Category Archives: Articles

Your local library – the Berghain next door

The closing of libraries in small towns and plenty of free digital copies of books that can be accessed online suggest hard times for libraries. However, thanks to a new concept, libraries are well alive and flourishing in some bigger cities. This new concept attracts a higher number of people to libraries that don’t necessarily come there with the objectives to read, study, or work traditionally but to spend their time differently. When a pioneer library opens in the morning, some visitors are already waiting outside, which suggests difficulties in finding seating space for everybody else coming to the library throughout the day, turning a simple library visit into a Berghain experience. Depending on the time, of the day one can’t even be sure of granted entrance anymore.

Libraries – the New Place to Be

As stated above, the traditional purpose of libraries has already shifted in some places. There are still visitors who just wish to read, research, or work in silence. Some visitors, however, are coming there with their luggage, waiting for their next departing train or flight, others are there to meet acquaintances near the seating area, and some are there to have a place to go after school or work. The libraries’ staff do not always dread these changes. Instead, they welcome the guests with open arms, even if that guest isn’t coming there for the books or favorable working environment. Some even go so far as to introduce changes to meet the people’s needs, such as reducing the number of physical books in their libraries to make space for more seating areas.

Library Situation in Augsburg

The question arises if these changes to the traditional concept of libraries in some places will affect the future situation in Augsburg with its public library, as well as the library on campus.  It is not clear if there is the option to create additional seating areas to offer space for the growing number of visitors the new trend attracts. It’s also unclear if the staff in charge are willing to introduce the respective changes to follow a new approach, as well as if the people would appreciate a more progressive concept concerning the city’s libraries. Let alone if the library on campus became more of a place to be than to research, work, or study, that would consequently make it harder for the university’s students and staff to work effectively in the library.

So while it has shown that a new concept introduced at the right place at the right time can positively affect the present situation, it should not be forgotten that everything comes with the respective pros and cons. It may therefore be possible for bigger cities to attract more people to libraries with this approach; however, this doesn’t guarantee for this concept to work out in every context or for every situation, as for example the one on campus.

author: Teresa Schneider

“I moved here because of the Eiskanal” – “The what?”

Since I was a little kid, my step dad took me and my family on a holiday to Slovenia every summer. On these holidays, my passion for whitewater kayaking was born. Now, around 20 years later, I can still be found in a boat on a regular basis. And here’s the reason for why I moved to Augsburg last year: the Eiskanal. But what exactly is the Eiskanal? I’m often quite surprised when people living in Augsburg who don’t have a single clue of what this thing is.

So what is it?

Well, as you might have guessed by now, the Eiskanal is somehow related to whitewater sports. In fact, it’s an artificial whitewater river that was built for the Summer Olympics in 1972. Up until today, the Eiskanal is a very famous spot for kayakers coming from all parts of Germany and even for non-Germans. People use the water for canoe slalom, where you navigate your canoe through a course of hanging gates on river rapids really fast, but you can also just ignore the gates and try to master the rapids as expertly as possible, or you might even see stand-up paddlers (I guess you know what this is) trying to survive the rapids of the Eiskanal. And one more thing: the Eiskanal will even host the canoe slalom world championships in 2022.

Mastering the waves

In my case, I prefer being in a boat without manoeuvring it through the gates as you do it in canoe slalom. To be honest, these gates simply annoy me and I just try not to get hit by them. For me, the Eiskanal is simply a training course for being prepared to master the waves on natural rivers in countries such as Austria or Slovenia. The boats I use are made of plastic, in contrast to the slalom canoes, which consist of carbon. Being made of plastic instead of carbon obviously makes the boats considerably cheaper, and – highly important for the natural rivers – a lot more stable and resistant against getting punctured by rocks.

