Major German Media Reject Spelling Reform | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 07.08.2004
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Major German Media Reject Spelling Reform

Rejecting a six-year-old spelling reform, several publishing companies have announced they would switch back to the old system. The move comes shortly after leading conservative politicians had proposed a reversal.


Will he soon have to start all over again?

Officials for Axel Springer and Spiegel publishing companies said Friday they planned to revert to the old spelling "as quickly as possible" in their print and online publications and called on other German media organizations to do so as well.

The two leading publishers justified the decision by saying that the new rules were lacking acceptance and Germans were increasingly uncertain about writing in their own language. The new rules, aimed at ironing out quirks in spelling and punctuation, were first introduced in schools in 1998 and are scheduled to completely replace the old spelling by Aug. 2005.

"The spelling reform is not a reform, but a step backwards," Springer CEO Mathias Döpfner and Stefan Aust, SPIEGEL's editor-in-chief, wrote in a joint statement. "We want to help to correct this mistake. Linguistic development is an evolutionary process, as history has shown. Orthography should follow these changes and not prescribe them."

Christian Wulff

Christian Wulff

Christian Wulff (photo), the Christian Democratic (CDU) premier of the German state of Lower Saxony, welcomed the decision.

"This nonsensical reform cannot be kept alive any longer," said Wulff, who re-ignited the debate a few weeks ago by calling for a reversal of the reform. He added that he would try to get a majority of state premiers to support him at their next meeting in October. Several CDU premiers have already said they back the idea.

A death blow?

Others said they didn't believe the reform could survive with several of the country's major publishers opposing it.

"I can't imagine that the new spelling will survive now," said Hendrik Zörner, the spokesman for the German Journalists' Association, adding that his organization remained neutral on the issue.

Zurück zur alten Rechschreibung

Spiegel and Springer publications at a newsstand

The two companies say they reach about 60 percent of the German population through their publications, which include mass-circulation tabloid Bild and Die Welt newspaper (Springer) and DER SPIEGEL newsmagazine (Spiegel).

Following their announcement, other media companies jumped on the band wagon. Officials for Süddeutsche Zeitung also said they would drop the new spelling. Bauer publishing company, which puts out TV guides and other popular magazines, also indicated they would follow suit. Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper already switched back to the old spelling in 2000.

Peter Voss, the director-general of German public broadcaster SWR, supported the reversal as well. He added that his organization was debating doing the same and that he planned to bring up the issue with his colleagues within the national network of public broadcasters, ARD. Deutsche Welle is part of that organization.

Reform backers fight back

Supporters of the reform criticized the move, saying that it was the publishers who were causing uncertainty among Germans.

Der neue Duden

Backers of the reform say a reversal would cost hundreds of millions of euros to rewrite dictionaries and text books

In a written statement, officials for the conference of German culture ministers, the government body that initiated the reforms, said media companies had so far supported the change. They added that a new spelling council established to monitor linguistic development and fine-tune the reforms had been established in June.

Officials at Burda publishing company, which includes FOCUS newsmagazine, said they did not want to confuse people and would stick to the reform. But they added that this should not be seen as a "commitment to the spelling reform." Media organizations in Austria and Switzerland, where the new spelling was also introduced, said they had no plans to follow their German colleagues, according to news reports.

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