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Germans Resist Gender Modifications

On March 6, more than seventy high-profile Germans, including linguists, teachers, journalists, lawyers, and writers, published a letter and an accompanying petition that condemned new linguistic practices which attempt to address implicit gender connotations in language.

The letter decried linguistic practices it sees as producing “a wealth of ridiculous language structures” that “cannot be sustained consistently.”

It was written in part as a response to the German city of Hanover’s formal adoption of the “gender star” practice, which places an asterisk where letters determining the gender of some words would normally be.

Traditionally in German, masculine words are signified by the suffixes “r” or “rn” (singular and plural), and feminine ones are signified by “in” or “innen” for women. This new practice allows readers to choose between gendered spellings.

Although it has only recently codified it into law, Hanover has been utilizing the “gender star” since 2003, as has much of the rest of Germany (Hanover is the first city to officially delineate it as a guideline). The city’s spokeswoman, Annika Schach, said in an interview, “We are not rewriting the dictionary or saying what is correct and what isn’t—this is about style.”

The debate swirling around gendered language in Germany has been running since the 1980s. Many view this debate as another expression of the tension between cultural conservatives and liberals.

Hans Georg Maassen, the former head of the intelligence agency, was a signatory of the letter. In the past, the spy chief has been accused of being too close to right-wing populist party Alternative for Germany to monitor its links with neo-Nazi groups effectively.

Oliver Baer, who runs Verein Deutsche Sprache, an organization dedicated to promoting the use of German, was also a signatory. His organization has been associated with linguistic purism for their opposition of the use of Anglicisms in German.

Verein Deutsche Sprache’s members helped write and distribute the letter.

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