Being on natural rivers is not comparable at all to the artificial rivers, such as the Eiskanal. You have the breath-taking scenery around you, which makes this sport so outstanding. Also, you might feel like being on holiday, even when being on the river for only one day. So you can completely forget your worries from everyday life. Being surrounded by nature is also quite calming for the stress the sport often brings. Almost before every new rapid, you can get really nervous and have to discuss with your group how to best run the rapid so you won’t have to roll up again, or, in case that doesn’t work, even get out of the boat and swim. Seeing the beautiful nature around you at this moment can have such a positive effect and encourage you for paddling forward.

Promoting the Eiskanal

Highlighting the pro’s of natural rivers in contrast to the Eiskanal was definitely not meant to talk bad about the Eiskanal. Instead, kayaking on the Eiskanal is the best training and preparation for going on the natural whitewater rivers. You know that the rapids are always the same, you can practice on the same spot again and again, and nearly always, there is someone around who could help you in case of an emergency. If you struggle to get out of the water or to get your boat out again, there will be another person in the water who can help you, or if not, then there are always people by the water. One last note, if you don’t feel like trying to kayak now, then one first approach might be to just go to the Eiskanal and watch the others in their boats. The Eiskanal is surrounded by a nice terrace-like green field, which is used by people a lot, especially in summer, for just relaxing in the sun, having a picnic, or taking a break from a bike ride. And why not just let your eyes wander towards the kayakers mastering the waves on the Eiskanal?

author: Lena Pickert

“Yes it will be a grace if I die. To exist is pain. Life is no desire of mine anymore.” – A review of the play Electra by the Anglistentheater

It was -3° Celsius.

-3° Celsius when I was riding my bike back home after having watched the performance of Electra by the Anglistentheater. But I couldn’t feel the cold, my thoughts captured by an echo of what I’d just listened to, watched and felt.

I won’t spoil your experience of watching the play by giving away the plot. What I do want you to know, though, is: this performance of Nick Payne’s Electra is filled with emotions, passion and love for detail. Authenticity of all actors and actresses makes this performance so realistic. The focus is on acting, which is still pleasingly accentuated by fitting music or, in many cases, the actors and actresses humming. There are no exaggerated light effects, no overdone make up, only people, who enjoy what they’re doing: being on stage. I don’to criticize either sound, light effects or make up. I just think that this is what fitted the play and performance just perfectly.

So why go and see the play? The performance of the Anglistentheater did exactly what a performance is meant to do: it left me thinking. Thinking about what is right or wrong. If revenge can be a way of coping with rage or grief. Why people want to take revenge. How it feels to loose your father murdered by your mother. Why humans are cruel. That’s just what came to my mind after seeing the play. Even though your thoughts might be completely different, I still hope you enjoy this performance as much as I did. And maybe it leaves you with a tear in your eye, a smile on your face or your mind coming up with questions you’ve never asked yourself before. Either way  it is worth your time to go and watch it!

Their shows take place on Thursday, the 5th of December, Friday 6th, Tuesday 10th and Thursday 12th at 8.00 p.m. in the Hörsaal 2 here at Uni. Tickets can be ordered online with the order forms or at the Taschenbuchladen Krüger located near Königsplatz.


author: Milena Kolzem

White Saviourism – When trying isn’t enough

The phenomenon you actually came across

White saviourism. Now, you’ll probably ask yourself, what the f*ck is that? But let me tell you, you’ve definitely come across it on social media. Let’s divide the term into its two parts: first, there’s the ‘White’ part. This part’s definitely about skin colour, more precisely: the power of the privileged. Saviourism, on the other hand, comes from the word ‘to save’, so let’s put 1+1 together: we are talking about White, privileged people going into developing countries, thinking their intervention is helping people, while actually causing damage and showing off. There are a number of aspects that can be wrong about travelling to a foreign country trying to “help” people. The complexity and depth of the phenomenon is huge, consequently I’ll only tip the surface of this matter

The helping trend that causes damage

To me, it feels like there’s kind of a trend that’s been around in recent years, a trend to travel around the globe, trying to do something good for three weeks. But have you thought about the fact that, very often, the ‘work’ foreign people try to fulfil is either a very temporary thing, which doesn’t help anybody long-term, or an opportunity to improve their CV at home? Dear Reader, go back and re-read the last sentence: did you stumble across the verb ‘to try’? Exactly. White saviours try to do something good, but trying to help in the necessary areas without any education or skills is, sadly, incredibly useless.

