Languages are not static entities. Words change over time. New words come into vogue, while others fade, sometimes completely and at other times resurface after decades. Spelling is something that also changes with time. These changes are of absolute importance to document translation services as their translators must always be aware of and use the correct forms of spelling and orthography as well as be aware of changes in standard word use.

German Language

The simplification of German spelling that started in 1996 is a good example of the sorts of challenges that translators have to face. This was the German Orthography Reform. The idea was to standardise the spelling of common words as well as establish new, simpler rules for when capitals are used and how compound nouns, so common in German are formed.

Document translation service providers were probably ahead of the general public within Germany itself over the first years after the introduction of the rules. In fact, in many cases it was translators who had to painstakingly explain how the new orthography had changed the German language even if it wasn’t exactly a revolution.

The fact was that many Germans just didn’t like the changes and were happy to stick with what they already were used to. In one state there was even a referendum on whether the new rules would be used in schools and government documents and general communication. 60% of the people who voted in the referendum opted for the status quo.

German as a national language is not such an ancient tongue after all. It only became a standard language relatively recently as before that it was more of a number of closely related dialects and words and spelling were often quite different from one German district to another. Before the 1996 Reform was initiated, the ‘official’ orthography dated back to 1901-1902, when it had been established more to provide consistency in teaching in German schools rather than achieve simplicity. The contradictions and inconsistencies in the adopted version were some of the reasons why the reform was ushered in. It took 10 years of research to set the background for the changes and they were designed to take 10 more years before they were meant to be accepted everywhere.

Two states decided that they were going to stick with what they knew and refused to adopt the changes at all. Interesting times for the German document translator who wants to make sure that he or she translates official documents the way they are supposed to be translated!