AM -- Dictionaries

Special Report: New German Orthographic Dictionaries

"The changes were not the goal of the reform at all. The goal was to take orthographic regulatory power away from one private German publishing house and to put it back into the hands of the state." (Karl Blüml, Member of the International Working Group for Orthography and of the Transnational Commission for German Orthography, in the Standard of January 31, 1998).

The so-called recent orthographic reform in Germany refers to itself as "small" and "cautious." (An orthographic reform was introduced with astonishingly similar terms in 1944: apparently a reform is "small" and "cautious" so long as it maintains the capitalization of all nouns.) In any case, it is definitely a reform, and not just a continuation of the previous orthographic development that proceeded from one Duden dictionary edition to another. One outward but convincing sign of that is the fact that orthographic dictionaries--along with the supplementary orthographic literature right down to textbooks--have had to be newly acquired immediately. The seemingly generous transition period of 1998 to 2005 proved to be of little use, not only for reasons of competitive pressure but also because most ministers of culture in the German states insisted on introducing the reform into school instruction right away. This was only possible because timely publication of the necessary dictionaries had already been guaranteed by the summer of 1996, two years before the first deadline. Learning from previous reforms, the reform advocates set a goal of creating a fait accompli as rapidly as possible, so that the affected public would have no further chance to protest. The interplay of publishers and politicians functioned very well indeed. Several million new dictionaries were sold within a few months, and the year 1996 created the highest annual profit leap in Duden's history. Other orthographic enterprises also profited in the short term.

Economic motives played a decisive role in this reform from the beginning, since this business goes into the billions. Many of the commission members are themselves involved in the private marketing of the reform. A correction or cancellation of the reform would have detrimental effects for a few publishing concerns, although it would protect the majority of other publishing houses, and also the general economic and administrative sectors, from high changeover expenses. Textbook publishers are spending huge sums to fight the reform's critics: according to their own data, lobbyists' efforts to influence a referendum in Schleswig-Holstein alone came to 400,000 DM (ca. $200,000). When the reform's critics prevailed nonetheless, and the Schleswig-Holstein minister of culture was dismissed, the Bertelsmann Group gave 10,000 copies of Die neue deutsche Rechtschreibung [The New German Orthography] free of charge to pupils throughout the state to win them over for the reform anyway. The fact that the defective quality of the Bertelsmann orthography made it virtually unmarketable may have had something to do with this largesse. Sales of the new dictionaries in general are stagnating on all fronts due to insecurity about the reform's muddled prospects.

One proof that the new orthographic regulations may have no future is a 1998 resolution by the German-language news agencies to introduce spelling and punctuation standards that consciously deviate from the official version. This cannot succeed either, given the extreme faultiness of the attempt, but a return to the neo-official regulations does not seem possible. Only the orthography used almost everywhere up until now can be considered a proven standard on which to craft a consensus. The Federal Constitutional Court, incidentally, gave a notably poor prognosis of acceptance to the new regulations in a judgment of July 14, 1998.

Success or failure of the reform is being decided in a realm totally unrelated to political or economic considerations, however, because the new regulations are of such poor professional quality that they simply cannot be carried out. Ever since the Orthographic Commission itself declared in December 1997 that the reform was not maintainable in its then-current form, it has been senseless to acquire any new dictionaries, textbooks or children's books--except to satisfy a collector's interest in printing curiosities.

The new rules in the available dictionaries are interpreted correctly at times, falsely at others--with thousands of individual contradictions--so that inevitably questions about the precision of the new regulations arise. To represent what is clearly nonsense and error as "correct" in dictionaries is a dubious undertaking from the start. Only under this general caveat is it worth casting a comparative glance at the new dictionaries.

Orthographic dictionaries, in the strictest sense, are very rare in Germany, since the standard-bearing Duden developed into a unique amalgam that serves many undemanding users as a semantic dictionary or even as a simple encyclopedia. The first few works discussed in the following are called "orthographic" dictionaries, but they also contain countless entries on pronunciation, grammar, meaning, and stylistics. Next, some dictionaries are discussed that explain each word and only document orthography as an aside; still, they are also forced to interpret the new rules, which they do in a revealing manner. Finally, the latest phase of the orthography discussion is represented by the Duden-Praxiswörterbuch [Duden Practical Dictionary], the first purely orthographic reference work.

