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The History of
German Spelling Reform

A Timeline - Eine Chronik

From 1880 to the Present

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The road to German spelling reform has been long and rocky. Here are some of the key dates and events related to the introduction of modern Rechtschreibreform, which was first introduced in 1996 and became official in August 2005. But German spelling reform goes back to 1880, and the debate is far from over.

Rechtschreibreform - German Spelling Reform

7 July 1880: German educator Konrad Duden publishes a dictionary with the title Vollständiges Orthographisches Wörterbuch der deutschen Sprache. That same year the Kingdom of Prussia declares his reference work to be the authority on German spelling.

1901: The Staatliche Orthographie-Konferenz in Berlin makes official the German spelling rules that remained in force until August 1, 1998. This is the last official change in German spelling and punctuation prior to the 1996 reforms.

1 January 1938: The school board (die Erziehungsdirektion) for the Swiss canton of Zurich declares that the use of the ß (das Eszett, sz ligature) letter will no longer be taught in cantonal elementary schools. It is replaced by ss (double-s). Other Swiss cantons soon follow Zurich's lead. By the 1940s, the ß is fading out of Swiss German. However, the leading Swiss newspaper, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, does not eliminate the ß until November 4, 1974. Although the ß is not used in Swiss German today, Switzerland has never officially banned the letter. (See Spelling Reform: Double-s Words.)

1944: The Nazi regime's planned introduction of German spelling reforms is abandoned because of worsening war conditions.

November 1955: The conference of German education ministers (Kultusminister) declares the Duden reference publication the official guide and arbiter for questions on German spelling and punctuation.

1991: The so-called Einheitsduden ("Unity Duden") is published, ending the split between the Leipzig (eastern) Duden and the Mannheim (western) Duden that had existed since Germany itself was divided. Until then the Duden-Ost and Duden-West had each determined the spelling rules in both parts of Germany.

1 July 1996: Following ten years of work by an expert commission, a declaration approving the new spelling rules is signed in Vienna by representatives from Austria, Germany, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, and various other nations with German-speaking minorities. (See Where Is German Spoken?)

August 1996: Schools in most German Bundesländer (states) begin teaching the new spelling rules. Publishers of textbooks, dictionaries, and school materials are required to adopt the new orthographic rules for all new publications used in Austrian, German, and other German-language educational or governmental institutions.

6 October 1996: At the Frankfurt Book Fair (Buchmesse) 100 respected authors, professors, and scientists sign the Frankfurt Declaration (Frankfurter Erklärung) calling for rejection of the reforms.

14 July 1998: The German supreme court (Bundesverfassungsgericht) rules that the new spelling rules may go into effect as planned on 1 August 1998. The ruling denies a claim by a Lübeck couple that the spelling reforms damaged their son's educational rights and their own rights as parents.

1 August 1998: The new rules go into force for all schools and government offices in all German-speaking countries. As of this date, old spellings are now considered outdated but will not yet be marked as incorrect. A transitional period will allow the use of either the old or new spelling rules until 2005.

27 September 1998: Almost 60 percent of voters in the Schleswig-Holstein referendum reject spelling reform in the state's schools, making it the only one of Germany's 16 Bundesländer not to follow the new spelling rules. Legally, the vote was open to question. A later court decision overturns the referendum.

1 August 1999: Most German-language media outlets begin using the new spelling rules. Only a few newspapers and magazines in the German-speaking countries refuse to go along with the reforms.

1 August 2000: Germany's leading daily, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), returns to the old spelling rules. On July 26, 2000 the paper unexpectedly announces its decision to reject the unpopular spelling reforms that most of the German media had adopted a year before. On the first day of August 2000 "die FAZ" returns to the traditional spelling. (See Die Reform der Reform.)

2002: The German historian and writer Reinhard Markner founds the Forschungsgruppe Deutsche Sprache ("Research Group German Language") in an effort to reject the reforms. Popular opinion in Germany has almost 80% of the population opposed to the reforms. The German Swiss, who long ago got rid of the ß letter that lies at the heart of the reforms, tend to go their own way, wondering why the Germans are in such a frenzy. In Austria most people are opposed to the reforms, but they are not as worked up as the Germans seem to be.

August 2004: The debate over spelling reform reignites when two of Germany's leading publishing houses, the Springer-Verlag and Der Spiegel announce they will return to the old spelling rules. Munich's Süddeutsche Zeitung soon announces it will join the other two. Germany's other magazine and newspaper publishers, including Spiegel's competitor Focus, say they will stick with the reforms. (See details.)

31 July 2005: The transitional period ends. From this date on, only the new spelling rules are valid in all German-speaking countries. Private citizens and publishers may continue to write German using the traditional rules, but all official government publications and schools must follow the new rules as of August 1, 2005.

2 February 2006: Responding to widespread criticism of the reforms in Germany, the KMK (Kultusministerkonferenz) announces the final revision of German spelling reform ("die korrigierte Reform der deutschen Rechtschreibung"). The revision was finalized by the so-called "Rat für deutsche Rechtschreibung." It is scheduled to take effect on August 1, 2006, in time for the new school year. The new spelling rules are to be unified across Germany, including the two Länder (the states of Bavaria and North-Rhine Westphalia) that had departed from the rules used in the other 14 states. Newspapers and magazines are "encouraged" to use the latest revision of the spelling rules. Of course, the "reform of the reforms" is met with criticism, and German-speakers continue to debate the issue of German spelling.

MORE > German Spelling Reform - Rechtschreibreform

WEB > Schrift & Rede is a good site for following the news and discussions related to Rechtschreibreform - in German.

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German Spelling Reform - Rechtschreibreform
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