Speaking about skills: what are the skills that are needed in a developing country? The first thing that comes to my mind is medicine. People who have a medical education might achieve a little bit more than an 18-year-old high school graduate – no offence intended. And there are organisations with trained doctors who actually do that work, like Doctors Without Borders. What these organisations need is money and equipment, not another tourist who’ll fly back home after a few weeks. Add that to the fact that many poorer countries are struggling with unemployment: when there are enough locals looking for work, who could easily be occupied long-term in the job a traveller does for two weeks, you’re not helping. Your work is not just unsustainable, you’re actively stealing a job from a local.

Missions can backfire

An incident from the year 2009 shows how wrong those missions can go. Renee Bach, a would-be aid worker, practised medicine without any medical education. As a consequence, several children died. Two mothers have sued her and the case will be discussed in court in January 2020. Even the Guardian published an article about the White saviourism phenomenon, referring to Bach. One important factor in White saviourism seems to be social media and people’s wish to represent themselves as caring, thoughtful people. However, the issue that comes along with being in public is that you should be very careful about what lies in your abilities and what’s the real reasons for the work you’re doing. Nevertheless, you can find the White saviour on several social media platforms, holding hands with little, unprivileged kids. Below the pictures, they are referring to all the ‘good’ work, they’re doing. Sadly, they actually don’t see what the real issues are and don’t realize what the people’s needs are. Still, they post a picture without knowing one thing about the individuals and their history.

The issue isn’t only discussed on social media, but also in movies like Green Book (2018) or Hidden Figures (2016), which are telling stories about White Saviours. Don’t get me wrong, I think organisations like UNICEF are great and they’re actually doing something good. It’s just that, maybe, instead of flying there, polluting the world, people in need might be in better hands, if we just donate to these organisations. Even if that means we don’t get any nice pictures for our timeline.

author: Carolin Bruckert

Questions to the Augsburg Magazine eMAG

  1. What exactly is the course called and how does it fit into the study program? What English skills are being covered? And how do you learn the required writing skills?

The course has a rather unspectacular name: it goes by Integrated Language Skills (LPO 2012) / Integrated Language Skills 2 (LPO 2008) (eMag). eMAG is part of a module that consists of three courses, the other two being Effective Writing and Übersetzung Englisch-Deutsch (1). eMAG fits in here as an opportunity for students to put the skills they have learned in those other courses to practical use in an authentic, english-speaking environment. The eMAG course itself is there to improve students’ writing skills outside of the usual term paper style. We try to convey a more informal writing style in general.

  • eMAG has a very project-based way of practising writing skills. Would you say this is more promising for participants than a traditional class?

I’m going to go with the diplomatic route here and say that a good mix between a theoretical approach and a practical one is very useful. You can’t learn a language simply by reading about it. You have to use it to actual get better at it. And a part of that certainly is writing, too, in all its forms. But at the same time, it’s also necessary to have a good foundation to start working on a project like eMAG. You need to have some basic understanding of how to structure your writing, that there are differences between writing in German and English – and that does include formal differences. And that is something we wouldn’t be able to do in just one term with one session a week. In a nutshell, I’d say that eMAG is a great opportunity if you have the necessary foundations.

  • For us, organisational tasks took up a lot of time and it wasn’t quite clear who was responsible for what. Also, what presented a bit of a struggle was that our course is supposed to teach writing skills before all else but the magazine focus didn’t allow much time for that. How do you handle organizational tasks within a writing course?