Die neue deutsche Rechtschreibung: entspricht den neuen amtlichen Richtlinien und dem Schulgebrauch; mit den neuen Regeln und Schreibweisen für Deutschland, Österreich und die Schweiz [The New German Orthography: Conforms to the New Official Guidelines and Educational Practice; with the New Rules and Styles for Germany, Austria and Switzerland]. Ursula Hermann. Completely rev. and expanded by Lutz Götze. Gütersloh: Bertelsmann-Lexikon Verlag, 1996. 1,040 p. 20 cm. ISBN 3-577-10625-5: DM 19.90 [99-1/4-482]

Bertelsmann, Die neue deutsche Rechtschreibung: entspricht dem neuen amtlichen Regelwerk und dem künftigen Schulgebrauch; mit den neuen Regeln und Schreibweisen für Deutschland, Österreich und die Schweiz [The New German Orthography: Conforms to the New Official Guidelines and Future Educational Practice; with the New Rules and Styles for Germany, Austria and Switzerland]. Ursula Hermann. Completely rev. and expanded by Lutz Götze. München: Bertelsmann Electronic Publishing, 1996. 1 CD-ROM. ISBN 3-577-11100-3: DM 39.90 [99-1/4-483]

Die deutsche Rechtschreibung [German Orthography]. Ursula Hermann. Completely rev. and expanded by Lutz Götze. Gütersloh; München: Bertelsmann-Lexikon-Verlag, 1999. 1,073 p. 20 cm. ISBN 3-577-10660-3: DM 29.90 [99-1/4-484]

Die neue deutsche Rechtschreibung by Bertelsmann was sitting on bookstore shelves by July 2, 1996, exactly one day after the culture ministers of the German-speaking countries signed a declaration of intent in Vienna. The new regulations are only partially included; the previous writing standards are erroneously perpetuated in hundreds of cases. Only in later reprints, which were not even differentiated or identified as such at first, can a continually increasing convergence with the new Duden be traced, as evidenced by the erroneous interpretation that "wiedersehen" and a dozen similar word formations ought now to be separated ("wieder sehen"). Just as conspicuous as the many false entries are the red boxes in which the new orthographic rules are explained. It is obvious here, and in the extensive didactic introduction, that not only are the compilers insufficiently well acquainted with the previous orthography, they do not understand the reform. Dozens of traditional rules are falsely characterized as "new." Among the worst offenses is ignorance of the new capitalization requirements for the interior of multipartite foreign expressions. The new rules forcefully call for "Alma Mater," "Corpus Delicti," "Dolce Vita," "Fin de Siècle," etc., but the Bertelsmann dictionaries maintain the current practice of capitalizing only the first element.
  Duden, Rechtschreibung der deutschen Sprache [Duden, Orthography of the German Language]. Ed. Werner Scholze-Stubenrecht and Matthias Wermke in collaboration with Günther Drosdowski. 21st completely rev. and expanded ed. based on the new official orthographic rules. Mannheim [et al.]: Dudenverlag, 1996. 910 p. 20 cm. (Der Duden, 1) ISBN 3-411-04011-4: DM 38.00 [99-1/4-485]

Duden, Die deutsche Rechtschreibung: zwei komplette Duden-Bände auf einer CD-ROM [Duden, German Orthography: Two Complete Duden Volumes on one CD-ROM]. 21st ed. based on the new official orthographic rules; 20th ed. based on the previous rules and orthography; Software for Windows, Version 1.1. Mannheim [et al.]: Dudenverlag, 1996. 1 CD-ROM (PC-Bibliothek) ISBN 3-411-06701-2: DM 78.00 [99-1/4-486]

Duden, Der Konverter zur neuen deutschen Rechtschreibung [Duden, The Converter to the New German Orthography]. Mannheim [et al.]: Dudenverlag, 1997. 1 CD-ROM. ISBN 3-411-06963-5: DM 98.00 [99-1/4-487]

The new orthography is carried out much more consistently in the Duden dictionaries, which appeared about seven weeks after those from Bertelsmann. The new Duden needs close examination, not only because it has left the competition in the dust as regards numbers of copies sold, but also because it is the lodestar orthographic dictionary within its publishing group. These effects cannot be overestimated, since the group seems to be pursuing a scorched-earth policy in matters orthographic. All the lexicographic works of Langenscheidt, Meyer, Brockhaus, the Bibliographisches Institut, and Duden are being converted to the new rules with astonishing speed, while Bertelsmann, on the other hand, continues to allow its top-selling Universallexikon to appear in the traditional orthography. This may reflect differing estimations of the future prospects for the reform. In fact, it is extremely reckless to endanger an impressive enterprise such as the large Brockhaus-Enzyklopädie (see RREA 5:27) by converting it into the new orthography, that represents only a transitional form of writing at best.

