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The federal Justice Ministry in Germany has decreed that all state bodies should use gender-neutral language; something which is somewhat more complicated in a strongly gendered language such as German, in which it is generally impossible to mention a person without disclosing their gender:
The changing nature of German is particularly noticeable at university campuses. Addressing groups of students in German has been problematic ever since universities stopped being bastions of male privilege. Should they be sehr geehrte Studenten or sehr geehrte Studentinnen? In official documents, such as job advertisements, administrators used to get around the problem with typographical hybrid forms such as Student(inn)en or StudentInnen – an unfair compromise, some say, which still treats the archetype of any profession as masculine.Some speculate that these changes will ultimately lead to the same process that stripped other Germanic languages such as English and Swedish of their gendered nouns; the process could take centuries, though gender-neutral pronouns could be adopted from existing regional German dialects such as Niederdeutsch (Low German), where nouns of all genders get the definite article de:
In the long run, such solutions would prove too complicated, linguists such as Luise Pusch argue. She told the Guardian that men would eventually get so frustrated with the current compromises that they would clock on to the fundamental problem, and the German language would gradually simplify its gender articles, just as English has managed to do since the Middle Ages.This is neither the only recent proposal for modernising the German language nor the most radical: the writer Ingo Niermann suggested radically simplifying the language into what he termed "Rededeutsch", a language both comprehensible to speakers of old-fashioned German and easier to learn than English. Rededeutsch goes further than the modest proposals discussed recently, eliminating the definite article altogether, along with non-present tenses, irregular verb forms and the multitude of plural forms.
While Rededeutsch is more in the spirit of artistic bricolage, or perhaps a Swiftian modest proposal, than a realistic suggestion, the debate about gender-neutral forms does highlight the fact that the languages we speak were formed in far different social circumstances, and these assumptions are carried in them. And as living language does evolve, this does take a while, often being dragged into public debate and becoming a front in the rolling culture war between progressives and conservatives. (The same, of course, happened in English some decades ago, when suggestions that words like "chairman" were problematic were met with cries of "political correctness gone mad!")
Along similar lines, two years ago, the government of France deprecated the word "mademoiselle" from official use, allowing Frenchwomen to keep their marital status private when filling in forms.
The ongoing gentrification of Berlin is now making a linguistic mark on the city: Prenzlauer Berg, the chic inner eastern neighbourhood popular at first with squatting artists, and then with trendy schmicki-micki couples with children in sports-utility prams, is now facing an influx of affluent new residents from Swabia, a wealthy, conservative region of southern Germany adjoining Bavaria, resulting in the Swabian dialect of German replacing the Berlin dialect in parts of the neighbourhood:
"The positive side of the changes, is that literally everything looks nice now," he said. But he then thundered, "I get angry when I'm in the bakers, and there are no Schrippen (the Berlin slang for white rolls) only Weckern (the Swabian term). And its exactly the same for plum cake," he went on, which the relative newcomers call Pflumendatschi (a Swabian term.) "That makes me really the last defender of the Berlin dialect."
Thierse added: "I hope the Swabians realize they are now in Berlin. And not in their little towns, with their spring cleaning. They come here because it's all so colorful and adventurous and lively, but after a while, they want to make it like it is back home. You can't have both."
In France, the Academie Française carefully curate the language, meticulously pruning loanwords and replacing them with French neologisms (i.e., logiciel for software, and, less successfully, courriel for e-mail). Across the border, the Germans take a different approach, and actually have a competition for the best English loanword each year, the Anglizismus des Jahres. Last year, the winner was "shitstorm", which follows 2010's "leaken".
Borrowing words from English is somewhat of a tradition in Germany; the most (in)famous example is the German colloquial word for mobile phone, "handy".
Writing in the Graun, comedian Stewart Lee examines the foundations of the stereotype that the Germans don't have a sense of humour; he finds that it comes from the structure of the German language making certain types of humorous devices impossible:
At a rough estimate, half of what we find amusing involves using little linguistic tricks to conceal the subject of our sentences until the last possible moment, so that it appears we are talking about something else. For example, it is possible to imagine any number of British stand-ups concluding a bit with something structurally similar to the following, "I was sitting there, minding my own business, naked, smeared with salad dressing and lowing like an ox ... and then I got off the bus." We laugh, hopefully, because the behaviour described would be inappropriate on a bus, but we had assumed it was taking place either in private or perhaps at some kind of sex club, because the word "bus" was withheld from us.
