lethargic_man: The awful German language (Mark Twain's words, not mine) (Die schreckliche deutsche Sprache)

The German people, I read online, have traditionally prided themselves on the fact they have always spoken German, as opposed to their neighbours the French, who abandoned their original language (Gaulish) and took up Latin.

Well, let's have a look at the opening paragraphs of today's headline article in Der Spiegel and see how German it is:

"Islamischer Staat": Amerikas Schattenkrieger jagen IS-Anführer

Hubschrauber, Elite-Soldaten, Spionageflugzeuge: US-Präsident Barack Obama will die Terrorfürsten des IS von einer Spezialeinheit ausschalten lassen. Doch die Strategie gerät in die Kritik.

Die amerikanische Hauptstadt Washington wird am Donnerstag praktisch abgeriegelt. US-Präsident Barack Obama versammelt Staats- und Regierungschefs aus 51 Ländern zum "Nuclear Security Summit".

Offiziell geht es um die Frage, wie die Verbreitung von Atomwaffen in der Welt verhindert werden kann. Doch bei der Konferenz dürfte gleichzeitig vor allem über ein Thema geredet werden: den Kampf gegen den "Islamischen Staat" (IS).

Red denotes words borrowed from Latin; blue from French (possibly via English, and of Latin or Greek ultimate origin), green from Italian, magenta from Greek and cyan from Arabic. Plus of course, the very name Der Spiegel comes of course from Latin speculum, "mirror".

Unfair of me? Possibly, but I was having fun.

lethargic_man: The awful German language (Mark Twain's words, not mine) (Die schreckliche deutsche Sprache)
I've been displacing from resuming learning German by trying to get my head around the non-English sounds I have trouble with.

I had difficulty getting my head around [ç] (the "ch" in ich) when [livejournal.com profile] curious_reader first tried to explain it to me a decade ago, but then it became easy when I learned that it also existed in English as an allophone of /h/ in words like "hew" and "huge".*

* I hadn't even realised /h/ had any allophones in English until then. Likewise, it wasn't until I learned about them that I realised /l/ and /p/ do, which makes me wonder whether Biblical Hebrew speakers were aware of the sound differences between the letters בגד כפ״ת and the versions with דָגֵשִׁים (centre dots), which differences were allophonic in Biblical Hebrew but today either lost or phonemic (i.e. either version could appear in a particular context, e.g. פ vs. פּ in קוּף and קֶטְשׁוּפּ).

I've been struggling also with the long A in German; the sound in Vater. IPA transcriptions revealed it's not the front vowel [æː] (the long version of the sound in English "cat", which doesn't exist in standard English, but which I am familiar with nonetheless), nor the back vowel [ɑː] as in English "father", but [aː], which is somewhere in between.

Like quarter-tones in Arabic music, this falls between the categories I am conditioned to hear: I can perceive it fine, but remembering it and reproducing it is another matter! Again, though, Wikipedia came to the rescue, when I studied the page on English phonology and discovered the sound did exist in English, as the first half of the diphthong [aɪ], as in "price". So the key to getting my head around it is to say "price" really slowly, so I can hear what I'm saying, then only pronounce the first half. :o)

Unfortunately, though, there's only so far English will get me. I still can't pronounce the long "e" in my girlfriend's name, and listening to me trying to get the difference between the [œ] that Wikipedia says one should use for short /ö/ and the [øː] for long /ö/, or the [ʏ] or [yː] for short and long /ü/ is like listening to a giggle stick...
lethargic_man: The awful German language (Mark Twain's words, not mine) (Die schreckliche deutsche Sprache)
When I gave up (for the time being) learning German a year and a half ago, despite two months of classes, and a year and a half teaching myself beforehand, I could still follow no more than at best 20% of what [livejournal.com profile] aviva_m's rabbi said in her sermon each week. Since then, I haven't been practising, and my level has gone back down to around 5%. So [livejournal.com profile] aviva_m was surprised when we were in a museum exhibition on Sunday and I said I was understanding around 95% (with a bit of guesswork) of the untranslated captions. But parsing language at natural speed has always been my weak spot; given as long as I want over every sentence I do much better.