In the Duden tradition of guidelines ("Richtlinien"), the actual word index is preceded by an easily understood, alphabetic version of the reformed orthographic rules, all of which testifies to the high competence of the editorial staff. The new guidelines, to which the word index continually refers, encompass grammar rules as before. The numbering of the guidelines has been reduced from 212 to 136, but with about the same overall size. This was steered by an internal memo to coworkers: "The formula that says 'distill 212 down to 112,' faulty in rationale but politically astute, must also find its appropriate reflection in the Duden." Thus the Duden editorial board admits its complicity in the ploy of the ministers of culture.

The editorial board knows, of course, that the new rules of writing are unusable, but tries to make the best of it. In this spirit, the editors seek sensible solutions where the rule structure doesn't actually allow them. At the price of a clear breach of the rules (both old and new), and in contradiction to grammatical facts, they ordain certain separated phrases (e.g., "dabei gewesen," "zuletzt genannt") to be written together when nominalized ("die Dabeigewesenen," "das Zuletztgenannte"). Where the newly separated participial phrase "allein stehend" is nominalized separately by the new rules to "allein Stehende," Duden also allows "Alleinstehende" by analogy with another anomaly.

In the matter of syllabification, it is not possible to list all theoretically permissible forms. The reformers presuppose among users a boundless ignorance of syllable divisions in foreign words (though they seem to expect finely nuanced foreign-language skills in the realm of capitalization). Thus the reformer Klaus Heller, who is not only the chairman of the Transnational Commission but also works for Bertelsmann, took exception to the Duden when it failed to use the division "Hämog-lobin" (hemog-lobin). Coincidentally it does appear that way in Bertelsmann, for which Heller wrote the introduction. But Bertelsmann does also give a lemma "Hämo" for blood; since professionals will never divide the word other than "Hämo-globin," Heller's syllabification tactics will always be stigmatized as inferior. The same problem affects some thousands of words.

The Duden, on the other hand, presents us with "Pi-ckles" (marked in red as an innovation). This conforms to the letter of the new rules, but nobody with understanding and taste will actually make such a division. The only conceivable sense for the inclusion of such undesirable syllabifications in the Duden dictionaries may be that they will then not be marked as wrong by teachers; this could be achieved more easily by means of a memo from school administrators. The same can be said for the new rules for the use of commas--not discussed here--which are so senseless that the reformers totally ignore them in their own writings.

Unlike almost all other dictionaries, the orthographic Duden does not systematically identify the traditional forms (permissible until 2005) and does not identify all new forms as such: the red markings are inconsistent.

Given its price, the poor quality of the print edition's binding is conspicuous. The spine separates after a few days of intensive use. Most of the other dictionaries are sturdier.

Österreichisches Wörterbuch: mit den neuen amtlichen Regeln [Austrian Dictionary: With the New Official Rules]. Ed. Otto Back and Herbert Fussy for the Federal Ministry of Education and Cultural Affairs. 38th, newly rev. ed. Wien: ÖBV, Pädagogischer Verlag, 1997. 800 p. 22 cm. ISBN 3-215-12653-2: ÖS 198.00 [99-1/4-488] The Österreichisches Wörterbuch was published about a year later than the early representative German dictionaries. Its compilers were, for the most part, participants in the preliminary work of the reform. One of them was a member of the Transnational Commission. This would seem to guarantee a certain authenticity of interpretation. An introduction gives a pedagogical overview of the new rules; at the end, the official regulations themselves are listed.

