Literati oppose language reform

15th November 1996 at 00:00
GERMANY. Germany's leading writers have now banded with many leading book publishers to block the first changes to the German language for a century, which are now starting to appear on curricula.

The changes were agreed in July by Germany, Switzerland, Austria and various German-speaking European minorities. It had taken them decades to decide on the changes, which include Germanising foreign words, relaxing the use of commas, changing the German ' letter to ss, separating many composite words and moderating the use of the capital letter.

Around half the German children starting school began to learn the changes this term.

Rebellion started following the recent Frankfurt Book Fair, with Germany's literati signing a petition. The petition was the idea of a German teacher Friedrich Denk who started campaigning against "terror through orthography" following advice from his son, who had just read George Orwell's 1984. Critics joining the campaign include such heavyweights as Siegfried Lenz and Gunther Grass. Mr Lenz said: "Why are such changes necessary and who has a vested interest? Who has the right to regulate such changes?" Writer Hans Magnus Enzensberger, who has signed the petition said: "Shelley once said that writers were the real legal administrators of the language. I would not like to go that far, but I would rather trust someone who can write, than ministers and school book publishers who often cannot express themselves properly in their own language."

The main German dictionary publishers, Duden, has sold millions of the revised versions. "It's largest success in its post-war history," said a spokesman.

In contrast, the national association representing schoolbook publishers, estimated the corrections alone to 30,000 titles will cost them DM300 million (Pounds 125m). Michael Klett, head of Klett-Cotta educational publishing, accused the reformers of irresponsibility. Gottfried Honnefelder, of Deutsche Klassiker publishers, is also demanding that the reforms should be revoked.

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