Posts Tagged ‘Germany’

Germans try to get their tongues around gender-neutral language

Justice ministry’s edict that state institutions must use ‘gender-neutral’ language is forcing the country to confront change

173_Germans try to get their tongues around gender-neutral language

A schoolgirl in a sex education class in Hamburg in 1968. Many believe German will simplify its gender articles, just as English has done. Photo: Alamy

Derdie or das? For centuries, the seemingly arbitrary allocation of masculine, feminine and neutral gender articles in German has driven non-native speakers to despair. “In German, a young lady has no sex, while a turnip has,” the American writer Mark Twain once complained. “Think what overwrought reverence that shows for the turnip, and what callous disrespect for the girl.”

But hope may finally be in sight. Changing attitudes to gender are increasingly transforming the German language, and some theorists argue that scrapping the gendered articles altogether may be the most logical outcome.

Predictions vary: one suggestion is that Angela Merkel will eventually no longer be die Bundeskanzlerin but a neutral das Bundeskanzler, as she would be in English. Others believe that the feminine gender, already the most common fallback form used by non-native speakers, will become the default article: a policeman would no longer be der Polizist but die Polizist.

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.

Now, with the federal justice ministry emphasising that all state bodies should stick to “gender-neutral” formulations in their paperwork, things are changing again. Increasingly, job ads use the feminine form as the root of a noun, so that even a male professor may be referred to as der Professorin. Lecturers are advised to address their students not as Studenten but Studierende (“those that study”), thus sidestepping the gender question altogether.

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.

“Language should be comfortable and fair,” said Pusch. “At the moment, German is a very comfortable language, but a very unfair one.”

Many linguists question whether language can be changed through human will. “It’s hard to transform grammar through legislation, and even if so, such changes often happen over centuries,” said Anatol Stefanowitsch, a linguist at Berlin’s Free University.

But he also points out that some dialects, such as Niederdeutsch (Low German), have lost the cumbersome distinction between der and die already: in Low German, for example, both men and women are simply referred to as de.

Article taken from The Guardian on 26 March 2014.

The Little Book of Transcreation – excerpt #19

Transcreating jingles is not just about finding the right words – they also have to fit the tune.

Gillette’s German version of “The best a man can get” failed on both counts.

152_LBOT #19

“Für das Beste im Mann” (“For the best inside a man”) didn’t really make sense – facial hair is on the outside.

Plus, the line was too short, so each word had to be dragged out longer than sounds natural.

And it doesn’t even rhyme with “Gillette”!

The “Für das Be-e-e-est-e-e im Ma-a-an” jingle has therefore become something of a national laughing stock.

English rude word enters German language

No Comments » Written on July 16th, 2013 by
Categories: Germany
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132_English rude word enters German language Mrs Merkel used the term at a public meeting

Germany’s standard dictionary has included a vulgar English term, used by Chancellor Angela Merkel among others, as an acceptable German word.

Duden, the equivalent of the Oxford English Dictionary in the UK, said it was reflecting the common use of the word “shitstorm” among Germans.

The word, which is used in German to denote a public outcry, seems to have caught on during the eurozone crisis.

German language experts voted it “Anglicism of the year” in 2012.

One of them, Michael Mann, explained in a report by the Local newspaper, that the English word conveyed a “new kind of protest… clearly different in kind and degree from what could be expected in the past in response to a statement or action”.

In the past there have been controversies over German usage of words like “download”, “job-hopping” or “eye-catcher”, the BBC’s Steve Evans reports from Berlin.

The new word has crept into the language, imported by people who heard its use primarily in American English, he says.

It is used by the highest and lowest in the land and when Chancellor Merkel used it at a public meeting, nobody batted an eyelid, our correspondent adds.

Article taken from bbc.co.uk on 16 July 2013

What could an umlaut do for you?

No Comments » Written on June 11th, 2013 by
Categories: Germany, Sweden, UK
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From sex appeal to heavy metal credibility and connotations of European design excellence, those two little dots above a vowel do more work than you’d think.

Motley Crue

Mötley Crüe understand the power of an umlaut. Photograph: © Neal Preston/Corbis

Remember Möben? The defunct British kitchen company fought for years for the right to place two dots on top of its “o” in a bid to make itself sound more German and therefore, the reasoning went, higher quality – despite it being based in a business park in Manchester. The company argued that its umlaut was an artistic device, and that Möben was derived from the founders’ names, Mo and Ben, but there is no denying it lent some Teutonic gravity. The German for furniture is, after all, möbel.

möben

Well, the gratuitous umlaut is back. But this time, instead of Germanic substance, it is seeking Scandinavian cool. A British kitchen accessories company has called itself “üutensil”. Without the double letters and umlaut, it’s just “utensil”, which probably won’t shift many whisks or appear high up in Google searches. But “üutensil” conjures elegant Nordic design in the manner of, say, Danish kitchen accessories brand, Muuto. Founder Gavin Reay says he was after “associations with Scandinavian and Swiss engineering excellence”.

