Saturday, July 23, 2016

Downtown Reading

Yesterday Red Baron represented the Freiburg-Madison-Gesellschaft at the StadtLesen event 2016. Freiburg's municipal library participates in an European initiative to bring reading again near to the people in times of Internet, smartphones, and Pokémons.

Freiburg's Kartoffelmarkt (former potato market) equipped for StadtLesen (©StadtLesen)
In its 2016 flyer StadtLesen posed two questions: How many languages are spoken in Freiburg? How many nationalities live here? At this year's downtown reading Freiburg's Sister City Committees had the whole Friday afternoon reserved for the presentation of their texts. It was somehow unfortunate that the FMG was last in line starting the reading at 2000 hours (8 p.m.). As we say in German: Den Letzten beißen die Hunde (The devil takes the hindmost) so the attendance was manageable.

The reader from the Confucius Institute leaving the stage with the FMG following.
Red Baron is actually waiting for a promised photo showing him in the reading position.
Stay tuned for the update.
Red Baron had chosen to read Mark Twain's article: The awful German language having in mind that at present so many refugees try hard to learn Goethe's idiom. Mark Twain wrote his article in 1878 while staying in Heidelberg. You may read the original here. From Mark Twain's article I read whole paragraphs first in their German translation then in the original.


Here are some observations I made when comparing Mark Twain's original remarks with modern developments of the German language:

For instance, my [text]book inquires after a certain bird -- (it is always inquiring after things which are of no sort of consequence to anybody): "Where is the bird?" Now the answer to this question -- according to the book -- is that the bird is waiting in the blacksmith shop on account of the rain. Of course no bird would do that, but then you must stick to the book. Very well, I begin to cipher out the German for that answer ... the rain is der Regen, if it is simply in the quiescent state of being mentioned, without enlargement or discussion -- Nominative case; but if this rain is lying around, in a kind of a general way on the ground, it is then definitely located, it is doing something -- that is, resting (which is one of the German grammar's ideas of doing something), and this throws the rain into the Dative case, and makes it dem Regen. However, this rain is not resting, but is doing something actively, -- it is falling -- to interfere with the bird, likely -- and this indicates movement, which has the effect of sliding it into the Accusative case and changing dem Regen into den Regen." Having completed the grammatical horoscope of this matter, I answer up confidently and state in German that the bird is staying in the blacksmith shop "wegen (on account of) den Regen." Then the teacher lets me softly down with the remark that whenever the word "wegen" drops into a sentence, it always throws that subject into the Genitive case, regardless of consequences -- and that therefore this bird stayed in the blacksmith shop "wegen des Regens."

Only few people in Germany still use wegen with the Genitive case: "wegen des Regens". What in the 1960th was still called the Lower Bavarian Genitive "wegen dem Regen" is now common use. It seems that the Genitive is a dying case in German according to the bestseller by Bastian Sick: Der Dativ ist dem Genitiv sein Tod (literally The Dative is to the Genitive its Death). Red Baron on the other hand uses the Genitive in his German texts whenever possible.

Then there is Twain's fight with the Adjective:

Now observe the Adjective. Here was a case where simplicity would have been an advantage; therefore, for no other reason, the inventor of the German language complicated it all he could. When we wish to speak of our "good friend or friends," in our enlightened tongue, we stick to the one form and have no trouble or hard feeling about it; but with the German tongue it is different. When a German gets his hands on an adjective, he declines it, and keeps on declining it until the common sense is all declined out of it. It is as bad as Latin. He says, for instance:

• SINGULAR
o Nominative -- Mein guter Freund, my good friend.
o Genitives -- Meines guten Freundes, of my good friend.
o Dative -- Meinem guten Freunde, to my good friend.
o Accusative -- Meinen guten Freund, my good friend
.

Today very few people still say "Meinem guten Freunde" they rather drop the "e": "Meinem guten Freund". Some even go so far to say: Ich hab' ein Mann gesehen instead of correctly saying: Ich habe einen Mann gesehen. Dropping the endings seems to be a deadly sin in English, it is only a venial sin in German.

Twain then moans about the difference between the natural and the grammatical gender in German:

Every noun has a gender, and there is no sense or system in the distribution; so the gender of each must be learned separately and by heart. There is no other way. To do this one has to have a memory like a memorandum-book. 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. See how it looks in print -- I translate this from a conversation in one of the best of the German Sunday-school books:

Gretchen: Wilhelm, where is the turnip?
Wilhelm: She has gone to the kitchen.
Gretchen: Where is the accomplished and beautiful English maiden?
Wilhelm: It has gone to the opera.

To continue with the German genders: a tree is male, its buds are female, its leaves are neuter; horses are sexless, dogs are male, cats are female -- tomcats included, of course; a person's mouth, neck, bosom, elbows, fingers, nails, feet, and body are of the male sex, and his head is male or neuter according to the word selected to signify it, and not according to the sex of the individual who wears it -- for in Germany all the women either male heads or sexless ones; a person's nose, lips, shoulders, breast, hands, and toes are of the female sex; and his hair, ears, eyes, chin, legs, knees, heart, and conscience haven't any sex at all. The inventor of the language probably got what he knew about a conscience from hearsay.


A new development among young Germans influenced by Turkish-Arabic syntax would possibly have delighted the frustrated Twain. The speakers not only do no longer care for gender Ich hab Vertrag instead of Ich habe einen Vertrag (I have a contract) but in addition they drop prepositions: Wir sind Kino instead of Wir sind im Kino  (We are at the movies). Such rudimentary forms lend themselves to short messages as SMSs.

German language, quo vadis?

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