In listing the cases of capitalization, the dictionary neglects to indicate adjectival capitalization in certain proper noun phrases, such as "roter Milan" rather than "Roter Milan" (Red Milan). Other dictionaries show similar confusion with capitalization, and the news agencies mentioned earlier simply decided to ignore Paragraph 63 of the new rules altogether, thereby negating nearly half the effect of the reform.

In the area of nominalizations, the ÖWB simply places "schwer Verletzten" and "Schwerverletzten" (badly injured persons) next to one another and denotes the first as a new form. This is a double mistake: the first was already permissable, and the latter is no longer possible according to the new rules. The dictionary splits participles that were previously combined, such as "wohl klingend," "wohl riechend," "wohl schmeckend" (good-sounding, good-smelling, good-tasting), but when their comparatives and superlatives are taken into account, this proves to be the wrong track. Contrary to its intentions, this dictionary offers hundreds of examples of word destruction.

Dictionaries from more or less traditional publishing houses were soon joined by others produced by quickly-assembled working groups without lexicographic experience. Nobody expects to find a serious dictionary at the coffee shop or newspaper kiosk, except perhaps as a licensed edition. There have always been many more or less orthographic dictionaries; but experience and precise studies have shown that secretaries and editors choose the Duden almost exclusively as a reference tool for their work. This will probably not change much, although the Bertelsmann dictionary--to the degree that it continues to conform to Duden's--may offer a certain complement.

Die aktuelle deutsche Rechtschreibung von A-Z: ein umfassendes Nachschlagewerk des deutschen und eingedeutschten Sprachschatzes; entspricht in vollem Umfang den neuen amtlichen Rechtschreibregeln und dem zukünftigen Schulgebrauch [Current German Orthography from A-Z: A Complete Reference Work of German and Germanized Vocabulary; Conforms Completely to the New Official Orthography and Future Educational Practice]. Ed. Friedemann Bedürftig. Köln: Naumann und Göbel, 1996. xxiv, 1,046 p. 20 cm. ISBN 3-625-10451-2 [99-1/4-489] Die aktuelle deutsche Rechtschreibung von A-Z was sponsored by the coffee retailer Eduscho and appeared later as a Heyne pocketbook. The book has a flattering introduction by the reformer Hermann Zabel, who later admitted in a letter--after being confronted with the faulty quirks of the work--that he had only taken a cursory glance at the book and did not even know who the compilers were. The number of mistakes is extremely high.
  Duden, Deutsches Universalwörterbuch [Duden, German Universal Dictionary]. Ed. Günther Drosdowski and the Duden Editorial Board, on the basis of the new official orthographic rules. 3d rev. and expanded ed. Mannheim [et al.]: Dudenverlag, 1996. 1,816 p. 25 cm. ISBN 3-411-05503-0: DM 59.90 [99-1/4-491]

Duden, Deutsches Universalwörterbuch A-Z: über 120,000 Stichwortartikel mit über 500,000 Angaben zu Rechtschreibung, Silbentrennung, Aussprache, Herkunft, Grammatik und Stil, 150,000 Anwendungsbeispiele [Duden German Universal Dictionary A-Z: Over 120,000 Keywords with more than 500,000 Explanations of Spelling, Syllabification, Pronunciation, Etymology, Grammar and Style and 150,000 Examples of Usage]. 3d rev. ed., based on the new official orthographic rules. Version 1.1. Mannheim [et al.]: Dudenverlag, 1996. 1 CD-ROM. (PC-Bibliothek) ISBN 3-411-05471-9: DM 98.00 [99-1/4-492]

Once, this was one of the best dictionaries; its abundance of information made it comparable to the much more expensive eight-volume edition from the same company. The reworking of it has given it the dubious advantages of the orthographic Duden and even magnifies the latter's fatal shortcomings. Many of the traditional modes of writing are no longer found here, and the new ones are not even identified as such. As a result, the former usage--which is still valid for years and which will probably turn out to be the victorious form--cannot even be reconstructed. A dictionary that does not contain the everyday word "sogenannt" (so-called) among its 120,000 entries is unusable.
  Wörterbuch der deutschen Sprache [Dictionary of the German Language]. Ed. Gerhard Wahrig. Rev. ed. Renate Wahrig-Burfeind. München: Deutscher Taschenbuch-Verlag, 1997. 1,152 p. 19 cm. (dtv, 3,366) ISBN 3-423-03366-5: DM 29.90 [99-1/4-493]

