Author Topic: German and its intricacies  (Read 3184 times)

ryuusei86

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German and its intricacies
« on: July 12, 2008, 04:13:32 AM »
I have to admit that I'm happy that I had German as native language - I wouldn't have wanted to learn our complex grammar as foreign language, and that's why I admire all foreigners who rise up to that challenge!
Actually I really enjoyed learning German back in high school, though I've forgotten most of it (or at least, most of the vocabulary) since that was over 20 years ago.  I thought the grammar actually made a lot of sense, with the hard parts being sentences with more than one verb ("Gestern habe ich in die Stadt gehen muessen"), remembering which case the prepositions take (dative for "nach," accusative for "durch," sometimes one and sometimes the other for "in," and genitive for a few others like "trotz"), and, especially for us native English speakers, gender of nouns.

But if I could have my way, I'd really like to get back my proficiency in German.  Japanese would be fun to learn, though it seems to have a very difficult learning curve as it's so different from any other language I've ever come in contact with.  If I ever have luck with both of those, then I should probably also take the plunge and learn Spanish.  Everyone always said Spanish was the easiest foreign language for English speakers to learn, but I somehow doubt I'd find it significantly easier than German.  Particularly since, if I understand correctly, there are a lot of different flavors of Spanish....
« Last Edit: July 14, 2008, 10:42:18 PM by Shaina [シャイナ] »
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Shaina [シャイナ]

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Re: Which language(s) do you speak?
« Reply #1 on: July 12, 2008, 05:38:52 AM »
Well, in German there are some more parts that I can imagine difficult - like when do you have to change the vowels a, o and u word stem to ä, ö and when you decline substantives or conjugate verbs - and the question whether a verb is strong or weak or something in between, especially as you usually can't tell from the from. I mean you have stuff like:

present tense - past tense
gehen (to go) - ging
wehen (to blow) - wehte
sehen (to see) - sah
stehen (to stand) - stand
(all the verbs look alike from the suffix but aren't when you need to use other tenses)

Or stuff like
singular - plural
Maus (mouse) - Mäuse
Haus (house) - Häuser
Pause (break) - Pausen
Zaun (fence) - Zäune
Laune (mood) - Launen
Stuhl (chair) - Stühle
Kuhle (ground depression) - Kuhlen
Nummer (number) - Nummern
Rad (wheel) - Räder
Rat (council) - Räte
Fakt (fact) - Fakten
Auto (car) - Autos
Fahrer (driver) - Fahrer (yeah, plural looks identical to singular)

There is no seeming rule when you have to use an umlaut or not and which of the plural forms you use... ^^
« Last Edit: July 15, 2008, 12:40:08 AM by Shaina [シャイナ] »

Shainas Harem: Camus, DeathMask, Manigoldo + Dégel. Adopted: Shaina, Alberich, Hyoga, Jabu, Yato + Cassios.

ryuusei86

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Re: Which language(s) do you speak?
« Reply #2 on: July 13, 2008, 08:26:44 PM »
Slavic languages seem completely out of control.  Russian has its own alphabet, but if I understood my Polish tour guide correctly when I was in Europe a bit over a year ago, several other Eastern European languages also count as Slavic.  This would include not only Polish, but also Lithuanian and Latvian.  They say the most difficult language spoken in that whole region is Hungarian, though somewhat further north, they say that Finnish and Estonian are right up there in difficulty.

Shaina:  I remember struggling with the kind of things you mention, though English is just as bad in its verb forms (to me, gehen/geht/ging/ist gegangen is no worse than go/goes/went/gone, with the German having the added advantage that you can pronounce those words correctly even if you've never heard them spoken -- cf. "gone"/"bone"/"one"??!!).  I remember learning the plural forms of nouns at the same time as the singular forms.  Gender was really the tough one, though there are a couple of nice rules such as that all nouns ending in -ung or -schaft are feminine.  (die Vorstellung, die Gemeinschaft, etc.)  But just when you managed to convince yourself that the same was true of all nouns ending in -e, along comes a nice word like "der Kaese" to brighten your day.  :)

By the way, if I may ask, what part of Germany are you in?  I remember them telling us in junior high German that the best, easiest-to-understand German was spoken in Bavaria and other southern parts of Germany, only to discover to my horror when I met real Germans that exactly the opposite is true.  In high school, I was an exchange student for a couple of weeks in Speyer-on-the-Rhine, and I remember it took me at least two days before I could understand any of their dialect.  By comparison, I had a college friend from Bonn, and in graduate school knew several exchange students from Aachen, and as long as they spoke slowly enough, I could understand everything.  Odd, since although I can't find Speyer on the map, I see several other cities we visited, such as Mainz, Trier, and Ludwigshafen, and they don't seem to be very far away from Bonn or Aachen or Cologne.

