German Language

The following is some blurb from MarkTwain which is usually cited when someone form the US wants to insult a German or demonstrates how superior English is, compared to a language like German.

What people who cite MarkTwain actually demonstrate is their limited education in terms of languages and non-english linguistic concepts, and their limited ability to deal with another culture. It's part of AmericanCulturalAssumption.

Do no other nations/cultures poke occasional fun at others? I seem to recall a great many MontyPython jokes at the expense of the French, Germans, and others? MyHovercraftIsFullOfEels? leaps to mind, as does TheKillerJoke?. -- PeteHardie

Actually the HovercraftFullofEels? item related to a bogus dictionary publisher, and didn't really mock foreigners at all (unless I was missing something too subtle for me). While we are on the subject though, while living in Germany a few years back, I asked my (German) colleagues if they had any nicknames for foreigners - preferably insulting. They seemed a little bemused by the quesion - the best they could come up with was 'Tommy' for the English, which is not the most caustic comment that I can think of. Perhaps this is something peculiar to the English speaking peoples of this world? -- AndyDoddington

Have you asked any World War II veterans from over there?

The French have many insulting names for foreign people. For example, Rosbif for the Brits. So insulting names are not peculiar to anglophones.

Hmmm - I'm intrigued - do tell more ;-) Following this thread a bit more closely however, I was amused when working in Germany to hear German forms of English verbs, e.g. "es hat gekrasht", or "es ist gedebugt" - though of course the latter form does not really exist in any language... (incidentally, the spelling is pure guesswork). -- AndyDoddington

Comments on both of this: there are more than enough derogatory terms for foreigners in German, maybe those people were either angels or not willing to name those terms. On anglicisms in the German IT community, you do have forms like "gecrasht" and "debuggt" (gedebuggt is nothing a sane person would use), but in many cases people prefer to use local slang like "abgenudelt", or translations like "abgestürzt" (crashed).

Aaaah - to think, I walked with Angels, sigh... -- AD

Let's be fair to MarkTwain. He knew languages other than English, and he was just trying to point out the particular difficulties German offers to the foreign student. He spoke of an American student in Stuttgart who would "rather decline two drinks than one German adjective." People have had their jabs at English too (see the author, apparently, was Dutch) but we don't accuse them of imperialism of any sort.

In the "TurnaboutIsFairPlay?" department, here's a fractured-English warning sign (based on a fractured-German poster that has been circulating since at least 1959):

ATTENTION: This room is fullfilled mit special electronische equippment. Fingergrabbing and pressing the cnoeppkes from the computers is allowed for die experts only! So all the "lefthanders" stay away and do not disturben the brainstorming von here working intelligencies. Otherwise you will be out thrown and kicked anderswhere! Also: please keep still and only watchen astaunished the blinkenlights.[1]

The original was (see Jargon File):
computermachine ist nicht fuer gefingerpoken und mittengrabben.
Ist easy schnappen der springenwerk, blowenfusen und poppencorken
mit spitzensparken.  Ist nicht fuer gewerken bei das dumpkopfen.
Das rubbernecken sichtseeren keepen das cotten-pickenen hans in
das pockets muss; relaxen und watchen das blinkenlichten

It has me deeply touched, my gentlemen, here so hospitably received to be. From colleagues out of my own profession, in this from my own home so far distant land. My heart is full of gratitude, but my poverty of German words forces me to greater economy of expression. Excuse you, my gentlemen, that I read off, what I you say will. [But he didn't read].

The German language speak I not good, but have numerous connoisseurs me assured that I her write like an angel. Maybe -- maybe -- I know not. Have till now no acquaintance with the angels had. That comes later -- when it the dear God please -- it has no hurry.

Since long, my gentlemen, have I the passionate longing nursed a speech on German to hold, but one has me not permitted. Men, who no feeling for the art had, laid me ever hindrance in the way and made naught my desire -- sometimes by excuses, often by force. Always said these men to me: "Keep you still, your Highness! Silence! For God's sake seek another way and means yourself obnoxious to make."

In the present case, as usual it is me difficult become, for me the permission to obtain. The committee sorrowed deeply, but could me the permission not grant on account of a law which from the Concordia demands she shall the German language protect. Du liebe Zeit! How so had one to me this say could -- might -- dared -- should? I am indeed the truest friend of the German language -- and not only now, but from long since -- yes, before twenty years already. And never have I the desire had the noble language to hurt; to the contrary, only wished she to improve -- I would her only reform. It is the dream of my life been. I have already visits by the various German governments paid and for contracts prayed. I am now to Austria in the same task come. I would only some changes effect. I would only the language method -- the luxurious, elaborate construction compress, the eternal parenthesis suppress, do away with, annihilate; the introduction of more than thirteen subjects in one sentence forbid; the verb so far to the front pull that one it without a telescope discover can. With one word, my gentlemen, I would your beloved language simplify so that, my gentlemen, when you her for prayer need, One her yonder-up understands.

