The Horrors of the German language Part III

 “The creator of the German language appears to have given his best to make it as complicated as possible.”

As I have promised last time I discussed the troubles caused by the German language, today I will tackle those infamous long nouns and the solutions Mark Twain proposed to make the language more coherent and easier to learn.

“In German, all nouns are written with a capital letter. This, ultimately, is a good idea and a creditable one, because this language is not rich in terms of good ideas.”

Besides this, unlike English, it is pretty uncomplicated to learn how to read in German. The rules can be taught during one lesson, so within one hour after starting your German lessons, you will be able to read. It may be a bit tricky for English-speaking natives, but after a while, you will get the hang of it. However, problems arise how to read out a twenty-something letters long word. In German, there is the habit of forming words from two-three-or-four other shorter words. This is both a positive thing, because in this way you are presented the attributes of that word, allowing you to figure out what it stands for, and a bad thing, since well… they are so incredibly long.

Here are some examples (which you will normally never use, but they prove a point):

Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz – the longest word in German

Donaudanpfschifffahrtsgesselschaftskapitänsfrau

Altertumsforschungswissenschaft

Löschwassereinspeisung – you will see this word everywhere on the street, meaning fire extinguisher.

And the list can continue. Here is a funny anecdote told by Mark Twain:

“1st of July. In the hospital a difficult operation took place. A 13-syllable word was extracted from a Northern German patient from the vicinity of Hamburg. Unfortunately, the appointed doctor opened him up in the wrong place, because, as they were under pressure, he choked up on a full cyclorama and died. The unhappy incident has brought great grief to the entire population.”

Immediate proposals to improve the language:

-to place more at the beginning of a phrase, instead of splitting the verbs up or placing them at the end

-make the rules by which a noun’s gender is established clearer

-eliminate the compound nouns or, at least, split them up

-forbid placing a series of 3-4 verbs (such as haben sind gewesen gehabt haben geworden sein) at the end of phrases

-renounce subordinate clauses or their subordinates.

“My studies of philology have proven me that a gifted person can learn English (excluding orthography and pronunciation) in 30 hours, French in 30 days, whereas German in 30 years. It is clear that German needs to be trimmed down and renewed. If it remains the way it is, it will slowly become a dead language, because only the dead have enough time to learn it.”

In spite of this warning, now, over a century later, German is thriving and it is one of the most widely taught languages in Europe, but not only. This fact may be mainly due to Germany’s powerful economy. As it is, the number of pupils or students complaining about all these difficulties attributed to the language keeps on growing. Considering how many words from English have been adopted into German in the past decades, there is still room for reform in the near future, even if there will undoubtedly be many who will oppose such a move. After all, most languages in the world are forced to change at a faster pace nowadays.

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