Spell of Trouble in Germany NO NEW WORDS!

By Ruth Walker, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, August 28, 1997 | Go to article overview

Spell of Trouble in Germany NO NEW WORDS!


Ruth Walker, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


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 of Geographie. 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, and Hungary. 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. …

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