I decided the other night I'd actually try writing down exactly what I did and did not get out of a piece of text. I used the opening paragraphs of this article from the Berliner Morgenpost. Allowing myself to consult my vocab lists, here's what I understood of it. I've marked not only words I don't know, but ones where I can understand the parts that go into it but not the overall meaning:
Well, maybe not quite as high a percentage as I thought, but still reasonable )
Whilst I have an extended German passage in front of me, I blogged a little while ago wondering to what extent German turns into English if you reverse the High German consonant shift and restore the ability to handle "th" (and the odd bit of other anglicising; I've not been entirely consistent); here's my chance to find out:
Neither fish nor fowl )
Well, that turned out less impressive than I was expecting. Let's see if turning each word as far as possible into its English cognate (whilst not translating any of them) makes the passage more comprehensible. (I've also anglicised the inflected definite articles, and joined separable verb components, to clarify sentence structure.) Italicised words are German ones without English cognates:
Berliner Undernehms1 erward best shapeds si'2 20 years

For all the thienst3lastingsbranche lopeth good, the industry blicketh positively in the tocometh. Allthings, so betone the Handlechambers, insits these erfollow not wayen, sundern trotz the politics.

The shaped of the undernehms in Berlin and Brandenburg lope goodly, aber the erwardings on the wider ant'wickling sind1 nogh better. That hath the Konjunkturumfrage [of] the Industry- and Handlechambers (IHK) out [?of] Berlin, Potsdam, Frankfurt (Oder) and Cottbus ergiven. The so-named Konjunktur-clime-index, the sich out [of] the saldo from negative and positive inshattings [of] the [a]gainward and [of] the tocometh ergives, clettered to [the] yearsbeginning 2014 up 129 points. "That is the highest worth si' 1995", said the stellfortreading headshapedsführer [of] the Berliner IHK, Christian Wiesenhütter. The umfrage studdeth sich up the ongifts from mair4 as 1500 undernehms in the region.

Thereby overdreppeth the stimming [of] Berlin bedrives that sheen5 high niveau6 in [the] umland. 54 percent [of] Berlin undernehmers betoken 'eir shapedslair as good, 37 percent as befriethiging, nur nine percent as slight.7 43 percent outgo tothe therefrom, that the shapeds in the next months nogh better lope worthen. The half reckoneth mid8 [a]likeleaving niveau, nur seven percent blick pessimistish in the tocometh. "Berlin nimmeth konjunkturelle waxtumsimpulse sneller up as other regions"—so Wiesenhüter.
Ta-da: fluent gibberish! ;^)

1. English used to use this element; then the Vikings came and we started using their word instead.

2. "Seit" is cognate to the first half of "since".

3. Stem obsolete in English, but you can still find it (in German) on old 2p coins. :o)

4. 'Scuse me whilst I go Scottish; it requires less change.

5. Apparently schon "already" derives from schön "beautiful", for which the cognate "sheen" makes more sense.

6. I'm sorry; what language are we speaking here?

7. A false friend: the word's changed meaning in English; in German it means "bad".

8. This sense survives in "midwife" (i.e. "with-woman").
lethargic_man: The awful German language (Mark Twain's words, not mine) (Die schreckliche deutsche Sprache)
Because German is closely related to English, it shares many cognates, but those don't always mean quite the same as in English. As a result, it can be amusing to render them literally: For instance, whilst Germans can run (rennen), they normally rather lope (laufen). And whilst we drink fruit juice, they rather drink its sap (saft).

A while ago, it struck me, seeing the sign "Zug endet hier" on the front of a train how, if one were to reverse the High German Consonant Shift and the inability of Germans since the ninth century to pronounce "th", you'd end up with something not all that different from English: "Tug endeth hier". I keep meaning to see to what extent this holds true for longer texts, but have been failing to get around to it for a long time, since I gave up learning German (for the time being) a year ago...

Oh, the Germanity!

Friday, June 1st, 2012 11:49 am
lethargic_man: (beardy)
She doesn't believe it, but I was genuinely not aware until [livejournal.com profile] aviva_m pointed it out that I had got myself into a position where all other languages got a "love of languages" icon:

[icon]

but the German language got a "The Awful German Language" icon:

[icon]

Well, it wouldn't be the first time studying something I found difficult killed my love of it...

(no subject)

Friday, May 25th, 2012 01:37 pm
lethargic_man: The awful German language (Mark Twain's words, not mine) (Die schreckliche deutsche Sprache)
One of these two words is English, and one German (for the same thing):

überboss, Oberchef

Can you work out which is which?

