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Tuesday, May 12, 1998 Published at 13:47 GMT 14:47 UK


Spelling reform divides Germany

The Constitutional Court in Germany has begun hearings into challenges to controversial proposals to simplify the German language. The spelling reform, which involves halving the number of spelling rules and eliminating more than 40 instances of where to place commas, has caused anger and division since it was put forward two years ago. It proposes making German a more straightforward language to write but some academics, politicians and parents have criticised it as confusing and unnecessary. Janet Barrie reports from Berlin.

The German language has for centuries proved a headache for foreign students and native speakers alike - with its compound nouns, rigid grammar and subordinate clauses, it has daunted the most competent linguist.

The reforms agreed two years ago propose halving the rules governing spelling and eliminating over 40 instances of where to place commas.

The sponsors of the spelling reform have long maintained it's a vital modernisation, making an intricate language easier to learn. But they didn't reckon with the resistance of the German public.

The constitutional court hearings are the culmination of private legal challenges from parents and politicians. The judges must decide whether the reforms should be approved by a law passed in parliament.

In two of Germany's federal states, opponents to the spelling reform are gathering support for a referendum to propose a halt to it, and, in an unprecedented show of solidarity, over 500 German academics have joined forces in opposition.

The whole reform threatens to descend into chaos with some regional courts ruling in its favour and some against.

Both sides hope the constitutional court will shed some light on the issue before Germany splits into some regions writing one form of German, and others embracing another.

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Institut für deutsche Sprache (Institute for German language) - Information on spelling reform (in German)

Handout zur Rechtschreibreform (in German)

BMBF - Federal Ministry of Ecucation, Science, Research and Technology (in German)

Stopp! Gegen die Rechtschreibreform - critics of the spelling reform

Goethe Institut (in German)

Duden online - German spelling and Grammar (in German)

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