Spelling rules may sound like an unlikely subject for people
to get riled up over, especially in the depths of August. But riled
up they are in Germany.
Over the past few years, Germans have been continually
hearing about the need for one reform of their society after
another: tax reform, pension reform, as well as the plan to make
them trade in their beloved deutsche mark for a common European
currency. It's enough to make a citizen's head swim.
And so the modest changes in spelling and grammar agreed to
last summer, set to take effect next Aug. 1, have emerged as the
reform the man and woman in the street love to hate.
In state after state, parents who want their children to grow
up with the same rules they learned have gone to court to prevent
exposure of their little ones to such horrors as Geografie instead
The court cases have yielded a mixed bag of verdicts. So far,
22 complaints against the reform have been filed in administrative
courts across Germany. Of the eight cases decided, four have been
in favor of the reform and four against.
But the Constitutional High Court may decide the issue. It is
a prospect that opponents of reform relish. After their case was
turned down on appeal, a Lubeck couple who want to protect their
twin sons from the new rules mailed their complaint to the High
Court Tuesday, the parents' lawyer said.
The constitutional issue involves not the substance of the
reforms, but whether they are fundamental enough that an act of
parliament is required to introduce them. Because education is a
state responsibility, if legislation is required, it will have to
be approved by all 16 state parliaments, plus the federal one. And
the likelihood of that happening, the weekly Die Zeit observes, is
"exactly zero." Thus, a call for new legislation is seen as a call
to preserve the status quo.
The whole controversy illustrates both how highly regulated
and how decentralized Germany is.
The changes, in the works for decades, were agreed upon last
summer by an international commission including both linguists and
culture ministers of Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and other
countries with German-speaking minorities: Italy, Denmark, Romania,
Suddenly newspapers were full of special supplements
explaining the new rules, and new dictionaries and grammar books
were being advertised with a zeal usually reserved for hit movies.
In most states, schools introduced the new rules last fall, at
least to their first-graders.
But as this year's crop of six-year-olds head off for their
first day of school, toting the traditional paper cones full of
sweets and school supplies, reaction against the reforms continues. …