Sally Johnson, Spelling trouble: Language, ideology and
the reform of German orthography. Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters,
2005. Pp viii, 208. Hb $89.95, Pb $39.95.
Since the 1990s language ideology has developed into a field of
inquiry of its own. Research on language ideology seeks to investigate how
linguistic forms and practices and their conceptualizations are enmeshed
in other contextually bound cultural patterns and practices, and how
language–culture relations are fraught with moral and political
interests. Taking language ideology and Blommaert's (1999) notion of language ideological debates as a
point of departure, Sally Johnson sets out to explore the emergence and
escalation of a public dispute, involving a variety of social actors
(linguists, judges, private citizens, etc.), that broke out in Germany
with the introduction of the reform of German orthography in 1996. The
focus of the volume is primarily on one aspect of the German debate: the
legal battle between those who attempted to challenge the reform on the
basis of its alleged incompatibility with some of the principles
sanctioned by the German Basic Law (Grundgesetz), on the one
hand, and the judges of the Federal Constitutional Court, on the other.
However, for a more nuanced understanding of the debate, the role played
by linguists and the media is also taken into consideration. As Johnson
convincingly demonstrates throughout the volume, the debate on German
orthography was definitely not about language alone. Rather, it was about
different conceptions of the German language together with their
political, moral and aesthetic loading.