He hit upon the double “u” as a way of suggesting “your utensil” in text speak – “u utensil” – and the umlaut “broke it up a bit”. He enjoys word play: his potato masher, Spudnik, resembles the space-age satellite; and Squisk is a whisk with thick legs that looks a little like a squid. But his use of the design umlaut is working, albeit with surprising results: in a coals-to-Newcastle way, the brand is apparently big in Norway.

Dessert brand Gü, based in west London, has also appropriated the umlaut. It originally played around with the French word goût – meaning taste – before it realised people might think it was called gout, after the disease. The more seductive Gü – rather than Goo – hit the spot, something New York ice-cream brand Häagen-Dazs has known for years. The sexy umlaut is, of course, not to be confused with the metal umlaut (Motörhead, Mötley Crüe, Queensrÿche), which suggests leather-clad gothic darkness. The most important thing about the gratuitous umlaut is it does nothing so confusing as affect the pronunciation of the word. You actually have to speak German or Swedish for that.

Article taken from the Guardian on 11 June 2013

 

 

Sprechen Sie job?

No Comments » Written on April 25th, 2013 by
Categories: Germany
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More southern Europeans are going where the jobs are. But not enough 

Daniel Gómez Garcia, aged 23, is the sort of person Europe’s leaders may have had in mind when, on paper at least, they turned the European Union into a single labour market like America’s. Mr Gómez, from Andalusia in Spain, learned a smattering of German in school and passable English while studying in America. But when he came back to Spain he saw that hardly anybody in his class of ‘80 had a job. “Nothing to do, so let me go to Germany and get the language,” he recalls thinking. In autumn 2012 he took an unpaid four-month internship at his embassy in Berlin and paid for his tiny flat-share by helping a local holiday-rental firm with its Excel spreadsheets. Last month that turned into a low-paying but permanent job as an accountant.

That is how the single market is supposed to work. Spain has a youth unemployment rate of 56%. In Greece it is 58% (see chart). By contrast, Germany has negligible youth unemployment (8%) and a shortage of qualified workers. Theoretically, people should be willing to move from the “crisis countries” to the boom towns, just as the Okies once flocked to California.

To some extent this migration is indeed happening. New arrivals in Germany in the first half of 2012 grew by 15% over the same period in 2011, and by 35% net of departures. And the numbers of newcomers from the euro crisis countries increased the most—Greek arrivals were up by 78%, Spanish by 53%, for example. But the absolute numbers (6,900 Greeks and 3,900 Spaniards during those six months) are still modest.

It is “astonishing how astonishing it still is that they are coming”, says Holger Kolb, at the Expert Council of German Foundations on Integration and Migration. Some things are beginning to work as intended, such as the elimination of bureaucratic hassles for moving within the EU. Yet it seems that the EU can never become a truly integrated market. That is mainly because of language. Mr Gómez finds Germans challenging—“always nagging you about recycling or noise or whatever”—but the language is “the hardest part”.

Thus language has replaced work visas as the main barrier to mobility. When the euro crisis began, the branches in southern Europe of the Goethe Institute, the German equivalent of the British Council, were overwhelmed by demand for German courses, says Heike Uhlig, the institute’s director of language programmes. That demand was also different, she adds: less about yearning to read Goethe’s “Faust” than about finding work. So the institute retooled, offering courses geared to the technical German used by engineers, nurses or doctors.

Language, besides proximity, explains a lot of today’s movements in the EU, says Klaus Bade, another migration expert. For example, the largest group of new arrivals in Germany is still from Poland, which is poorer though not a crisis country. But its schools often teach German alongside English.

Meanwhile Britain, thanks to English, has an advantage in the competition for foreign talent, which big German firms try to minimise by accepting English as their working language. But many of the job openings in Germany are to be found in medium-sized and private Mittelstand firms, often in remote places, where speaking German is still a must. That’s why Mr Gómez is advising his friends back home in Spain to bone up on the language and then “leave, get out”. 

Article taken from The Economist on 16 February 2013.

Who knew there were so many ways to tell the time?

No Comments » Written on August 6th, 2012 by
Categories: The World
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Telling the time would seem the most natural thing no matter where in the world we are. We all know we need to adjust our watches to the new time zone in a foreign country, but who knew that the way the time is told in other countries was different?

In English speaking countries, the 12-hour system with a.m. and p.m. is used in spoken and written communications, however in many European countries, such as France and Spain, it is much more common to use the 24-hour clock. In the West, time is measured in hours, half hours and quarter hours, dividing the clock up into 12 parts, one for each hour. In Germany, they adopt the same system, however when they say “Halb Sieben” (half seven), what they actually mean is not “half past seven” but “half way to seven”, what we would call half past six. In Southern Germany and Austria, they take this structure even further and say “Dreiviertel Sieben” which literally translates as “three quarters seven”, meaning “three quarters of the way to seven”, i.e. “6.45”.

