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Thread: Mark Twain: The Awful German Language [1880]

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    Post AW: Mark Twain: The Awful German Language [1880]

    French was a horror

    I like my German language, German is an elitarian language!
    I love it. The only foreign languages I like are Latin (it's a shame that we don't learn really to speak it anymore, only translating..) and English, because it is good to communicate with others and is half Germanic half Roman.

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    Post Re: Mark Twain: The Awful German Language [1880]

    I am very glad that I grew up speaking English, because I would certainly hate to have to learn it if it were not my native language. The orthography and pronunciation of English are thoroughly irrational. Of the languages with which I have any acquaintance, only Gaelic and Tibetan have departed further in pronunciation from their spelling.
    I have studied both German and French. I found it easy to learn to read, write, speak, and understand (fairly well) German, but I must have Germanic ears. I cannot understand spoken French, though I can read, write, and speak it fairly well. For me, there are too many silent letters in French.
    Mario Pei pointed out long ago that we actually hear no more than 60% of what is said to us. If we are familiar with the language, the brain supplies the missing sounds from the context. If the langage is unfamiliar, we cannot do this and the spoken langauage is incomprehensible to us even though we may have a reading knowledge of the language.
    German , except for gender, is emimently logical. The lack of any ambiguity in pronunciation is a great advantage as contrasted with French or English, for example. Indeed, if I were to choose a universal language for Europe I would consider German exceptionally well qualified.

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    Post Re: Mark Twain: The Awful German Language [1880]

    I am very glad that I grew up speaking English, because I would certainly hate to have to learn it if it were not my native language. The orthography and pronunciation of English are thoroughly irrational.
    It's true that the spelling is something which makes English difficult, but in many respects it's easier than other languages, for instance the lack of inflections.

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    Post Re: Mark Twain: The Awful German Language [1880]

    Unfortunately, I could only make it about halfway through Twain's impotent admission of his own linguistic incompetence. The part where he agonizes over translating "because of the rain" alone is hilarious. Had he known that in this instance "wegen" is used, with the following noun in the genitive, his suffering would not have been so extreme, poor man. Then, in an effort to unfairly make the German language seem complicated, he points out of the "den Regen" exception. I believe he must have known that a rare exception does not excuse his failure to grasp the use of "wegen" and four simple noun cases.

    The dative can cause English speakers great confusion, but even that can be learned through "feel" and intuition—ah, but of course Mr. Twain had already been studying for "years" and somehow still hadn't caught that.

    My philological studies have satisfied me that a gifted person ought to learn English (barring spelling and pronouncing) in thirty hours, French in thirty days, and German in thirty years.
    Funny, it took me two weeks of eight-hours a day study to grasp the basic grammatical structure of German.

    It seems manifest, then, that the latter tongue ought to be trimmed down and repaired.
    The only thing which required trimming was his frontal lobes. Preferably with an icepick.

    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.
    Thankfully, Mr. Twain, the German language lives on, while you are long dead and rotting. You now have plenty of time to grasp those pesky noun cases—one should hope.

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    Post Re: Mark Twain: The Awful German Language [1880]

    It seems Mr. Twain's dry humor is lost on some people.

    His poking fun at the German language is more akin to the good-natured ribbing of a close friend than casting spite at an enemy.
    Last edited by Appalachian; Monday, June 6th, 2005 at 08:03 PM.

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    Post Re: Mark Twain: The Awful German Language [1880]

    Quote Originally Posted by EgilSkallagrimsson
    The orthography and pronunciation of English are thoroughly irrational.
    "The heart of the trouble is with our foolish alphabet, it doesn't know how to spell and can't be taught."
    -- Mark Twain

    In actuality, it's been demonstrated that English orthography is a logical representation of the underlying phonological forms of lexical items. Somewhere I've squirreled away a good essay on the subject. I'll see if I can dig it out for you.
    Last edited by Appalachian; Monday, June 6th, 2005 at 07:53 PM.

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