Wörterbuch der deutschen Sprache [Dictionary of the German Language]. Ed. Gerhard Wahrig. Rev. ed. Renate Wahrig-Burfeind. München: Deutscher Taschenbuch-Verlag, 1997. 1 CD-ROM. ISBN 3-423-52102-3: DM 49.00 [99-1/4-494]

Deutsches Wörterbuch [German Dictionary]. Gerhard Wahrig. Ed. Renate Wahrig-Burfeind. 7th, completely rev. ed. Based on the new official orthographic rules. Gütersloh: Bertelsmann-Lexikon Verlag, 2000. 1,420 p. 28 cm. ISBN 3-577-10446-5: DM 59.90 [99-1/4-496]

Wahrig, Deutsches Wörterbuch [Wahrig, German Dictionary]. Rev. ed. based on the new official orthographic rules. Gütersloh: Bertelsmann-Lexikon-Verlag; München: Bertelsmann Electronic Publishing, 1997. 1 CD-ROM. ISBN 3-577-11017-1: DM 98.00 [99-1/4-497]

The reworked dictionaries by Wahrig share a similar approach to the new guidelines. The one published by dtv concentrates strongly on meanings and above all on collocations; thus, it is a stylistics dictionary as well. Its virtues, in fact, are found in its exacting and thorough treatment of collocations, but that is not the subject of our observations. The orthographic reform has spoiled this lovely book. In her forward, the compiler indicates that she is very aware of this fact: "To compile a dictionary of the German language under these turbulent orthographic conditions turns lexicographic activity, which normally deals with the past and the present of language usage, into a guessing game. Today the overriding question is: How shall we write in the future?" The answer is easy: not like this!
  Duden, Praxiswörterbuch zur neuen Rechtschreibung [Duden, Practical Dictionary for the New Orthography]. Ed. Werner Scholze-Stubenrecht and the Duden Editorial Board. Mannheim [et al.]: Dudenverlag, 1998. 431 p. 23 cm. ISBN 3-411-70611-2: DM 24.90 [99-1/4-495] Apparently to hasten the conversion of the German press and thus effectively seal the reform once and for all, Duden published a Praxiswörterbuch in November 1998, the only purely orthographic dictionary among those discussed here. It has 40,000 entries and does not make the express claim of being official but only of conforming to the official regulations, so that whoever follows its lead will write "correctly" in the sense of the reform. It is unusual in choosing and "recommending" one single form out of all the possible variants. The fact that there may be other permissible ways of writing needs only to be of interest to the teacher while correcting essays. For practitioners in newspaper offices, etc., agreement and unity are more important.

The foreword claims that "All word forms given in the Duden-Praxiswörterbuch correspond to the new official regulations." This claim is false. The unauthorized restoration of writing forms abandoned by the reform goes much further here than it did in Duden's Rechtschreibung. In some cases, a word combination is restored with the justification that it comes from technical terminology and is thus exempt from the reform.

The compilers from Duden, Bertelsmann and Wahrig met numerous times--sometimes together with the Transnational Commission--to work out a more or less uniform approach for their dictionaries. (Countless deviations were not exactly conducive to sales.) In the face of these common interests, the solo path taken here by Duden was a provocation. Bertelsmann editor Lutz Götze protested with an open letter to German bookstores in which he offered to give his company's side of the story in a lecture presentation. The battle escalated after the above-mentioned gift/waste-disposal campaign of Bertelsmann in Schleswig-Holstein.

In sum: the new dictionaries only reflect what educated German speakers have long known: the current neo-regulation of German orthography is, even in the judgment of its creators, not maintainable. Efforts to rescind it have been underway for some time. The news agencies are attempting to develop their own orthography that is identical neither with the previous rules nor with the new ones. Thus we have regressed to the lamentable conditions of the nineteenth century, for which the uniform orthography contributed to by Konrad Duden was a solution greeted on all sides. Whatever the future orthography may be, it is likely to remain closer to the previous than to the newly reformed version. Under these conditions, the purchase of a "reformed" dictionary or any other book in the new writing style is not advisable. Whoever stays with the traditional orthography will be writing accurately and also, at least for the next few years, "correctly." [ti/rdh]

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