I beseech you, from me yourself counsel to let, execute these mentioned reforms. Then will you an elegant language possess, and afterward, when you some thing say will, will you at least yourself understand what you said had. But often nowadays, when you a mile-long sentence from you given and you yourself somewhat have rested, then must you have a touching inquisitiveness have yourself to determine what you actually spoken have. Before several days has the correspondent of a local paper a sentence constructed which hundred and twelve words contain, and therein were seven parentheses smuggled in, and the subject seven times changed. Think you only, my gentlemen, in the course of the voyage of a single sentence must the poor, persecuted, fatigued subject seven times change position!

Now, when we the mentioned reforms execute, will it no longer so bad be. Doch noch eins. I might gladly the separable verb also a little bit reform. I might none do let what Schiller did: he has the whole history of the Thirty Years' War between the two members of a separable verb in-pushed. That has even Germany itself aroused, and one has Schiller the permission refused the History of the Hundred Years' War to compose -- God be it thanked! After all these reforms established be will, will the German language the noblest and the prettiest on the world be.

Since to you now, my gentlemen, the character of my mission known is, beseech I you so friendly to be and to me your valuable help grant. Mr. Potzl has the public believed make would that I to Vienna come am in order the bridges to clog up and the traffic to hinder, while I observations gather and note. Allow you yourselves but not from him deceived. My frequent presence on the bridges has an entirely innocent ground. Yonder gives it the necessary space, yonder can one a noble long German sentence elaborate, the bridge-railing along, and his whole contents with one glance overlook. On the one end of the railing pasted I the first member of a separable verb and the final member cleave I to the other end -- then spread the body of the sentence between it out! Usually are for my purposes the bridges of the city long enough; when I but P�tzl's writings study will I ride out and use the glorious endless imperial bridge. But this is a calumny; P�tzl writes the prettiest German. Perhaps not so pliable as the mine, but in many details much better. Excuse you these flatteries. These are well deserved.

Now I my speech execute -- no, I would say I bring her to the close. I am a foreigner -- but here, under you, have I it entirely forgotten. And so again and yet again proffer I you my heartiest thanks. -- MarkTwain, 1897

One of the main difficulties for English speakers is the inverted word order, in which the verb of the subordinate clause is pushed to the end. This kind of nesting actually causes problems for native speakers too, if the nesting is too deep. Pendants often do this, but for clarity striving writers their subordinate clauses not to nest are accustomed.

Turkish has a similar inverted word order and native speakers of Turkish sometimes report similar difficulties with the deep nesting referred to immediately above.

On a sidenote, I had severe difficulties reading (understanding) the above text, although I'm a German native speaker. This is probably due to the text being written in a foreign language (from my point of view) with there-inexact grammatical constructs. -- PhilipBusch

Not entirely, I think it's also that the above is just botched. Try this instead:

No... these are English words with impressively exact German grammar. If you translate every word to German literally, you get grammatically correct German sentences. Complicated grammar and idiomatic German, I might add. This is the work of a foreigner with VERY good knowledge of German.

I'm not sure if this is the right place for this -- if not delete or move. One of the funniest things I ever saw in my many years living in Germany (I'm an American) was in the zoo in Saarbrücken. They had a "multilingual" trash can. First came the German inscription, "Abfall hier" (Garbage here). Then followed the (correct) French translation, "Ici poubelles". And then the English version: "Here falling off". Nearly died laughing! -- JohnWebber

Being a citizen of Saarbrücken, I had a good laugh right now. Not so because someone wonders why we print irritating multilingual messages on our garbage cans (which, I suppose, is funny enough... wonder what might happen if we labeled them "free chewing gums here") rather than because it's really funny to stumble across the name of my hometown on a wiki mostly run by Americans - most Germans wouldn't know where to locate Saarbrücken on a map. -- PhilipBusch

Gee, Philip, I think you're underplaying the significance of Saarbrücken. After all, it's a state capital (even if the Saarland is one of the smallest states). And the home of Oskar Lafontaine, who surely is familiar to most Germans. -- JohnWebber

Mnnnn, StarWars watching he has been. - Yoda

See also WordOrder and ReadsLikeGerman


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