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The mystery of German

Week 7, episode 13

Let's put aside all the stereotypes about the Germans and look at the German language as if we see it for the first time ever. What does it tell us about those who speak in it?

When you just listen, it seems to be stiff, we say "chopped" in Russian, because it sounds like somebody is cutting down trees: "Kommt Zeit, kommt Rat" (Kommt tsy-t, kommt rah-t) — Chop-chop chop-chop! — which translates as "Wait and see" or "Time will show" and literally means "Time comes, comes a piece of advice." So for years I thought this is all to it and that German is a rough and stern language with abrupt sounds, sudden changes, tense rythm.

Those who love German will turn on beautiful songs for you, even romantic ones or in RnB style, in attempt to show you how melodious, harmonious and gentle German can be, but as for me, I don't hear what they do. It still has stumbles, it still feels strained. Compare the way German words sound opposed to those in the languages we've already Langventured into (Italian and French) in this short 1 minute video:

That third word "Rindfleisch-etikettierungs-überwachungs-aufgaben-übertragungs-gesetz" (Beef labeling regulation and delegation of supervision law) —here divided in parts in case you're actually trying to read it— was the longest German word in use in the 90's and made it to the Guiness World Records.

And why no spaces between the words? Well, why should there be spaces? It is proved that in written language all kinds of oddity may occur: going from left to right or right to left, placing text horizantally or vertically, using letters each of which looks like a picture of something or using very difficult to capture symbols, and so on. And if it's possible to use only short words in language as in Vietnamese, for example, why can't you just skip a gap, connect words together, save paper this way, hence trees and the world? :)

As much as German is famous for the length of its words, it also has a lot of "to-the-point" words—those that in one word convey some kind of feeling that no other language identified in their lexicon. It's a separate theme, so let's come back to it later. But isn't it rather strange that the nation perceived to be closed and chary of emotions is actually the one that described them the best?!

I was suprprised to learn that the direct translation of the phrase "I am sorry" in German—"Tut mir Leid" (toot mee-ah lied)—means "It causes me suffering." How can somebody who feels your pain this much be in any way cold? There is certainly more to the mystery of the German language and I am on my way to discover it!

Bis Bald! (See you!)

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