Friday, May 30, 2014

Your German Lesson for Today

Languages have reputations.

English, for example, is notorious for the difficulty of its spelling (example: the word fish could be spelled ghoti if one used the f sound from the last syllable of the word enough, the i sound from women, and the sh sound from nation*).

Chinese is notorious for the complexity of its pictorial writing system and the difficulty of its system of tones.

French is notorious because of, well, the French. For a hysterical look at the difficulties of the French language, read Robert Benchley's classic essay "How to Speak French." You will learn, among other things, that there are five vowel sounds in French - a, e, i, o, and u - which are pronounced ong, ong, ong, ong, and ong.

And then there's German, which is notorious on many levels, one of which is the need to learn each noun's grammatical gender, which is designated by its definite article according to rules that make no sense. For example, when you set the table, you must lay out die Gabel (the fork, which is feminine), der Loeffel (the spoon, which is masculine), and das Messer (the knife, which is neuter). But the biggest reason for which German is notorious is the length of its words.

In German, when you need a word for something new, you create it by jamming together enough other words to describe the new thing. This leads to some amazingly complex, and yet very descriptive words, such as this one ...

which means "Floor Polishing Machine Rentals." Oy.

German compound nouns can be hideously difficult for speakers of other languages to deal with, although they do obey their own internal rules that make them easy to decompose once you know the secret. Here is an interesting chart that I ran across online the other day that shows you how to derive the names of various animals in German - click it to enlarge:

One word not on that chart is the classic German insult Schweinhund ("pig dog"), which you've probably heard some German villain hiss in a movie. Another is the term Teufelshunde ("devil dogs"), supposedly applied to the US Marines by German soldiers during World War I**.

Okay, that's your German lesson for today. And if you'd like to learn a little bit about German pronunciation as compared to that of English, French, Spanish, and Italian, you can check out this tutorial.

Ich wuensche Euch einen guten Tag. Morgen erscheint Cartoon Saturday ... kommt zurueck!


* Attributed to George Bernard Shaw, although he may not have been the original author.

** For an interesting look at the history of this term, go here.


eViL pOp TaRt said...

Very interesting, how compound words are formed in German.

And very interesting about the Devil Dogs.

Chuck Bear said...

Having no facility for languages, I would be lost in Germany!

Margaret (Peggy or Peg too) said...

I can barely speak English and have always had difficulty with languages. I have always struggled with it so. I have tried all forms of learning as well. The only language that was easy for me was American Sign Language.

But I do have a vocabulary of dirty words in Italian. Something tells me that just doesn't count.

Bilbo said...

Peggy - a good list of dirty words in various languages is always useful. Next time we get together, remind me to teach you some useful words in German and Russian ...

Elvis Wearing a Bra on His Head said...

I know bustenhalter and bier. And scheisse.

KathyA said...

Love languages and their various idiosynracies.

Mike said...

I barely made it through Spanish in high school.

The Bastard King of England said...

Learning a second language is hard, I found.