German spelling

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The first Bavarian rule book from 1879

As German spelling is spelling of the standard German called.


From the Middle Ages to the 18th century

The first surviving written evidence of the German language date from the 8th century (see German-language literature ). The Latin alphabet served as the basis for the writing. The difficulty that had to be overcome was that not all German sounds, for example umlauts, had their own characters. Around the year 1000, Notker von St. Gallen based his spelling on phonetic-phonological observations ( Notker's initial law). Punctuation developed from the High Middle Ages. From 1300 the virgel was used as a punctuation mark and capital letters were gradually used to mark beginnings. From the 14th century onwards, German increasingly replaced Latin as the language of the office. A high German written language was spread from 1522 through the German translation of the Bible by Martin Luther , which in turn, according to Luther's statement, was carried by the Saxon chancellery language.

In texts from the 16th to 18th centuries there are still a large number of double consonants in places that are unnecessary by today's standards, namely when the consonant in a syllable follows a diphthong (for example in the word "auff") or preceding consonants (for example in the word "Kampff") follows. Instead of doubling certain consonants, however, combinations with other consonants were used that are still in use today, for example tz instead of zz, ck instead of kk or dt instead of dd . In addition, one sometimes used the spellings aw instead of au, äw instead of äu, ew instead of eu and ay instead of ai , ey instead of ei for syllables ending with these diphthongs (for example “new” instead of “neu”; the “W” is still as to understand the original “double U”; for ey see following section). These old forms, which have not been used in orthography for around 200 years, are sometimes still included in family and place names (for example “Pfeiffer”, “Speyer”) and in the names of the federal states of Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg .

Goethe'sUrfaust ”, available from many sources in original orthography, gives a good impression of the spelling of the late 18th century .

Until the 18th century and beyond, there was no generally binding spelling. Each writer wrote spontaneously within the framework of general rules, as he personally saw fit. At times when he wasn't sure, he might change the spelling in the same text, if not in the same sentence. In addition to his own school education, he was guided by a wide variety of role models, especially the official notices. In this way, trends and regional differences emerged - based on the state law firms. From around the middle of the 18th century onwards, the old doubling rules were slowly being abandoned.

In 1788 Johann Christoph Adelung published proposals for orthography which formed the basis for spelling lessons in German schools at the beginning of the 19th century. Among other things, they restricted the often exuberant use of the ß , but were not uncontested in detail.

19th century

Page from Jacob Grimm's manuscript on the German dictionary
House detail from the end of the 19th century
From the “Book of Scripture”, Vienna 1880; s and z are phonetic transcriptions , like
IPA today

Until the early 19th century, ey or eÿ was written in many words instead of today's ei (for example “bey” or “beÿ” instead of “bei”). The spelling was derived from eij as part of the duplication . The j was originally just a minor form of the i that was used at the beginning or end of a word.

The scholars and writers who dealt intensively with the German language had very different goals for spelling. They ranged from “Write as you speak!” To extremely historical spelling, for example a leffel instead of a spoon, because here no o became an umlaut, but the preceding l changed the original e . The Brothers Grimm , who set a milestone in German linguistics with their German dictionary , propagated and practiced a moderate lower case with extremely sparing use of uppercase letters. From around 1850 there were consultations that led to the creation of orthographic instructions for schools (Hanover 1854, Leipzig 1857, Württemberg 1860, Prussia 1862, Bavaria 1863, Austria 1868).

After the founding of the empire in 1871, the call for standardization of the rules grew louder.

In January 1876, at the invitation of the Prussian Minister of Education, Adalbert Falk, the 1st Orthographic Conference "to achieve greater agreement in German spelling" was held in Berlin , in which, in addition to representatives of the states of the German Empire , delegates from Austria and Switzerland also took part. After some far-reaching proposals, a very moderate agreement was reached. However, the resolutions were not implemented in the states of the Reich.

In 1879 and 1880 the Bavarian and Prussian official rulebooks were published , which were then also accepted in the rest of Germany with minor changes. In 1879, the Heysean s spelling, which was valid there until 1901, was introduced for the first time in Austria .

Some of the few innovations were opposed by prominent figures in public life - including debates in the German Reichstag .

Konrad Duden's work was more effective than meetings of academies . With the creation and publication (1880) of his orthographic dictionary with the title Complete Orthographic Dictionary of the German Language - According to the new Prussian and Bavarian rules , he propagated - as an individual - a synthesis of the national (especially Prussian and Bavarian) school regulations.

