3.477 Fraktur (48)

Willard McCarty (MCCARTY@vm.epas.utoronto.ca)
Mon, 18 Sep 89 19:05:07 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 3, No. 477. Monday, 18 Sep 1989.

Date: Fri, 15 Sep 89 22:24:38 EDT
From: Brian Whittaker <BRIANW@YORKVM2>
Subject: Re: 3.429 old spelling: Fraktur (29)

Michael Sperberg-McQueen wonders how ancient I must be to have learned
to read Fraktur in high school. This was certainly not a pre-war experience
(neither WWII nor the Franco-Prussian War). When I attendend secondary school
in Toronto in the early 1960s the Grade 10 German textbook used throughout the
province of Ontario was in Fraktur. When I did my undergraduate work in the
late 1960s, roughly half of my German textbbooks were in Fraktur. While the
curriculum was largely pre-1945 and heavily eighteenth and nineteenth century,
the imprints were certainly post-1945. The only text in German that comes to
hand at the moment is Goethe's Faust, edited by Witkoski in 1936;
my copy is a 1949 imprint... still in print and, I believe, still the standard
edition when I used it in the late 1960s... and it is in Fraktur.

To expand (or possibly confuse) the discussion, I find I read German faster
when it is set in Fraktur. I believe this has to do with recognizing words, as
opposed to assembling strings of characters. I believe that in Fraktur the
letters cluster into words more visibly than in Roman type.

Handwriting poses other problems. In the late 1960s I had a clerical job one
summer processing applications from secondary school teachers from abroad
who wished to teach in Ontario. Roughly half of the handwritten correspondence
from teachers and nearly all of the handwritten official documentation that
came to us from Germany was in the old handwriting, which looks like
vertical strokes of varying lengths at roughly a 75 degree angle with no
curves at all. I forget the term used for this style, but prior to this
expreience I had assumed it was a pre-1945 convention.

As for the question of whether Fraktur is comprehensible only to specialists in
advanced and arcane studies, I would add that in secondary school I
was in a math and science program and at university German would have ranked
third or fourth in my list of undergraduate studies, after English, French and
possibly philosophy. This makes it all the stranger when I hear of students
who are German majors and reach the upper years of their programmes without
mastering Fraktur.

Brian Whittaker
Atkinson College, York University.