If this wasn’t confusing enough, in the Middle East time is measured in hours, thirds and two thirds. So for westerners dividing an hour into quarters seems the most logical way, but for people in the Middle East saying “a third past 10”, meaning 10:20, is the norm.

In the Far East, in places such as Thailand, the time system moves even further away from what we are accustomed to.  They divide the day into four blocks of six hours. The first block of their day starts at 7 a.m. which in Thai literally translates as “hour morning, therefore 8 a.m. is said as “two hour morning”, and so on and so forth. Each block uses a time phrase to differentiate between morning, afternoon, evening and night time, however for night time, they use the word “strike” or “hit”, coming from when a gong was struck every hour during the night.

African countries near the equator use a time system called “Swahili time”.  The 12-hour clock is used, but instead of the cycle starting at 12 a.m., it starts at 6 a.m. This means that the first hour of the day in Swahili time is actually 7 a.m. in western time.

So, if you are making an appointment with a native speaker somewhere else in the world, make sure you know which time system you’re both using!

Melissa, London

Telling the time in different countries

Germany’s got talent (at last!)

1 Comment » Written on May 6th, 2010 by
Categories: Germany
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Remember how a young lady from Hagen who refused to shave her armpits entered the charts singing some weird stuff about red balloons? Well, that was in 1984 and Nena has just turned 50. Time for a new German Fräuleinwunder to emerge … and here she is: Ladies and gentlemen, here comes Lena Meyer-Landrut. Lena who? Okay, forget about her last name, she will probably drop that after having shot to international fame. And this will happen, as we all firmly believe in this country, on May 29th when the Eurovision Song Contest will air.

For the last couple of years, this event that most Germans strangely still call by its French Name “Grand Prix d’Eurovision de la Chanson” (as if anyone ever cared about the French!), has only been interesting to two groups of people.

Firstly, those who have been dead for at least 27 years and secondly those who fancy half-naked Ukranian folk singers dancing clumsily amidst Russian fire-breathers on roller-skates.

Who is interested in watching Latvian presenters dressed to the nines (“Hello Stockholm, I must says that you guys are do a great chob!”) distributing their points to Estonia and Bulgaria? And who wants to watch sad German contestants bound to end up with a total of 3 points (that is, if things are going well). I am convinced that last year’s entry “Alex swings Oscar Sings” was the birth of the new German trend verb “fremdschämen” which means to feel extremely embarrassed about other peoples’ behaviour …

But this year, our nation is holding its breath. The reason is an 18-year-old dark-haired school girl from Hannover, a charming mixture of Björk and Audrey Tautou. She’s so sweet, so natural, so down-to-earth, but without the cheesy bits that being natural, funny and down-to-earth usually entail.

What made her special in the first place was the way she was chosen to represent Germany in the TV show “Unser Star für Oslo”. For the very first time, the audience was able not only to vote for their favourite candidate, but also for the song which the winner would be performing in Oslo. Organized by German comedian and producer Stefan Raab (who took part in the Eurovision Song Contest himself 10 years ago and made it to No 5.), the nation witnessed a kind of alternative TV audition show featuring real people far from the “That is so you!” and “You own the song!” bla bla of numerous other highly polished programmes (just to let you know what is going on in a so-called civilized country: you have Dieter Bohlen, a former member of Modern Talking, heading the jury of the German adaption of “Britain’s got talent” which is bit like Sir Cliff Richard being on the judge panel of a stage diving contest).

With a highly unusual voice and rather understated looks and moves, Lena took the sophisticated pop audience by storm. Her song “Satellite” not only went straight in at No. 1 in the German charts, it was also followed by her other singles “Bee” and “Love me” which were in the Top Ten single charts, a triple success never reached before.

So we are all feeling a bit like we did in the summer of 1998 when the world agreed that Germany would be a great host for the European football cup and when we suddenly had the courage to believe that, hey, we are great people!

So do believe the hype and forget about Nena. Thanks to Lena we can take great pride in our pop culture again. She simply is the most promising cultural representative of our country we have had for decades. Not sure about her armpits, though …

Lena Meyer-Landrut: a charming mixture of Björk and Audrey Tautou

www.lena-meyer-landrut.de |  www.unser-star-fuer-oslo.de

Sabine from Bochum, Germany

Sprechen Sie Deutsch?

No Comments » Written on March 29th, 2010 by
Categories: Germany
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How linguistic variations affect where Germans choose to live

Few Germans now say Appel rather than Apfel (apple) or maken instead of machen (to make). The north German dialects that use such variants are mostly dead or dying. But the cultural differences that they reflect still govern behaviour today, says a paper from the Institute for the Study of Labour, in Bonn.

