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Letter from Germany

Dieter Zimmer reports on how trivial changes to German spelling rules are causing uproar among the literati

By Dieter Zimmer   December 1996

Reading an unknown Spanish word, you know immediately how to pronounce it. Every letter corresponds to a particular sound. But with a new English word you are in a much more awkward position-the problem is summed up by GB Shaw in his remark that fish could be spelt ghoti: gh as in laugh, o as in women, ti as in motion. German lies somewhere in between. Its correspondence of letters and sounds is not as unpredictable as English, nor as consistent as Spanish. There is however no consistency even in inconsistency. We therefore have an orthographic problem.

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