Someday, somehow, I will get my German back up to snuff.  At least I hope so.  :)
Please feel free to call me Jack or R86.  :)

Shaina [シャイナ]

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Re: Which language(s) do you speak?
« Reply #3 on: July 13, 2008, 08:59:09 PM »
True, English has its difficulties as well. But I can imagine that the inflection of adjectives might come tricky, too - especially as that even changes between the two types of articles ("der kleine Tisch" but "ein kleiner Tisch"). Ah well, I guess the better pronunciability of German is a plus there XD

Well, in my area you'd be lucky. I'm from Northrhine-Westfalia, in the middle of the Ruhr Area (my hometown is Oberhausen which is about 30km from Düsseldorf and 70km from Köln/Cologne) - and we happen to speak pretty good High German here (even though we do have a local dialect).  Aachen is not so far away either, by the way.

And yeah - Bavarian is hard to understand even for other Germans. But you would have problems with Saxonian, too, I guess. Or a couple of the other dialects here XD

BTW, I had two years of Russian at school. The alphabet isn't so bad at all, I think. The grammar is interesting, though, with 6 cases and peculiarities like the "dual" (they have singular, dual and plural, not just singular and plural).

Shainas Harem: Camus, DeathMask, Manigoldo + Dégel. Adopted: Shaina, Alberich, Hyoga, Jabu, Yato + Cassios.

ryuusei86

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Re: Which language(s) do you speak?
« Reply #4 on: July 14, 2008, 09:40:24 PM »
SIX cases?!  Sounds just as bad as Latin!  The dual form sounds tricky also, though I think there are a few other languages that have this as well.  I recall Hebrew having both masculine plural and feminine plural forms also -- though I don't know of another language besides German that has the neuter gender in addition to masculine and feminine (though I'm sure there are others).

This gets to some of the few ways in which English is easier than other languages -- no gender of nouns, essentially only two cases ("nominative" and "everything else"), and also not having to worry about "familiar" and "formal" speech.  You can call anyone "you" without fear of repercussions.  ;D  After that, I'm sure it gets harder.

The adjective declension in German wasn't all that bad, compared to gender of nouns itself.  It makes sense to say "ein kleiner Tisch" even though it's just "der kleine Tisch," since "ein" could be either masculine or neuter, and you'd better signal to the world that you know that tables are masculine.  :)  With "der kleine Tisch," you've already done so.  It only got confusing when you were using some kind of complicated phrase, and while trying to remember which case your preposition takes, you forgot whether you'd used a definite or indefinite article!  ;D

I remember one thing that was pretty hard about German:  the subjunctive voice.  Another time when umlauts fly around, apparently at will.  It doesn't help that many native English speakers, particularly those of us in the US, get our own subjunctive voice wrong, or else (probably wisely) avoid it entirely.

I don't mean to make it sound like I was a perfect little genius at German, since I got beat up just the same as anyone learning another language.  I remember finding out the hard way that "if I were you" is translated not literally, but by means of an idiom:  "wenn ich an deiner Stelle waere".  I also remember being very proud of myself when I wrote a note to my teacher on one of my test papers, which had a corner torn off:  "Hat Ihre Katze mein Papier wieder gegessen?"  (Oh, how smart I am, I thought.  I remembered to use the formal, got the gender and case of "Papier" correct, and even conjugated the verb correctly.)  Well, after "gegessen" was crossed out in red ink and replaced with "gefressen," I read the response:  "Nein, der Kater.  Der rote Kater.  Der hat ein kleineres Maul."  (Klein-er-es?  I thought.  I really am going to die, aren't I?  Never mind also that there are two words for "cat," "eat," and "mouth.")