20th century

“Kurz iſt das Leben” long-s (here as ſt- ligature ) and final-s in Kurrent script from the early 19th century.

Thirty years after the founding of the German Empire in 1871, the German written language was regulated uniformly for the first time at the Second Orthographic Conference in 1901. An important change was the final abolition of the th in words of German origin such as thun, Thür, Thal . The fact that the th spelling was retained in words of Greek origin such as throne and theater was often attributed to the personal influence of the German emperor Wilhelm II . Relatively large number of word-writes was the introduction of variant spellings and rewrites in foreign words with c: In most words could and many had even now z or k (depending on the pronunciation) is written ( accent alongside Accent ). Duden's dictionary remained authoritative when the Federal Council issued binding “Rules for German Spelling and Dictionary” in 1902 for the entire German Empire. The new spelling according to Duden was introduced by decree on January 1, 1903 in the authorities and on April 1, 1903 in schools. But it was also observed in Austria and Switzerland.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Germanist Joseph Lammertz wrote a text. It is the Kosog dictation , which was distributed by the Wroclaw teacher Oskar Kosog and named after him . The publication of this text in the small pamphlet Kosog's Our Spelling and the necessity of its thorough reform (1912) made clear to a wider public the continuing need for reform.

A restriction of the large number of introduced and approved variant spellings and further regulations on punctuation, which were not decided at the II. Orthographic Conference, were introduced by Konrad Duden in 1915 by integrating the " Buchdruckerduden " into the general dictionary.

When many traditions were critically questioned in the 1920s, there were also calls for a fundamental reform of German spelling. An author named A. Schmitz suggested in 1920 in the journal of the Allgemeine Deutsche Sprachverein under the article heading “What must a new spelling do?” To simplify the representation of the vowel expansion, to replace v and ph by f and to add the spelling of foreign words adapt German pronunciation rules, where, for example, g is not pronounced as [g] or h remains silent.

It was largely unknown that during the National Socialist era, Reich Education Minister Bernhard Rust attempted to reform the spelling. New rules for the reform of German spelling from 1944 were printed in one million copies, but were no longer implemented. The general introduction of Latin script had a lasting effect on the appearance of German-language texts. Until the beginning of the 20th century, broken fonts , handwritten fonts , the Sütterlin font and other current fonts dominated. The increasing use of antiquarian typefaces and their handwritten counterpart, Latin scripts , was initially fought even more vigorously by the National Socialists than by other nationalist circles. In 1941 there was a U-turn: Hitler ordered the immediate changeover to Antiqua. In this context, the principally simple but overall extensive provisions that regulated the use of long-s (ſ) and final-s became meaningless.

In the following decades, the German spelling was de facto developed by the editors of the " Duden ". After the Second World War , this tradition was continued twice in Leipzig and Mannheim (East and West Duden). In West Germany, at the beginning of the 1950s, some publishers attacked the de facto Duden monopoly by bringing out dictionaries with different spellings. Thereupon the education ministers of the West German federal states declared the Duden by resolution of November 1955 to be binding in all orthographic cases of doubt.

On the one hand, the Duden editorial team proceeded conservatively, considering it their primary task to document the predominant language usage in the dictionary . On the other hand, it developed ever finer ramifications in the set of rules to clarify more and more cases of doubt.

The scientific debate became politicized in the wake of the 1968 movement : standardized spelling was criticized as repressive and as a means of social selection. Reform proposals no longer only tried to clarify cases of doubt, but wanted to fundamentally simplify German spelling and thereby simplify learning to write in particular.

What many proposals had in common was the demand for “moderate lower case letters”: the general capitalization of nouns should be abolished, while that of proper names should be retained. Such a reform was carried out by Denmark after the Second World War.

However, a well-known study in the Netherlands showed that upper and lower case letters corresponding to German have a major influence on reading speed. With this type of upper and lower case, the test subjects were able to read texts in their mother tongue much faster than in moderate lower case. (Representation and bibliographical references in the grammar of the word / sentence .) As a reaction, various European countries, including Great Britain, discussed introducing upper and lower case letters that correspond to German. Without exception, however, the discussions fizzled out.