It’s good to see that similar projects are struggling with similar problems. There is no way around it and I was lucky enough to join the course at a time when a lot of these issues had already been dealt with and solved. There already was a good routine that people before me had set up. The trick is to give the course a real project structure with different layers of who would be responsible for what – teams for layouting and media and advertisement to just name a few. Within these groups, the regular members, who take the course for credit points, will mostly focus on writing and only take on smaller tasks to help create the final magazine. The experienced staff, on the other hand, get clear assignments on what needs to be done. In the end, the editor-in-chief has the fun task of managing and overseeing all those groups and bringing everything together.

  • Who is eligible to join the class, i.e. students of what semester or year of the study program? How many are you in total and what is the ratio between students who do the course voluntarily and those who do it for credit points? Do both of these groups participate in the same way?

There is no real condition set for joining the class, especially if you’re studying English: if you need the credit points, who are we to tell you you can’t come? We do prefer for the people to have completed the writing part of the module beforehand, or at least to be taking that class in the same term, but we can’t enforce that. Naturally, though, most people are doing it this way because following the module structure makes the most sense. In turn, that means that most new members are in or around their 3rd semester. In terms of how many people join, there’s some fluctuation: there are usually more participants during winter terms, but it’s roughly 20-25 people in general. Only few of these aren’t English students – although I wouldn’t say there’s a difference in participation. On top of that, there is my team which consists of seven people at the moment. These tend to be people who have participated before and can’t get any more credit points. They are just there for a good time.

  • In our course, we tried to assign different roles to different people. However, we didn’t define clearly enough what each role’s job was, leading to the point where some people did much more work than others. What roles do you have within your team? And what tasks does each role involve? Is the work distributed in a rather even way, or are there also differences between the work load of different people?

I think this little chart from our guidelines does a better job at visualizing this than I could in words:
The new members are being split into either working on layouts or promoting the magazine, apart from working on their articles. Both teams are supervised by team leaders who know how everything is supposed to be structured and help out wherever necessary. If even they don’t know the solution, it’s usually my part to figure something out. Problem solver would probably be one of the better descriptions for what I do. There is a lot of organizing things behind the scenes, too, of course: finding printers, organizing everything to be in line with our university and making decisions on how to go forward or cutting inappropriate articles, though we do try to avoid that at all costs. Nonetheless, it happens every once in a while.

We struggled a lot to find a good balance between the workload of the layout team compared to the media team. Layouting is just such a time-consuming but necessary part of it all that it makes it difficult to cut down on it, yet the media team usually doesn’t face quite as many tasks throughout the term. Last term we struck a good balance by giving each member of the Media team the task to write one additional article which would be published on our website while the layout team didn’t get that assignment. This lead to the workload being evened out for the most part.

Apart from that, there’s Writing Support, a team that consists of three experienced eMAGgers. Their job is to correct early drafts and give feedback, before the final draft goes to the course coordinator.

  • What does your lecturer do exactly? What is their role in the production of each magazine? And how do they grade each person’s work?

The entire course is supposed to be run by students. But as we wouldn’t be allowed to give people credit, Mr. Jehle is the one who’s in charge officially. Until last term, it was Mr. James, who founded eMAG. The lecturer’s job is to organise exams and talk to the higher-ups of our university in case there are issues we couldn’t solve by ourselves. They also correct final article drafts so we do get some professional feedback.


As for grading, that’s a mystery, even to me. I think it’s really just magic… Ideally, though, we would love to be able to grade the work during the course and skip the exam entirely, but as we are part of the entire three-part module structure, we have to offer an exam which is also created by our course coordinator. Since the class takes up more time than a regular course, though, we try not to put additional work on participants for exam preparation. The aim is to create an exam that can be answered relatively easily by any regular class member.

  • We heard that your editors are meeting every week with the lecturer – what is being discussed in those weekly meetings?

Another rather boring answer: it’s just to catch up on things that are going on. Making sure nothing’s being overlooked or forgotten about. Mr. James’ experience in this matter was invaluable. He didn’t encounter most problems for the first time, so he knew how to handle things if something went awry. And there tends to be at least one thing each term that does.

  • How do you organize the advertisement for your magazine?