Acting on imperial orders in the 1880s, a linguist called Georg Wenker asked pupils from 45,000 schools across the new Reich to translate standard German sentences into local dialect. The results were used to compile an atlas of linguistic diversity. The new paper shows that Wenker’s dialect regions still define the comfort zones in which Germans prefer to live. When people migrate within Germany, they tend to go to places where dialects resemble those spoken in their home region 120 years ago.

German dialects, formed by geography and political and religious fragmentation, express deep-seated cultural differences. These persist even though borders between petty princedoms are invisible (and often no longer audible). Even small differences count. Swabians share Baden-Württemberg with Badeners. Both spoke Alemannic dialects. But Swabians, who say Haus (house), have a bias against living in the neighbouring old grand duchy, where they say Huus.

That trade is livelier among regions that share a language is well known. The paper’s authors think they are the first to find a similar effect within a single language in one country. They measure migration not trade, because the data are better and cultural factors matter more. The best predictors are still Wenker’s maps. “Even when we don’t speak dialect, the cultural territory is still there,” says Alfred Lameli, one of the authors.

Does this confuse cause and effect? Regions may have similar dialects because earlier generations migrated and their descendants follow suit. To rule this out, the authors looked at the way communist East Germany weakened social links that encourage migration. After unification, they found, the old migration patterns came back, suggesting that migrants respond to cultural factors more than to social ties. It seems that neither television, nor the autobahn, nor even the Kaiser, has created a single country in Germany.

Mar 18th 2010 | BERLIN | From The Economist

Big boss is watching you

No Comments » Written on March 12th, 2010 by
Categories: Germany
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According to a survey by the German government, over 25 per cent of German employers admit to spying on job applicants on the Internet. Young people in particular are all too careless when revealing too much information about themselves on social networks such as Facebook and MySpace. Apparently, applicants are not invited for an interview if inappropriate remarks or photos are found online.

Okay, no employer wants their staff to be racist or to have a criminal record. But it’s unlikely they’d ever discover this information by looking on the net. It’s frightening that recruiters no longer seem to trust their own social skills by not inviting someone for an interview just because they polished off a bucket of sangria with a couple of mates on a holiday in Mallorca 17 years ago. Trying to find this one snapshot could take hours, whereas any trained interviewer should be able to find out after five minutes of one-to-one if someone is a complete idiot or not.

Could it be that the current disastrous situation for the German job market is partly down to human resources wanting to know before inviting web designer Marlene, 28, well-trained and open-minded (as she puts it), for an interview, how she did in the Mariah Carey look-alike contest in 1997?

Do you honestly believe that companies are doing the best they can to overcome the ongoing economic crisis if managers find the time to check if Martin, 31 from Essen, an experienced and enthusiastic engineer, recommends the book “Chat-up lines in 300 languages” in his Amazon list of favourite books?

Dear would-be detectives and amateur spies in German offices, remember what David Brent aka Ricky Gervais said in the brilliant mockumentary “The Office”: “Those of you who think they know everything are annoying to those of us who do.”

The good thing about the new inquisitiveness in German offices is that frustrated job-seekers should relax: if you are wondering why you are never invited for a job interview, don’t worry, this has nothing to do with your qualifications. Just blame it on the fact that you were chairman of a David Hasselhoff fan club in 1985.

Sabine from Bochum, Germany

Apocalypse, anyone?

1 Comment » Written on February 23rd, 2010 by
Categories: Germany
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What would you do if the end of the world was scheduled for tomorrow at 11.30 a.m? Apocalyptic visions have always fascinated mankind, never before has a date in history been so significant to so many cultures and religions. Now the common fear is fuelled by “2012”, the blockbuster by German director Roland Emmerich which was launched in November last year. Having risen to fame with “Independence Day” and “Godzilla”, the “master of disaster” has now completed his magnum opus with visual effects to shake your senses: blow-ups and bloodbaths, earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis, even whole continents falling apart. A breathless John Cusack finds himself in a sick world in which only those who pay can escape. The end leaves everyone who claimed to have “been there” or “done that” devastated.

However, all those stars, has-beens and would-bes attending the premiere night recovered all too quickly from the shock, and the question of all questions no longer concerned the end of mankind, but another deeply human fear which is “Is my hair okay?” What a relief that comedian Oliver Kalkofe, renowned for his hilarious parodies of the vanity fair that is German television, was there to comment on the last day of his existence: “Contrary to most other people who spend their lives fearing the future, I would certainly not panic,” says Kalkofe. “I’d be spending a Sunday watching all this crap on commercial television. And then I’d say to myself: Okay, it’s the end of the world. And we deserve it.”

Sabine from Germany