In the period after the founding of the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) in 1949, the preservation of the linguistic unity with the new German Democratic Republic (GDR) was a motive for refraining from further attempts at reform. In the wake of the détente policy of the German government, however, the International Working Group for Orthography was able to come together from 1980 , to which experts from these two countries, Austria and Switzerland belonged. Soon after German reunification , the 1996 spelling reform took place . Unlike, for example, in France with the Académie française , there was no traditional authority in the German-speaking area to monitor and regulate language. After continuing criticism of the 1996 reform with the German Spelling Council, a corresponding institution was only created in 2004, the first task of which was to revise the most contentious areas of the existing new spelling rules in February 2006.


With the reform of German spelling in 1996 , a prescriptive set of rules was created which, after a small revision in 2004 and a larger revision in 2006, has been binding in schools in Germany and in a similar form in Austria and Switzerland since 2007. Since 1999 the set of rules has also been binding for the German federal administrations.

The modified set of rules officially came into force in Germany on August 1, 2006. In the case of foreign words in particular, but also in a number of other cases, many variant spellings have been allowed in the newly introduced spelling regulation (e.g. spelling / orthography ). In order to ensure uniform spelling within a work or a series of works, both the Duden and the Wahrig editors recommend only one of these variants, but in some cases not the same. The recommendations are marked in the respective spelling dictionaries. Truig also published a special dictionary. The working group of the German-speaking news agencies has published a list of recommendations, which for the most part corresponds to the Duden and the Wahrig recommendations; if the two recommendations differ, she chooses one option and the other.

In a representative survey of 1,820 over 16-year-olds commissioned by the Society for German Language "on the subject of 'German language' in the broadest sense", the reformed spelling was only supported by 9% in 2008, while a majority of 55% opposed it (approx every third person “didn't care”).

Social factors for orthography standardization

According to Mattheier, the educated middle class is the bearer of social developments at the end of the 18th and in the course of the 19th century. This layer of the population gained influence and thus had a strong socio-historical effect. The language became the social symbol of bourgeois society. It defined the educated middle class as a group. This included the possibility of demarcation from classes below the bourgeoisie and from the lower nobility. The citizens temporarily stood out from these other social groups through their linguistic ability, communicative competence and their own language variety, which they used in writing and orally. Through the prestige of the bourgeoisie and this variety, other strata of the population imitated the language and manners of the bourgeoisie, which was responsible, among other things, for the spread.

According to Mattheier, at the end of the 19th century the values ​​of the previous centuries no longer counted. Noble privileges and agriculture were considered null and void. What counted now was property and education. The educated were the bearers of society; they held the most recognized positions. Many of them rose from their work as writers, journalists, tutors or theologians socially to the positions of pastors, professors, teachers in high schools or legal experts, or they even got into high administrative positions; they were legitimized to do so through their knowledge.

Gradually, entry requirements for certain positions were created, which the educated citizens were more likely to fulfill than the aristocrats. For example, in order to enter a Prussian officer career, primary school qualifications were required at a Prussian grammar school. In the 19th century, the educated bourgeoisie was in fact a functional elite. Mattheier also states that this social class has experienced an ideological revaluation through the Enlightenment and additionally through a philosophical-aesthetic and pedagogical exaggeration. In addition, there was the state fragmentation of the German-speaking area. The ideal of the cultural nation developed, which was also borne by the bourgeoisie with its literary-aesthetic claim, which was based on the classical period and thus, among other things, on Goethe. This ideal could only be enforced through a standardized high-level German language. The language variety of the educated middle class served here as a model.

However, imitation by the other layers made the newly created borders more permeable. The standard language advanced from the social symbol of the educated citizens to the national symbol of all German speakers. Mattheier blames the process of popularization and pedagogy for the process of full implementation of the standard language. Popularization is understood as the expansion and displacement of all competing varieties just mentioned. Pedagogy means here that it is taught in all types of schools.

Popularization of the standard German language

In the process of popularizing the standard German language, all other varieties were stigmatized. Dialects were rated negatively and were considered a sign of backwardness. The stigmatization was particularly strong in central and northern Germany. Dialect has been associated with peasantry or working class and poor education. This stigmatization is still there today, precisely because of that.

The process of standard training took place in the context of institutionalization. Theaters, public administrations and parliamentary institutions began to standardize early because of their supraregional function. The development of language standardization even included the newly emerged fourth class of workers. Intensive speaker training courses were created for members of the Social Democratic Workers' Party.

