Back to school: New rules for German

Grammar reform is now official in Germany. Andrew D. Blechman writes in The Christian Science Monitor that the reforms are at best unpopular among Germans, but at least adults won’t be penalized for not following them. The changes will be incorporated into school textbooks, and students will be strictly graded on their grammar.

The first attempts at reforming German, Blechman notes, occurred more than 100 years ago. German “rules for spelling and punctuation, developed over centuries, have been deemed ambiguous and unsystematic. The latest reform, begun in the early 1990s and led by expert grammarians from Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, set out to simplify the language: Grammar rules were reduced from 212 to 112, and those governing commas dropped from 52 to a mere 9. The changes mainly addressed written grammar and have little effect on the spoken word.”

But grammar simplification, adopted by the three governments’ education ministries in 1996, met with opposition, and another group of experts was assembled to “reform the reform.” The new rules were instituted in 2006 with a one-year grace period that has just ended.

Confusing, yes. Not as tough as Azerbaijan’s 2001 changeover from Cyrillic to Latin script, but bound to have an effect on writers, news organizations and classrooms around the world. Will German be easier for non-natives to learn? 


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