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Is Germany Raising a Generation of Illiterates? 431

StartsWithABang (3485481) writes "Over at Starts With A Bang, the weekly question comes in from Germany, where we're informed: 'In Germany, many teachers have adopted a new way of teaching children to write properly. The way is called "Writing by Reading" and essentially says: Write as you wish, you're not bound by any rules. Recently, this way of teaching has been heavily criticized [link in German], but not before it has been "tested" on several years of school children.' The reading wars have been going on in the US, too, but will this wind up having a negative outcome? Or, as this piece argues, is it likely to be a wash?"
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Is Germany Raising a Generation of Illiterates?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 13, 2014 @03:47PM (#46741827)

    But language is not something defined by laws; it is alive, changing and evolving all the time.

    Which is of course regulated by law, for German the Duden holds the currently recognized words and their correct spellings as well as meanings in common use.

    If the text written using this method can be read as easy and fast as text written according to the rules, what really is the problem?

    The linked German article has a nice, short example "Die Bollizei isst da", "The police eats there" where the correct spelling "Die Polizei ist da" would mean "the police is here". As can be seen the few wrong letters in Polizei wont cause any confusion, however other words are not blessed with that much error correcting redundancy - "ist" being and "isst" eating mean completely different things.

    Even if you manage to correct these errors from the context they appear in it makes the texts harder to read. Most texts it is likely that they will be written once and read a many times, with basic "Textverständniss" reading comprehension already being a problem for some having texts easy to understand is important and avoids misunderstandings.

  • by houghi ( 78078 ) on Sunday April 13, 2014 @04:03PM (#46741937)

    There are some rules that don't make a lot of sense, but they are what they are and mostly need to be adhered to in order to ensure that communication can happen.

    Dutch has had several changes over the last 100 years. This is to follow the evolution of language.

    I do not believe English has had the same done to it. Otherwise you would not end up with something like:
    Dearest creature in creation,

      Study English pronunciation.
      I will teach you in my verse
      Sounds like corpse, corps, horse, and worse.
      I will keep you, Suzy, busy,
      Make your head with heat grow dizzy.
      Tear in eye, your dress will tear,
      So shall I! Oh hear my prayer.

      Liberty, library, heave and heaven,
      Rachel, ache, moustache, eleven.
      We say hallowed but allowed,
      People, leopard, towed, but vowed.
      Mark the differences, moreover,
      Between mover, cover, clover;
      Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,
      Chalice, but police and lice;
      Camen, constable, unstable,
      Principle, disciple, label.

    The trest can be read right here [houghi.org]. Read it out loud the first time you read it. You will start to wonder what is so adhered in the language.

  • As a linguist, I am very familiar with Truss's book, and I can assure you that it is not taken seriously as scholarship. As prescriptive pleading, sure, it's a classic, but it offers no support for the claim that loosening of orthographical standards seriously impedes human communication (or one's thought process, going back to the OP).
  • by Panoptes ( 1041206 ) on Sunday April 13, 2014 @06:19PM (#46742685)
    "Up to the early 20th century, words were spelled phonetically" Utter poppycock!
  • by Teun ( 17872 ) on Sunday April 13, 2014 @06:35PM (#46742797) Homepage
    In the case of Germany and German you'd at least have to go down another century to find the first attempts at standardising the spelling.
    The German language is strictly regulated, possibly even more so than present day French.

    Contrary to many other European languages for phonetic reasons they decided to change out the Latin leading C to a (greek) K but also felt the need to retain the Latin 'a' that's in German plural phonetically an 'e' by adding an Umlaut: ä.

    It's this partial wish to retain compatibility with original Latin and Greek words and the slightly different phonetics to Latin and Greek that is so difficult to incorporate into Germanic languages.

    English is a whole different matter, the English phonetics changed drastically from their Germanic roots during/ due to 'The Great Vowel Shift' [wikipedia.org]. Strange enough the spelling remained basically Germanic but the pronunciation is nothing like it used to be.
    This vowel shift is even more pronounced in American, the (a?) reason they have great difficulty in comprehensively speaking European languages, including Church-Latin.

    So the results of the suggestion to allow phonetic spelling depends greatly on the alphabet used, Germanic, Latin, UK-English or US-English are some of the options.

You see but you do not observe. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, in "The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes"