“In German, a young lady has no sex, while a turnip has. Think what overwrought reverence that shows for the turnip, and what callous disrespect for the girl.” – Mark Twain in his 1880 essay, The Awful German Languagegermanbeauty

What do you call someone, who speaks three languages? Trilingual.

What do you call someone, who speaks two languages? Bilingual.

What do you call someone, who speaks one language? An American.

Not my favorite guy, but the last of the three rhetorical questions posed by deposed CBS anchor Dan Rather to the National Governor’s Association meeting in Chicago hit me right between the eyes.

The year was 1989. It was das Jahr die Mauer fällt. That was also the year the author of Almost DailyBrett made a resolution to learn another language, German. Die deutsche Sprache was one of the hottest languages in the world as the Berlin Wall came down and the soon to be reunified Germany started to project “soft power.” German was once again in vogue.

Certainly when it comes to romance, German with its guttural sounds (see Schmetterling above) will never qualify. The closest word in this category may be Gemütlichkeit, which conveys a sense of coziness, a warm fire, an Alpine meadow, a beautiful hike in the Black Forest (Schwarzwald).

I’m Happy That You’re So Sad

There is also Schadenfreude, which roughly translates, “I’m happy that you’re so sad.” Keep in mind that Schadenfreude is also one of the German language’s many compound nouns, making it virtually impossible to play Scrabble in German. How about Arbeitslosigkeitsunterstützung or unemployment insurance?

With a language as tortured as German in which all nouns must be capitalized, is it any surprise there is really no German word for public relations? The closest translation is Öffentlichkeitsarbeit or work with or in the public sphere. If you desire an even longer German compound noun, how about the word for Germany’s public relations miracle from 1945 to present day: Öffentlichkeitsarbeitswunder?

German is far from the hardest language on the planet to learn (i.e., Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese or even Hungarian), but it is certainly not the easiest. Der, die, das, die (nominative case); den, die, das, die (accusative); dem, der, dem, den (dative) and des, der, des, der (accusative) are all the ways Germans say the word, “the,” depending where and how “the” falls in any sentence.

In English, the word,“the” is “the.” Simple.

And let’s not forget irregular and separable verbs in which a prefix gets thrown to the conclusion of the sentence and with or without the prefix at the end, it changes the meaning of the sentence. For example, rufen means to call and anrufen means to call by telephone … rufen is conjugated, and an is placed at the end of the sentence.

Do you really want to make that phone call?

To get on the Autobahn with no speed limit in long stretches, you follow the Einfahrt, and to exit you follow the Ausfahrt. That’s a lot of Fahrting for one ride on the Autobahn (compound noun).ausfahrt

Similar to Spanish and French (and presumably many other languages), German articles (der, die, das) must be correctly placed before the corresponding masculine, feminine and neuter nouns.

As noted above, clever Mark Twain pointed out German is the only language on the planet that makes a turnip, feminine, die Rübe, and a young unmarried girl/woman neuter, das Mädchen and das Fraulein. Translated: the actual gender of the noun may not matter in determining the article that precedes it.

There is also the issue associated with the fact that many Germans do not believe you can ever learn their language. Go to Berlin or München and ask a question in (near) perfect High-German and more times than naught, you will receive your answer in English oder Englisch.

The good news: they understood your question. The bad news: they are still convinced you will never learn German.

Why Learn German?

“ … People know that you get further in a country if you speak the local and the official language and not just English. For networking and approaching clients, and partially also for business communication, knowing German gives you an additional advantage.Ulrich Ammon, author of The Status of the German Language in the World

Let’s face it, when it comes to learning German, many will instantly equate the language with charming memories, such as Blitzkrieg, Luftwaffe, Achtung, U-Boots, Messerschmitts, Fokkers and dozens of other militaristic terms that harken back to two world wars and the Holocaust.

That’s why it was all the more surprising to learn that German is being offered to 14-to-15 year-old students in Israeli schools or more than 20,000 Israelis have moved to Berlin, the once capital of the Third Reich.

What has changed, particularly when only 104 million of the earth’s 7 billion-plus inhabitants are native German speakers? One answer is these native speakers equate to the 4th largest economy in terms of GNP and the world’s most proficient export machine.

Germany will be eternally tarnished by memories of the Nazis and the Holocaust, but its leadership in the European Union, its popular and consensus-oriented Chancellor Angela Merkel, and its (soft power) powerful export driven economy has made it a land of opportunity. Partially as a consequence of its postwar guilt and its aging population and declining workforce, Germany has been more than generous in opening its borders to those fleeing from Iraq and Syria, and is expected to accommodate 800,000 refugees by the end of the year.schmetterling

Reportedly, there are 15.5 million present day students of die Deutsche Sprache, up 4 percent in the last five years.

Should you become one of them, you will soon be able to translate: Der kleine schöne Schmetterling hat durch den grünen Wald geflogen.

Yep, that is one beautiful little butterfly that flew through the green forest. Pass the schnapps!

http://www.economist.com/news/europe/21663257-once-language-schiller-and-goethe-then-hitler-german-hip-again-sprechen-sie-power

http://www.dw.com/en/why-the-world-should-learn-german-and-why-germany-should-care/a-18236069

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZlATOHGj9EY

https://www.cs.utah.edu/~gback/awfgrmlg.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Awful_German_Language

http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/latest-3000-migrants-cross-austria-33650547

http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21663228-refugees-germanys-chancellor-brave-decisive-and-right-merkel-bold

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/germanys-road-to-redemption-shines-amid-europes-refugee-debate/2015/09/10/00955630-57f0-11e5-8bb1-b488d231bba2_story.html?wpmm=1&wpisrc=nl_opinions

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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