The awful German language
Mark Twain spent a good part of his life learning the German language, but moreover, trying to understand and analyze the numerous troubles of it. This language has a complicated grammar not only for the foreign students, but also for the native German speakers, which makes the learning a great challenge for everyone. All these efforts and sacrifice are gathered together in the book “The awful German language”. We have also read it and here you can find the conclusion we have taken from this indispensable manual for every German student. Don´t miss it! It’s as interesting as funny. The laughter is guaranteed.
My philological studies have satisfied me that a gifted person ought to learn English (barring spelling and pronouncing), in 30 hour, French in 30 days, and German in 30 years. It seems manifest, then that the latter tongue ought to be trimmed down and repaired. If it is to remain as it is, it ought to be gently and reverently set aside among the dead languages, for only the dead have time to learn it. In this way, the American writer wanted to express how difficult the German language can be and how much work it requires from the student.
A good tip to learn a language is to be immersed in it to the maximum. For instance, listen to the radio, watching films, reading books or simply reading the newspaper. This last tip was also an idea for Twain (taking into account the limitations of the technology at the time, which gave not much options). However Twain found here the purest German style.
An average sentence, in a German newspaper, is a sublime and impressive curiosity; it occupies a quarter of a column; it contains all the ten parts of speech – not in regular order, but mixed; it is built mainly of compound words constructed by the writer on the spot, and not to be found in any dictionary (six or seven words compacted into one, without joint or seam). That is, without hyphens, it treats of fourteen or fifteen different subjects, each enclosed in a parenthesis of its own, with here and there extra parenthesis which reenclose three or four of the minor parentheses, making pens within pens. Finally, all the parenthesis and reparentheses are massed together between a couple of king-parentheses, one of which is placed in the first line of the majestic sentence and the other in the middle of the last line of it. After which comes the verb, and you find out for the first time what the man has been talking about. (…) I think that to learn to read and understand a German newspaper is a thing which must always remain an impossibility to a foreigner.
Another instance is the declination. Who has already learnt Latin is used to it at the first lesson. And what happens with the other people? They have to start learning der, des, dem, den, die and the troubles are coming together later. Because for no other reason, the inventor of this language complicated it all he could. 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. But that isn’t all, since to decline the article or the adjective we need to know what is the gender of the substantive. And for that 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. In German it is true that by some oversight of the inventor of the language, a woman can be a feminine (Frau) or neuter (Weib). Funny, isn’t it?
And what do you say about the pronunciation of the German words? That is another characteristic of this language. It’s not important for how long you are you living in Germany or learning the language. Your accent will in most cases reveal that you are not German.
This hard work trying to understand the German language had a purpose, which was to reform it and remove the troubles and difficulties he met. Here some of his suggestions:
– Leave out the dative case (nobody ever knows when he is the dative case, except he discover it by accident).
– Move the verb further up to the front.
– Import some strong words from the English language.
– Reorganize the sexes.
– Do away with those great long compounded words.
– Require a speaker to stop a string of those useless “haben sind gewesen gehabt haben geworden seins”.
– Discard the Parenthesis.
– Simplify the language.
I really don’t know of all of those good intentions were very successful. Unfortunatly the students of German have still the same problems like him. To finish this article I couldn’t find another better sentence, as this one written by Mark Twain at the end of the book. Could you write it better?
Wenn aber man kann nicht meinem Rede verstehen, so werde ich ihm später dasselbe übersetzt, wenn er solche Dienst verlangen wollen haben werden sollen sein hätte.