Saturday, June 28, 2008

moderate minusculization

Anybody having a passing acquaintance with the German language knows that all nouns are capitalized and not just proper ones as in English. Over the past decade or two, I have noticed a tendency in some 19th century German books towards only capitalizing words which begin a sentence and proper nouns (e.g., this page from the forward to Jacob Grimm’s deutsche grammatik (link). I had asked a couple of Germans (though not Germanists or linguists) if they knew why this was, but none of them even knew about it. So, it was only today that I finally decided to look into it.

This article in the Berliner Zeitung (August 13, 2004, link) is a good place to start. It turns out that capitalizing nouns is a fairly recent event. It started in the Baroque period and its origins seems to have been one of the fear of upsetting God (Gottesfurcht). In fact, in some Baroque texts, Gott is spelled with two initial capitals GOtt. Reading this and some German Wikipedia articles increased my vocabulary by quite a bit. First we have Majuskel and Minuskel for an upper- or lowercase letter, though the former can also be called Versal (in printers’ terminology) or Großbuchstabe for a more German look and feel, and the latter Kleinbuchstabe. Capitalization is Großschreibung and its antonym (which we don’t really have a word for in English) is Kleinschreibung, though I have seen minusculize for the verb and minusculization for the abstract noun). And because this is German we’re talking about there is something called gemäßigte Kleinschreibung (which yields the title for this blog entry), and furthermore, as soon as I started off down this slippery slope I ran across some groups advocating moderate and radical minusculization reforms for German orthography (d.h., deutsche Rechtschreibung): der bund für vereinfachte rechtschreibung (link and die kleinschriftbewegung (link). Finally, CamelCase (or NerdCaps) is Binnenmajuskeln or Binnenversalien.



Blogger Erling Wold said...

I've heard the verb "lower" used for un-capitalization in the geek world, maybe because of the C/C++ function tolower().

I'm personally tugged in both directions: (1) dumping capitals completely and (2) Capitalizing almost Everything (which used to be common in English too I'm sure you know). Lately the latter has been appealing to me because of its Costume Drama aspect. "Standard English" seems confused about it all, capitalization being a source of land mines laid out for those not in the know on which to step, e.g. "Proper nouns, months, days of the week, but not the seasons" and "Solar system names but not sun, earth and moon."

July 2, 2008 at 4:13 PM  

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