Mushroom soup

Tuesday, May 1st, 2012 10:35 pm
lethargic_man: (linguistics geekery)
Going out on a limb (*gulp*):

Heute habe ich die Pilzsuppe gemacht, dass [livejournal.com profile] aviva_m traurich an(?) Pessach vermisst hat. Jetzt muss ich nur nicht die essen, bis sie kommt!

Corrections welcome. (I should possibly embarrass myself do this more.)

And, because I don't want to alienate half my already small readership:

Today I made the cream of mushroom soup that [livejournal.com profile] aviva_m sadly missed at Pesach. Now all I have to do is not eat it until she comes!
lethargic_man: (linguistics geekery)
I finally acquiesced to [livejournal.com profile] aviva_m's demands, and skipped ahead in my German book so I can learn other tenses, as she's fed up of only being able to talk with me in the present. I've made a start now on the perfect tense—so now, as my boss put it, I can talk perfect German.

Meanwhile, I've learned about unusual feature of German: there are a number of prepositions which take a noun in the accusative when there's a motion involved, but in the dative instead when there isn't. That's interesting; I can't think of another language that does something like that (though of course I only know four in enough detail that I'd know of something like this). Anyone know of any further examples of anything similar?

Speaking of German, [livejournal.com profile] rysmiel's correspondence with me over the years has been peppered with the occasional "und so weit". From context I'd guessed it meant "and so on", but now I know it literally means "and so far", which doesn't mean the same thing at all. So can my germanophone readers confirm whether it has the former meaning at all? (Or, alternatively, can [livejournal.com profile] rysmiel let me know the intended meaning?)
lethargic_man: (linguistics geekery)
Thought the first: German would be so much easier if it just had an ablative... (I.e., I wouldn't have to remember what takes the accusative, what takes the dative and what the genitive if anything that didn't clearly fit into one of these categories intuitively just took the ablative like Latin.) Though German sometimes breaks what for me is intuitive about these: In all other languages I know, the dative is pretty much defined as being to or for someone or something, but in German, für takes the accusative.

Thought the second: When I was in the first year of senior school, I was near the top of my class in many subjects. Then, in the second year, I had a couple of teachers, who took me for three subjects between them, who picked on me. They made my school life a misery, and I plummeted downwards in not just their but all subjects. One of them told my parents I would fail my GCSEs in Biology and Chemistry.

The following year, I got free of them, rose back towards the top of the class; and ended up receiving the third of my form prizes for my third year. I also went on to gain A's in both Biology and Chemistry at GCSE, A's again at A-Level (this was before A*s existed in either case), and a first in both subjects in my first year at university. Unfortunately, though, this was too late for me when it came to languages. Because of my poor performance in school in the second year, my parents were advised against my taking a third language in the third year. So if it hadn't been for your bullying of me, Mr Leake and Mr Lane—yes I damned well am going to name and shame you—I might have already known German for nearly twenty-five years now, rather than be struggling through the learning process as an adult.*

Or maybe I'd have decided to take Ancient Greek instead. (I was poised pretty much unable to choose between them at the time.)

* Bitter? Yes, I still am, even twenty-five years later.

And finally, thought the third: [livejournal.com profile] aviva_m got me a book on the relationship between Old English and other contemporary Germanic languages for Chanukah; and I have every intention, when I've read it, of updating the icon for this post to include Old High German evolving into modern German too. ;^)
lethargic_man: (linguistics geekery)
Someone said something to [livejournal.com profile] aviva_m the other day something about my learning German, and she said she'd given up hope. I'd told her previously it was on my to-do list, but I preferred to get my Hebrew sorted out first. Plus I've frankly found it hard to get myself motivated to learn German.

What [livejournal.com profile] aviva_m didn't know, though, was that the preceding day I'd decided to get off my tochus and learn the language. (She still doesn't know it: I'm posting this on an [livejournal.com profile] aviva_m-less filter, as (a) I don't want to get her hopes up too high until words turn into fact, and (b) I thought it would be nice to surprise her with my being able to speak* German.

* A very little: obviously the surprise element doesn't outweigh the advantage of being able to practise my German with her.

I've not tried to do something like this before, since the two times my mother set me up with an Israeli member of the Newcastle Jewish community for one-on-one tuition in Hebrew before I went to Israel as a sixteen and then eighteen-year-old. So how would people recommend I got started from a stationary start: teach-yourself books? evening classes? one-on-one tuition?

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