most other countries draw coloured lines on the streets to indicate where you can park, but the friggin’ Germans put signs indicating that at the beginning and end of each stretch of spaces – ugly, expensive and insane!). And if things are wrong with the street – rather than fixing it – they often put up warning signs telling you to go slowly because the road is damaged (or even telling you there’s no road marking because, uh, you wouldn’t have noticed). And we have a whole road here where the signs indicate a degree of incertanty as far as the ‘ss’ vs ‘ß’ question is concerned:

Road sign Straßenschäden

April 26, 2008, 0:27

Comments

Comment by franky: User icon

I’m still happy sjampoo didn’t make it. It already was a possibility in the new Dutch spelling mid 90s.

If they want to push things, they should learn kids to read phonetic language, but certainly not change the origin of Germanic languages, because there are too many awesome details in most of those [languages].

(My mother tongue is Flemish/Dutch, but being from Belgium I also speak fluently French and German -I have lived 4 years in Köln)

April 26, 2008, 1:15

Comment by Julian: User icon

They changed the Rechtschreibreform twice after 1996, btw. With a lot of things you are now free to write them however you want, basically: list of changes on Wikipedia. Also, ‘zur Zeit’ and ‘zurzeit’ are two different words with two different meanings: zurzeit means ‘now, presently’, whereas zur Zeit is used in phrases such as ‘zur Zeit der alten Römer’. At least that’s what I remember to have learned, but then again, I’m only 22. Yet I’m old enough to hate words like ‘Delfin’ or ‘Fantasie’ and wonder why they didn’t make it ‘Filosofie’ as well then… or ‘Farisäer’, for that matter.

April 26, 2008, 1:53

Comment by ssp: User icon

@Julian:
I’m mostly writing the way I feel things should look like – I’m not a teacher or a bureaucrat so nobody cares. Yet it strikes me as odd that after all these years I haven’t just gotten used to the new spellings and quite a few of them still trigger the ‘argh, Rechtschreibreform’ gag reflex.

As for the reform now offering more possibilities to write ‘correctly’, I’m not sure what to make of it. On the one hand it just makes the whole thing look like a failed plan. On the other hand that failure may just have given us greater freedom in what we can write without feeding the nitpickers. That’s perhaps not the worst thing.

April 26, 2008, 2:02

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