But German will not always allow you to shunt the key word to the end of the sentence to achieve this failsafe laugh. After spending weeks struggling with the rigours of the German language's far less flexible sentence structures to achieve the endless succession of "pull back and reveals" that constitute much English language humour, the idea of our comedic superiority soon begins to fade. It is a mansion built on sand.
The German phenomenon of compound words also serves to confound the English sense of humour. In English there are many words that have double or even triple meanings, and whole sitcom plot structures have been built on the confusion that arises from deploying these words at choice moments. Once again, German denies us this easy option. There is less room for doubt in German because of the language's infinitely extendable compound words. In English we surround a noun with adjectives to try to clarify it. In German, they merely bolt more words on to an existing word. Thus a federal constitutional court, which in English exists as three weak fragments, becomes Bundesverfassungsgericht, a vast impregnable structure that is difficult to penetrate linguistically, like that Nazi castle in Where Eagles Dare. The German language provides fully functional clarity. English humour thrives on confusion.(The last part also nicely demonstrates something else mentioned in the raft of German-themed articles in today's Graun: the English tendency to associate Germany with Nazis. But I digress.)
Third, for the smutty British comic writers, it seemed difficult to find a middle-ground between scientifically precise language describing sexual and bodily functions, and outright obscenity. There seemed to be no nuanced, nudge-nudge no-man's land, where English comic sensibilities and German logic could meet on Christmas Day and kick around a few dirty jokes in a cheeky, Carry On-style way. A German theatre director explained that this was because the Germans did not find the human body smutty or funny, due to all attending mixed saunas from an early age.And here is a survey of German television comedy programming. It includes knockoffs of British and American shows, character-driven sketch shows, as well as more conceptual programming, such as the show that once broadcast 20 minutes of silence with the lights out.
A fairly comprehensive explanation of l33tspeak, its origins, variations (including B1FF/newbie/OMGWTFBBQ!!!1!-speak) and cultural connotations. Also, an article on the "-izzle" suffix in hip-hop slang, and Anglicisms in German.
A lengthy compedium of essentialist explanations of various languages:
English is essentially bad Dutch with outrageously pronounced French and Latin vocabulary. --Eugene Holman
Australian English is essentially Cockney without the refinement. -- Öjevind Lâng
Swedish, Norwegian and Danish are actually the same language. It's just that the Norwegians can't spell it, and the Danes can't pronounce it. --Chlewey
Yiddish is essentially the Ebonics of German. --submanifold
Dutch is essentially English spoken whilst stoned, which pretty much explains all the double vowels --Keith Gaughan
French is essentially a language that elides everything that doesn't get out of the way fast enough, and nasalises everything else. --Peter Bleackley
Brazilian is essentially a conlang created by people who wanted to have sex all the time, but still be able to talk about everyday things. --alleszermalmer
Romanian is essentially a Romance language trying really hard to blend in with the Slavic languages around it. --Jesse S. Bangs
Romanian is essentially French pronounced as written. --Christian Thalmann
German and Polish are essentially the same, only there are too many "ß"s in Leftoderian writing, and too many "z"s in Rightoderian. --Andreas Johansson
Breton is essentially Welsh with all the consonants changed to "z". --Thomas Leigh
Welsh is essentially the only language that can have four consecutive L's. --Danny Weir
Star Trek is essentially a religion for secular humanists, and Klingon is its Latin. --Jeffrey Henning
A better German map of the London Underground, with the names of the stations translated etymologically, as opposed to merely having been converted into macaronic pseudo-German. Some of the translations are fairly straightforward (i.e., "Inselgärten" and "Kamdenn Stadt", and, indeed, "Evangeliumseiche"), while others look nothing like the originals (how, for example, does one get from "Amersham" to "Egmundshof"; or, indeed, why does "Piccadilly" come across as "Nimm-Dill" in German?). Still, it's reassuring to know that Mile End is "Mellenende", and not "2.4km Ende".
The author, one Horst Prillinger, also has two English translations of the Vienna Underground; one seriously translated and one more flippantly. Interesting to see that Vienna shares one thing with Melbourne and Brisbane: they all have a Brunswick St.
Via Jim, this page of silly Tube maps, including one with the station names removed (see how many you can name), and this one in German (amusingly enough, Mile End is "2.4km Ende" in German). And here are some (mostly) sensible Tube maps; and a link to some brilliant stickers found added to line maps (I think I may have seen some of those when I was last over there).
From today's Onion: What Are We Feeling That Would Be Better Expressed In German?
1. Dread of something inevitable yet benign
2. The wish to see all suffer for the crimes of one.
Tell your industrial-listening friends.
And then there's US to Arab World: 'Stop Hating Us Or Suffer The Consequences'
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