I was finally able to find Speyer-am-Rhein on the map, and it's much further south than I thought.  On the map I'm looking at, it's not far from the halfway point between Duesseldorf and Munich.  I found I could throw out not only all adjective endings when I was there, but also half the verb forms I'd so carefully learned.  "Gedacht" was replaced by "gedenkt," for instance.  "I thinked about it yesterday"!?

Well, sorry about the long post.  If I keep this up, I'll probably need a "German" thread!  :o
« Last Edit: September 01, 2008, 11:46:39 AM by ryuusei86 »
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Shaina [シャイナ]

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Re: German and its intricacies
« Reply #5 on: July 15, 2008, 12:20:51 AM »
Well, you might ask Raiden about the Finnish case system - that's even worse :D

And about masculine and feminine plural, you sort of have that in Latin, Italian and French, too. (e.g. in French you have "ils" (m) and "elles" (f) as 3rd person plural pronoun).

About formal and informal speech - when I started learning Japanese and heard about informal, normal-polite and very polite forms, I was at first intimidated, until I thought more closely about how we talk in German. And suddenly I realised that we have the very same levels of distinction for politeness here, too - they are just not explicitely labeled as such.

For example, if you would ask someone to eat something together with you, you could say
"Sollen wir uns was reinhauen?" (very informal and slang-y and probably tricky for learners, as "reinhauen" kann also mean "to hit" if you use it with the wrong preposition XD)
"Sollen wir was essen gehen?"  (informal, normal speech)
"Was halten Sie davon, wenn wir etwas essen gehen?" (polite, normal speech)
"Was halten Sie davon, wenn wir etwas speisen?" (very high register, polite and sounds somewhat funny in normal situations)

It is similar with the words you used in your example - animals do not "eat" (=essen,speisen), they "eat" (=fressen). Thus it would be very impolite to use the word for "animal-eating" in respect to humans, and it sounds funny to use the "human-eating" word for animals.

About the subjunctive - yeah, I found it pretty funny that once in a chat a well-meaning US chatter tried to correct me when I used the subjunctive - when I told him I didn't mean the indicative, but the subjunctive in that sentence, he was somewhat confused about it, but after some thinking told me he thought I was right after all. XD

By the way, the idiom "wenn ich an deiner Stelle wäre" is grammatically etc correct, but I doubt anyone would use the full version. You normally use it as "an deiner Stelle würde ich..."

And about "Hat Ihre Katze mein Papier wieder gegessen?" there is even another little detail that sounds odd to a native ear - the placement of the "wieder". While it is grammatically correct, one would usually put it after the cat: "Hat Ihre Katze wieder mein Papier gefressen?"
(To put the "wieder" before "gefressen" shifts the emphasis and gives it the meaning of "did your cat *eat* my paper again" instead of "play around with it" or "crumpled it" etc.)

(By the way, if you don't know the gender of a cat, you always use "Katze". Only if you are sure it is a male cat, you use "Kater". So the reply of your teacher was not to *correct* you there, but to *inform* you that he has a male cat.)

Well, Speyer is south of the "Weißwurst-Äquator" (="white sausage equator") , I think. (The Weißwurst-Äquator is a fictive border between North and South Germany that is fixed at the point where the Southerners say that you still get decent "Weißwürste" (white sausages). North of it you usually find the Germans who can speak proper German and South of it, there are those who speak wild dialects. :P 

(And yes, I'm from the Northern part - a "Saupreiß" as the Bavarians would say.)
[Attention - "Saupreiß" (literally "piggish Prussian") can be pretty insulting, depending on who uses it in which context. Here I used it humourously to denote the stereotypical view of the Bavarians towards the Northerners.] 

Shainas Harem: Camus, DeathMask, Manigoldo + Dégel. Adopted: Shaina, Alberich, Hyoga, Jabu, Yato + Cassios.

ryuusei86

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Re: German and its intricacies
« Reply #6 on: July 15, 2008, 08:14:20 AM »
The Weisswurst equator!  I love it!  I've eaten Weisswurst too, liked it much better than Blutwurst, which they wisely (?) didn't tell me what it was until after I'd tried a bite.  :-X

I did get it about the "Saupreiss" too, sounds like a word I'd better avoid using.

As for animals eating, I guess we shouldn't forget about "trinken" vs. "saufen."  "Speisen" now, that's a word I haven't heard since watching something like "Die Zauberfloete" or "Die Fledermaus."  Probably better to translate it as "dine" rather than "eat."  I can certainly see why the Japanese levels of politeness in speech might come a bit more easily to someone whose native language is German rather than English.

