A new letter in the German alphabet – and some rule changes…

This is what the capital Eszett will look like. dpa/Stephan Jansen

21 years ago, there was a big reform in German orthography – and ever since, tempers have been flaring about whether or not the modifications were necessary and made any sense at all. A lot of Germans and even some national newspapers simply refused to adopt the changes. For all these years, there has been open controversy over the correct spelling of “Delfin” versus “Delphin”, “Majonäse” versus “Mayonnaise”, “dass” or “daß” and “Schifffahrt” versus “Schiffahrt”.

In 2004, the “Rat für deutsche Rechtschreibung” (Council for German orthography) was founded to reinstall the “Sprachfrieden” (peace in regards to the language). They were to evaluate the feasibility of the reform and revise unnecessary changes by monitoring the everyday language use of German speakers.

Today (29 June 2017), it was announced that there will be some minor adjustments to German spelling, taking into consideration what the Rat für deutsche Rechtschreibung has worked on in the past years.

The biggest news of the day is that there will be a new letter in the German alphabet, namely a capitalised “ß”. It will look like a mixture of a small “ß” and a capital “B” and will be mainly used for last names that contain the letter “ß”.Formerly, someone with the name of “Meißner” would have to decide whether their name would be spelled “MEIßNER” or “MEISSNER” in official documents. From now on, they have the option of just capitalising the “ß”.

There was another change to the spelling of some words that just never found their way into everyday usage. Most of them are loanwords like “Majonäse”, “Wandalismus” or “Ketschup”. These spellings will now be abolished and replaced by their original spelling “Mayonnaise”, “Vandalismus” and “Ketchup”. Up until now, both variants were accepted; from now on, the ‘Germanised’ spelling will be regarded as wrong. In some other cases, the “Rat für deutsche Rechtschreibung” opted for the spelling that was more commonly used amongst German speakers, such as “Yoga” (from now on only: “Joga”) or “Komplice” (from now on only “Komplize”. Other examples include “Grislibär” (from now on only: “Grizzlybär”), “Varietee” (from now on only “Varieté”) or “Roulett” (from now on only “Roulette”).

Another major change will be the capitalisation of adjectives in fixed collocations, such as “mittlere/Mittlere Reife”, “goldene/Goldene Hochzeit” or “der technische/Technische Direktor”. Up until now, there were fixed rules on which collocations were capitalised and which ones were not. From now on, both spellings will be accepted.