At this point, we have a few contract partners that have been advertising in eMAG for a long time, which makes the process a lot easier: they know exactly what needs to be done once we come around and ask if they’re still interested. The process consists of two steps: first off, we need to get the contracts signed by our partners who then in turn will send us their ad. This ad is then being handled like a regular magazine page and copied into inDesign. After that, we need to deal with the entire bureaucratic process of handing in the contracts to our university. The people in charge then check if they are all legally printable and if any mistakes have been made. If everything is found to be in order, they write the bill.

  • Our first magazine didn’t have a general topic, and everyone just wrote about whatever they were interested in. However, we think it will be better if our magazine has that kind of topic for each semester’s edition from now on. How do you decide on a topic for each term?

That’s one of the funnier parts of class! During one of the last sessions each term we dedicate one hour to brainstorming ideas on what could be interesting as a topic. It must be a topic that hasn’t been covered yet, of course. Once we have a list of potential topics, everyone gets to vote on what will be the Main Topic for the following issue. We usually go with that decision, but I remember a few terms ago when more than 90% of people voted on a topic that we ended up not taking. My deputy and I decided on the topic Misfits instead, although that topic only had two votes, coming from the both of us. Guess that’s one of the few perks of being editor-in-chief.

  1. How do you manage a deadline as early in the semester as one month after it started? And what do you do afterwards?

For everything to go as smoothly as possible, the team and I sit down during the term break to plan everything out with a very strict schedule. Experience, of course, already plays into this, so we kind of know how well some deadlines will work out or how much time you really need to give people with certain assignments to get reasonable results. Then, one week before the term actually starts, I write an e-mail to the course and give the participants all the details, so everyone is already well-prepared and know what’s coming. That method has been working out for us pretty well.

  1. Do some of your Lehramt students plan on using the skills and ideas from your magazine project later on, in the school classroom?

As I’m not going to become a teacher, I can only make assumptions here, but I think working in a team project like eMAG definitely makes organizing a bit easier later on, when you want to get anything done with a horde of 30 pupils. I look at it realistically, though, and say that it’s most likely not going to be a magazine in and of itself. What is useful, I would imagine, is the skills you learn without even noticing for the most part: Working in a team, problem solving, time management. Skills that are becoming more and more important in our society. So maybe that is our little contribution to the development of our students in the course. I, at least, hope so and, most importantly, that it’s a fun time for everyone in what’s otherwise often a very monotonous university day.

Activision Blizzard® –

The lovechild of communism and capitalism?

Yes, it’s been a while and yes, I said I wanted to work on more reviews over the summer break. As per usual my plans came to a hold due to some family stuff. And just as I came back and started working on one of said reviews, I stumbled upon this gem of a disaster…

Part of the following topic would usually be something I don’t report on or write about: the ‘Revolution of our Times’ in Hong Kong – a movement started by students in protest to the supposedly non-democratic elections held in Hong Kong even though the people were promised fair elections. There is a reason as to why I would avoid a topic as this because I am usually not too interested in politics which has more to do with my disgust towards lobbyism more so than anything else. But this movement has crept into a topic I very much enjoy covering, which is gaming. So how does all of this connect? 

Back when I decided to write about gaming – long before my time at eMAG – I figured it would be mostly limited to a few reviews here and there about some indie games. But the more you get invested in a topic, the deeper you dig and not long before the whole cesspool of drama within the industry and scene would unfold – topics for articles for another time when I’m bored. But I have never quite lost my interest in the gaming scene, as you can probably tell from one of my last articles. I mentioned that one of my favourite companies there is Activision Blizzard. Years ago, when it was still only known as ‘Blizzard’, their major contributions to the gaming world consisted of the Warcraft, Starcraft and Diablo series. The company was known to have high standards in regards to development; trying out new things but always keeping the consumer their first priority. A goal that was highly regarded by the community and has always been at the heart of the company so much so that outside the Blizzard headquarters you can see a statue and three plaques that read:

Think Globally; Lead Responsibly; Every Voice Matters.