Ah, you reminded me about all those verb-preposition idioms.  English is loaded with them too.  Heck, I just used one -- "remind about," which is subtly different from "remind of!"  Two German ones that drove me nuts were "sich freuen ueber" and "sich freuen an."

Which brings me to reflexive verbs.  Again, English has them too, but German seems to use them more.  We were told that "I'm washing my hands" should be translated "Ich wasche mir die Haende."  While "ich wasche meine Haende" is technically a grammatically correct sentence, the feeling I got was that, to a German, it sounds something like you detached your hands at the wrists, threw them in the washing machine, hit the "on" button with your elbow, and waited for your hands to get washed before reattaching them!  :)

If I keep this up, I will have to figure out how to type the umlauts and the esszett (?) character.  I can get them in MS Word, but I don't know how to get them on my foolish American computer.  :)
Please feel free to call me Jack or R86.  :)

Shaina [シャイナ]

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Re: German and its intricacies
« Reply #7 on: July 15, 2008, 10:00:04 AM »
Yeah, I have to admit, Weißwürste are the *only* kind of sausage that I eat (pretty funny for a Non-Bavarian XD).

By the way, in German you can write the ß as ss, ä = ae, ö = oe and ü = ue without problems. So if you write "fuer" instead of "für" this is fully acceptable and it is usually done if one doesn't have umlauts on a keyboard. What is not acceptable is simply leaving out the umlaut signs. After all, then you would create completely different words - like "sägen" (to saw) would turn into "sagen" (to say). But if you write "saegen", every German will understand that you mean "sägen".

Well, "speisen"  is pretty high-register and a tad old-fashioned, but in certain circles it would be expected. In normal conversation ist sounds slightly odd. And yeah, "to dine" sounds like a good translation, although that should better be "dinieren" (as I have the impression it relates more to a (probably slightly festive) dinner, if I'm right). "speisen" is more general and can relate to lunch and even breakfast.

English prepositions - yeah, these are one of the things that I probably mess up a lot.

About the "Hände waschen" - I think your observation is pretty astute. There is one idiom, though, that uses "waschen" directly - "Ich wasche meine Hände in Unschuld." (literally: "I wash my hands in innocence"; meaning: one denies to be guilty of something) This would sound wrong if you'd say "Ich wasche mir meine Hände in Unschuld".

On further reflexion I think you can generalise it. Whenever you use "waschen" intransitively, you could use the non-reflexive form. (Ich wasche meine Hände mit Wasser.) I guess in that case it would be a shortened form of "Ich wasche meine Hände mit Wasser ab." ("abwaschen" = "to clean", "to rinse")
 
(BTW, aren't those detachable verbs fun for foreign students, too? XD)

Shainas Harem: Camus, DeathMask, Manigoldo + Dégel. Adopted: Shaina, Alberich, Hyoga, Jabu, Yato + Cassios.

ryuusei86

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Re: German and its intricacies
« Reply #8 on: July 17, 2008, 08:34:20 AM »
I suppose the "waschen" thing also is a non-issue if it isn't a part of your body, right?  For instance, "Heute moechte ich mein Auto waschen" ought to be fine, no?

As for prepositions, I'm thinking they're pretty difficult in any language.  Sometimes I struggle with them even in English.  If I do get to learn Japanese someday, I know the particles will drive me crazy.  I'm just beginning to understand the difference between "wa" and "ga," but I don't know if I'll ever be able to do so with "ni" and "he."

The detachable verbs as you called them (we called them something else, but I can't remember what) did add a level of subtlety when learning to conjugate verbs in general.  I seem to recall that there were at least one or two examples of verbs that looked exactly the same, only with one of them the prefix detached and the other did not, and they meant slightly different things....

EDIT:  With my day job as a chemist, I remember being delighted to learn that the old saw of "Do as you oughta, add acid to water," rhymes much more nicely in the German version, and is thus much easier to remember:  "Erst das Wasser, dann die Saeure, sonst passiert das Ungeheure!"  ;D
« Last Edit: July 18, 2008, 02:57:26 PM by ryuusei86 »
Please feel free to call me Jack or R86.  :)