Pedagogy of the German standard language

In the 19th century, German experienced an appreciation. It was introduced as an independent subject in the school. Techniques like reading and writing were now specifically taught, as were types of text. According to the ideal of classical music, the students learned to produce speeches, letters and administrative texts in a standard language. High-level literature was canonized and made a subject of study. The standard language was instrumentalized and dialectal language was supplanted in schools. Orthographic rules were expanded, standardized and consolidated. Violations were increasingly sanctioned.

Spelling of German dialects

Some of the German dialects have their own rules, such as those according to Sass for (West) Low German (1935/56), the Dieth spelling for Swiss German (1938) or Orthal for Alsatian (2003).

See also the conventions for the individual Wikipedia versions : Alemannic ( Schrybig ), Bavarian ( Boarian transcription ), Luxembourgish ( Schreifweis ), Low German ( Sass ), Ripuarian ( Schrievwies ).

See also

Portal: German Spelling  - Overview of Wikipedia content on the topic of German spelling

Previous use of certain letters

Important persons in the history of German orthography



Orthographic dictionaries

  • Konrad Duden: Orthographic dictionary of the German language . Seventh edition. Bibliographical Institute, Leipzig / Vienna 1902, OBV .
  • Duden. The German spelling. The comprehensive standard work based on the new official spelling rules. Published by the Duden editorial team. Bibliographisches Institut & FA Brockhaus, Mannheim et al. 2006, ISBN 3-411-04014-9 .
  • German spelling. Rules and dictionary. Official regulation, August 1, 2006 . Published by the Council for German Spelling. Narr, Tübingen 2006, ISBN 3-8233-6270-4 .
  • Theodor Ickler: Normal German spelling. Write meaningfully, separate, make a mark. 4th enlarged edition. Leibniz-Verlag, St. Goar 2004, ISBN 3-931155-14-5 .
  • Lutz Mackensen: German Dictionary. Spelling, grammar, style, explanations of words, abbreviations, pronunciation, history of the German vocabulary. Unreformed, undeformed. 13th edition. Manuscriptum-Verlag, Waltrop 2006, ISBN 3-937801-08-1 .

Web links

Wikisource: Spelling  - Sources and Full Texts
Commons : Rules and dictionary for German spelling (Leipzig 1857)  - album with images, videos and audio files
Commons : Rules and vocabulary for German spelling (Bayern 1879)  - album with pictures, videos and audio files

Online dictionaries

Individual evidence

  1. Urfaust in almost original spelling (without Lang-s)
  2. New Standard German. In: Carl Faulmann : The book of writing, containing the characters and alphabets of all times and of all the peoples of the world . Second increased and improved edition. Kaiserlich-Königliche Hof- und Staatsdruckerei, Vienna 1880, obv AC04471225 , p. 226.
  3. Federal Constitutional Court decision on the spelling reform 1998
  4. Werner Besch (Hrsg.): Language history. A handbook on the history of the German language and its research . 1st volume, 2nd edition. ISBN 978-3-11-007396-6 , p. 60, Chapter 4: The General German Language Association in the 19th and 20th centuries. Century and the German language .
  5. Spelling News. In:  Werkzeitung Staatsdruckerei Wien , year 1944, No. 4/1944 (VI. Year), p. 3 f. (Online at ANNO ). Template: ANNO / Maintenance / osd.
  6. Jürgen F. Schopp: Antiqua and invoice. University of Tampere (Finland), 2002.
  7. Federal Ministry of the Interior: Federal administration adopts the revision of German spelling, July 22, 2005.
  8. Truly, one word - one spelling. The Wahrig Hausorthografie from A to Z . Wissen-Media-Verlag, Gütersloh / Munich 2006, ISBN 3-577-07567-8 .
  9. Word list and explanations of the German-speaking news agencies.
  10. How do Germans think about their mother tongue and foreign languages? ( Memento from August 20, 2011 in the Internet Archive ) Press release by the Society for German Language from June 13, 2008.
  11. Klaus J. Mattheier: Standard Language as a Social Symbol . About the communicative consequences of social change. In: Rainer Wimmer (Ed.): The 19th century. Linguistic roots of today's German . de Gruyter, Berlin 1991, ISBN 3-11-012960-4 , pp. 41-72.