Back in 2012, with the release of ‘Diablo 3’ the company probably hit the biggest controversy with the introduction of what they called the “Auction House“. A virtual place in-game where you could spend money to buy gear off of other players to help your own character – with a cut of the money going directly into the company’s pockets. In theory sounds like a really cool idea, right? It all depends on the implementation and that’s when Activision Blizzard first poked the bee hive that is their own community and comments on their greediness arose. The whole idea of directly buying power in-game with your hard earned cash seemed ridiculous because why would you even want to spend money to basically avoid playing the game as the whole point of Diablo was to find gear for your character. And that’s where the dilemma of being consumer or community-friendly and being a corporation at the same time first started to peek for Activision Blizzard. The chances of getting any sort of loot where so abysmal that if you wanted to complete the game many people felt like they were forced to buy gear.

A few years later a new hit struck the market: Hearthstone. And the trend continued. With Hearthstone being what it is, a digital card game, a lot of players voiced their unhappiness after a while as to why it was necessary to have so many unnecessarily bad cards in their – just inflating the pool of potential cards to draw from with each booster pack and in turn making it less likely to get the cards you want and need to play competitively. I’m not going into detail here about the monetisation system behind the games and how the booster packs are basically just loot boxes because that will be an entire article in and of itself. It shall serve simply as a showcase of how the consumers have directly been affected by the changes over the last 2 decades even by one of the companies known to be the most consumer friendly.

There have been more subtle changes as well over the years, though. Some of these changes more obvious than others to the players, the consumers and the critics. The most important little detail here is most likely that a Chinese gaming company called Tencent bought up 5% of Blizzard’s stock in 2007. Combine that with the ever growing business potential that is growing in China and you see why a largescale company would have a vested interest in keeping their Asian shareholders happy. And that is exactly what Activision Blizzard tried last week when during an interview with the professional gamer ‘Blitzchung’ who won in a tournament – ‘The Grandmasters Asia-Pacific’ of aforementioned Hearthstone. The games as well as the interview were streamed live over the internet. Blitzchung went on in his interview to ask if he could say some lines of his own. The interviewers very reluctantly agreed and Blitzchung went on to speak out for the Hong Kong movement:

Liberate Hong Kong. Revolution of our Times.

Something that I would assume strikes most of the Western audience as something totally relatable. And I get that there are cultural differences which is why the casters and interviewers probably saw it coming and were not too happy to be associated with said statement. The response by Activision Blizzard followed within minutes. The livestream went down and later on it was announced that the official winner Blitzchung would be stripped of his well-earned title, the prize money and the right to now on compete in the tournaments to come. The casters were struck with a similar fate in that their contracts were terminated immediately followed by a very clear statement to the public (taken from rockpapershotgun.com)

Hearthstone’s official Weibo wrote that they “express our strong indignation [or resentment] and condemnation of the events” and “will protect [or safeguard] our national dignity [or honour].”

While the Western audiences got the bare minimum excuse of a legal statement within the rules of conduct for the tournament in which Blizzard hinted at a paragraph that explains they kept the right to remove any player that damages the company’s image (taken from blizzard.com)

“Engaging in any act that, in Blizzard’s sole discretion, brings you into public disrepute, offends a portion or group of the public, or otherwise damages Blizzard image will result in removal from Grandmasters and reduction of the player’s prize total to $0 USD, in addition to other remedies which may be provided for under the Handbook and Blizzard’s Website Terms.

There is no doubt what image could potentially have been damaged here. The image in the eyes of the Communist Party of China. I guess it is important to know here that the Communist Party is known to censor content they might dislike on a whim. Don’t believe me? They banned Winnie the Pooh because of comparisons made to their president Xi. Banning an entire video is the least of their problems. There is an entire procedure for gaming companies that they have to undergo before their product will be listed for the Chinese market as far as I know. So a company as Blizzard that tries to make as much cash as humanly possible with Asian shareholders on their board has no other interest here than trying to please the Chinese market that is just such a lucrative opportunity for any company nowadays.

