Thursday, February 11, 2010

The German Language, part ii

One of my biggest gripes in trying to learn to speak the German language is figuring out the articles that precede the word. Unlike English where we have THE to refer to a specific noun, (regardless of where it is in the sentence), Germans have DER (masculine), DIE (feminine), DAS (neuter), DEM (another form of feminine), DEN (yet another form of masculine), DIE (plural), DEM (another form of neuter) and so on and so forth.

Mark Twain makes note of this in a really funny piece he wrote called "The Awful German Language", whose title pretty much sums up how a student of German feels after so many months of trying to learn it:

"Every noun has a gender, and there is no sense or system in the distribution; so the gender of each must be learned separately and by heart. There is no other way. To do this one has to have a memory like a memorandum-book. In German, a young lady has no sex, while a turnip has.

Gretchen: Wilhelm, where is the turnip?

Wilhelm: She has gone to the kitchen.

Gretchen: Where is the accomplished and beautiful English maiden?

Wilhelm: It has gone to the opera."

This is the link to the entire piece. If someone with such a gift for language as Twain can struggle so much with this illogical language...than I think I can be forgiven.

"I went often to look at the collection of curiosities in Heidelberg Castle, and one day I surprised the keeper of it with my German. I spoke entirely in that language. He was greatly interested; and after I had talked a while he said my German was very rare, possibly a "unique"; and wanted to add it to his museum.

If he had known what it had cost me to acquire my art, he would also have known that it would break any collector to buy had been accomplished under great difficulty and annoyance, for three of our teachers had died (trying to teach me). A person who has not studied German can form no idea of what a perplexing language it is."
(Twain, 1890)