How Germans and Russians Made Their Orthographies: Dealing With the “Spelling Distress” is the first social constructionist study of spelling norms and spelling mistakes. Starting from the question of why, in the modern world, misspelling is considered evidence of incompetence, laziness, stupidity, or carelessness, Kirill Levinson traces the origins of such attitudes in German and Russian societies of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Analyzing publications and archival sources, this book illustrates how the unification and codification of spelling rules in Germany and repressive attitude to errors were the result of the increased value ascribed to accuracy, unambiguity, and error-freeness in the economy and everyday life. The critical context to the development of such attitudes can be found in the challenges of the industrial revolution, the political reaction following 1848 upheavals, and the development of national school systems that used formalized grading and combined the academic training and moral education of schoolchildren. In Russia, the borrowing of Prussian models during the school reform of the 1860s played a key role to a similar repressive attitude towards spelling mistakes. The rigorous orthographic regime established in the second half of the nineteenth century persisted for many decades, even though alternative solutions were proposed to overcome the significant problems that the inconsistencies of German and Russian orthographies posed: optimizing the rules to make them easier to learn and follow, moving from alphabetical writing to shorthand, and liberalizing school.
Kirill Levinson is an academic editor with the Vilnius branch of the Max Weber Foundation.
Conclusion: The History of Orthography as a History of Society
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