So I definitely have to give Activision Blizzard credit where credit is due. They certainly still uphold their value of „Thinking globally“ albeit maybe oriented a bit too far to the east currently. But they seemed to have censored their own ideas of Leading Responsibly or making Every Voice Matter anymore.

This article should really only serve as a quick introduction to what is happening here with the American corporations and the Chinese censorship that is creeping into all sorts of media. If I somehow managed to get you interested in what’s going on here, have a look at some of the professionals’ works like
– Jim Sterling’s Jimquisition on this topic on YouTube

– RockPaperShotgun
– IGN

for more news on the gaming related side of things and basically all big news outlets for the Hong Kong protests directly or Amnesty International. The organisation focusing solely on Human Rights worldwide.

Addendum: After I had been done writing this piece and had everything set up to post it, there had been more news on the whole topic which I thought would be worthwhile including. In particular, the US congress agreed on writing a letter to the CEO of Activision Blizzard, Bobby Kotick, in which it stated:
“We write to express our deep concern about Activision Blizzard’s decision to make player Ng Way Chung forfeit prize money and ban him from participating in tournaments for a year after he voiced support for pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. The decision is particularly concerning in light of the Chinese government’s growing appetite for pressuring American businesses to help stifle free speech.”
Seeing how the US congress or any government have never really showed any concern for what happened in the gaming industry (with a slight movement in the right direction towards loot boxes, to be fair) it came quite surprising to see quite a few members of the congress speak out and sign this letter; namely: Ron Wyden, Marco Rubio, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Mike Gallagher, and Tom Malinowski.

Text by Tobias Lorenz
Picture by Kevin Muto from Pixabay

Spell it out for me!

More history of more languages you’ll never learn…

A fancy word that’s relatively easy to spell? Masochism. I guess you know what it means. And yet, here you are, ready for a second serving of random facts on language history, politics and orthography. You have (presumably) had a look at, maybe even finished, an article entitled “Playwright, conscience … fish?” in eMAG #34. Amazing details about Korean writing and the evolution of Modern Greek have been revealed to you. What’s next, you ask? More irrelevant facts! And prepare for puns, as well.

Hanoi’ing spelling habits? Thank the French.

Remember how Koreans had to use Chinese characters before they developed their own alphabet? How, just to write down the most basic things, they were forced to learn the writing system of a completely unrelated language (I know they’re geographically close, but no relation between Korean and the Chinese languages has been proven so far)? Vietnamese speakers, whose language is equally unrelated to Chinese, and whose country is equally close to China, had similar problems. Unlike the Koreans, the Vietnamese had some success in adapting Chinese characters to Vietnamese, to a point where they were illegible even for Chinese speakers. This script, Chữ Nôm, was the first real Vietnamese writing system. It was used for administrative purposes at first, but later on, even poetry would be written in Chữ Nôm. But that doesn’t solve the problem that Chinese characters, a very reduced form of writing, can’t illustrate grammatically important changes within a word.

The most modern form of Vietnamese writing came from a complete outsider, the Jesuit monk and missionary Alexandre de Rhodes. De Rhodes, who came from the French-speaking region of Avignon, created an adapted version of the Latin alphabet that could reflect the pronunciation of Vietnamese words better than Chinese characters could. He did take over a few rather inefficient French spelling habits, e.g. <ph> to express the f-sound, so the system still contains some traces of other languages. In general, however, it is a neat writing system that has survived since the 16th century, throughout all kinds of political regimes, occupations and the division of the country. For this reason, despite his colonialist background, the Vietnamese still look somewhat fondly at de Rhodes.

There’s Norway around spelling rules.

Why don’t we have a look at Norwegian next? We’ll see a language whose main writing system, Bokmål (book tongue), is essentially Danish with slight changes. Danish and Norwegian are very closely related and can be intercomprehensible, depending on what dialect speakers use. The language similarities and parallels in writing come in handy today, but they stem from the long Danish domination of Norway. The two states were seen as one country well into the 19th century. For this reason, Bokmål still is the dominant writing system, although Nynorsk (New Norse, ironically the older writing system), fits Norwegian pronunciation patterns better. The further you move west (away from Denmark), the more popular Nynorsk gets.

Both varieties are officially recognised by the Norwegian state, taught in the same schools and used in public to various extents. Members of the administration are expected to reply to mail in the same variety that was used in the request and no province is allowed to use one variety to more than 75% in official areas. Since Danish and Swedish are also allowed in official written correspondence, the system can appear quite chaotic. And we’re not even counting in the more antiquated varieties Riksmål (national language) and Høgnorsk (High Norse). These former writing standards (with  Riksmål being even closer to Danish and  Høgnorsk being even further from it) have thankfully become rare, but there are people and organisations willing to invest a lot of time, just to keep them somewhat alive. Is that a lot to take in? It gets even weirder when you take into account that less than six million people speak Norwegian at all.

In the area of writing, Norway hasn’t distanced itself from Denmark as much as Korea or Vietnam have from China. That’s because Danish rule over Norway ended very late, both languages were related to begin with and the relations between both nations are friendly today. The outcome, however, is kind of problematic: people need to be fluent in both systems and people artificially switch between two idioms just to fulfil a legal quota. However, no one is discriminated against based on how they write, and that’s still a nice thing.

I Afri-can’t spell that!

No list of inefficient writing systems could be complete without the African continent. Most African languages simply weren’t used in writing before European colonisation. When writing systems were created, they were based on European languages, mostly English and French. They also weren’t made up by linguists, but usually by missionaries trying to translate the bible (who would just work with what they were used to). Now, English and French are both kind of inefficient in their writing, since both preserve a spelling that is out of sync with modern pronunciation. Just think of fish = ghoti or the French city of Bordeaux using four letters to express one o-sound. French uses <ou> (two letters) for a simple u-sound, and the more efficient, single letter <u> for the somewhat fancy u-Umlaut (<ü> in German or Turkish) – a sound few languages use at all. English, on the other hand, simply doesn’t have a long e-sound. And of course, these inefficiencies were taken over into new languages by means of their spelling.

Using the Latin alphabet for African languages can only work out when it is a neutral form where the pronunciation of certain letters is not tied to their pronunciation in one specific Western language. On top of that, additional sounds should be expressed through accents or additional characters, rather than ever-longer combination of letters. For this reason, the German Ethnologist Diedrich Westermann developed the Africa Alphabet and presented it (to colonialists, not Africans) in London in 1928. The alphabet has been adjusted to the linguistic situation in (Western) Africa several times and now has close to sixty letters. That may sound like a lot, but since you wouldn’t need all of these in every language, learning the alphabet wouldn’t even be such a big deal.

The real problem is that Africans aren’t using this alphabet to the extent that linguists have been hoping for. That’s because many native African languages are used in more private, oral settings. And when private communication is in written form, e.g. when people are chatting, most African languages aren’t available (e.g. as auto-correct on cellphones or as spell-checks on a PC). The ones that are available, like isiZulu or Somaali, don’t use the Africa Alphabet as a starting point. And even in handwriting, few people are aware of its existence, since most African states don’t do a lot to promote a standardized use of native languages – there are just too many, and most governments have different priorities. Still, the alphabet is around and offers a good starting point to any attempt of standardisation. Although it was established through colonisation, it can be a means of self-empowerment that makes local African languages and cultures more independent, giving them a stable, written foundation.

So yeah, the struggle with spelling is real, for a lot of people. Languages influence each other, and they don’t always copy each other’s most positive aspects. If we all looked at languages neutrally, leaving aside history, customs and patriotism (like former Yugoslvia did, for instance), we could probably create a couple of pretty logical writing systems and solve a huge lot of problems. But how likely is that?

Author and picture: Niklas Schmid