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How To Fix German Grammar

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How To Improve It To Delay Extinction

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by Julian H. Stacey (An English man decades in Germany).

If you want to debate it, not by email, come to a Beer Garden

A Losing Language


If German speakers want their language to die later rather than sooner, they need to make 2 simple fixes to the German they write.

Why will the German Language die ?

  • Globalisation is occurring: Ever more Internet, satellite TV, cheap telephony, aviation, trade, tourism, & working abroad.
  • Not just goods compete. Not just countries; But languages too.
    Some languages will die sooner, some later. First it was obscure village & tribal languages eg in Africa etc that went, Cornish has gone (last old lady late in 20th century I recall). The next will probably be dialects & small area languages such as Bavarian & Welsh; then smaller national languages, Swedish, Dutch, Portuguese; Then bigger national languages: German, then French, then Spanish, then will come the final competition of Chinese & English. It might take a few centuries to get that far, but as global communication accelerates, maybe it'll be far quicker. With old, ill educated, & marginalised folk speaking just local, & successful business people& companies & intelligentsia being multi-lingual in different varieties of languages, eg the Dutch today often have several languages.
  • People will keep their local languages for local use for a while,
    Some languages will not quite die ( Latin hasn't entirely died yet, but neither is it really alive or significant) People will globally communicate in big languages. Example: Already English is the language of choice for Germans who don't speak Spanish in South America.
  • The international English that's coming won't be quite the English of England, or America etc,
    which will both become subset dialects of International English, an ad hoc internationally agreed language defined by peoples whose first languages mostly won't even be English, people trying to simply communicate with each other ( & discarding some of the illogicalities & inconsistencies of English).
  • Most of those deciders will be traders & consumers,
    Not the linguists & academics appointed by politicians who currently define languages. Not the translators & interpreters who are happy to get paid because people can't communicate together without them - currently. (Would you go back to the middle ages, & pay a scribe to write or read a letter ? ... A translator/interpreter is the modern equivalent of a scribe - an expensive delay, un-affordable for many. (Already human translators are seeing the cheap bottom end of their market dissappear, progressively undermined by increasingly good translation engines (some at top of page).
  • Many professionals benefit from language barriers that obstruct public understanding
    Many politicians, publishers, academics, linguists, translators & interpreters don't Want people to be able to communicate without their paid professional services; Reducing language obstructions would reduce need for them, would undermine their income &/or power base: the public would have access to wider political ideas & economic markets & media than the one their local language confines them in. Many of the public won't willing pay higher prices for books films magazines & plays to be translated to or authored in their local small language, when they can understand media already published sooner, cheaper, with more variety in another more major language.

    Contrast 2 approaches:

    • Many Dutch & Nordics etc understand English & various other languages & can watch films & DVDs etc in English.
    • German films (Cinema, VHS, DVDs etc) had to wait after USA release for translation.
    • German TV channels have dubbed everything to hell for the last quarter century at least, & while a surprising number of German speak English (more than English who speak German, obviously, as required by circumstance), I get the impression not nearly as high a percentage of Germans as Dutch or Nordics are relaxed in English
    The way to bi-lingual understanding is by sub-titles, not by dubbing.
    German TV makes a pigs ear of dubbing (`Synchron') :
    They only use sub titles for some eg heavy Swiss/Bavarian German dialects), not for other foreign content, not even late at night, Dubbing on near all TV documentaries; Crass, as most of the foreign bought in documentary material is either native English (often from BBC or eg USA) or a 3rd language where the interviewee (perhaps in Iceland or Japan etc) is often enough speaking English to a German also interviewing in English.
    Particularly Crass when German TV always waits silently till the foreigner speaks, then immediately dubs over the top in an awful blur of 2 languages, then falls silent again in between, admiring the view, when they could have left original sound track, & interleaved German audio with the silent panorama before or after.
  • China lurks in the wings,
    • The world's booming & eventual number one market.
    • Not using the Latin/ Roman character set.
    • In international business, Europeans, eg Germans, French, Swedish etc, have a choice
      • Cling to local divided languages, with weird national extensions to the Roman character set (French cedilla, German umlauts, Swedish O with a line through it etc), that not even their European neighbours know how to handle. ... OR
      • Consolidate & adopt a form of simplified rationalised form of English ( not the progressively Germanicised English of Internet language jokes seen periodically by English community in Germany), & bolster use of a common subset of Roman characters (the ASCII A-Z subset The British, Americans, Australians, & some Europeans (Dutch & Italians etc) use, omitting the troublesome extra national glyphs/ chars/ letters/ accents of Germany France Spain etc. (Expansion rules exist for removal of German Umlauts, similar could exist or be invented for other languages)
        • If there's not a cohesive Western Latin grouping of Europe, America etc, using a common English with (ASCII) Roman character subset, Roman/Latin font & We may eventually come under more competitive pressure from Chinese ? This author does not Want an alphabet with ~ 25,000 glyphs in an alphabet. 26 characters in A-Z are enough.
        • A Chinese resident in California, (Sin-Yaw Wang) wrote in his blog "Bi-lingual readers, did you notice my Chinese posts are always shorter?"
          I (jhs) wonder if characters are bigger, more entropy & need 2 bytes per character ? (See cxterm)
        • German is less efficient than English
          • Yes there's a tendency to bloat translating, between any languages, but there's an additional inefficiency going from English to German, (as seen integrating American to 6 non English European languages in 1985/6
          • Measure the thickness of any computer text book (near all previously published in English anyway), after / if they've published in German too, it'll be approximately 20% thicker. Here's one possible example to check - The Minix book
            • Title: Operating Systems, Design And Implementation
            • Publisher:Prentice-Hall International Editions
            • Author: Andrew S. Tanenbaum (A Dutch man BTW)
            • Width: English: 3.4 cm. German ?? mail me cm.
        • Just as English is more competitive than German language, could Chinese script challenge Latin/ Roman font set some day ?
  • Progressive marginalisation: Unite & rule, or Divide & fall.
    • The world owes no living to those who deliberately use inefficient tools.
      Languages & written character sets (eg A-Z) are tools worthy of improvement for better efficiency. Preserving unchanged cultural fossils makes no real sense when it hinders our wider efficient communication & trade.
    • We don't benefit from awkward languages, they just give advantage to others, eg: Europe has a plethora of languages, In EU government there's 23 official languages, supervised by a European Commissioner for Multilingualism, costs of translation & interpreting paid for by tax payers of course ;-)
    • Within EU 51% now have knowledge of English (13% first language + 38% additional language), 27% German (16% + 11%), 24% French (12% + 12%)
    • Many Europeans not unifying on English, gives advantage to North America etc: a unified market with mobility of labour of (USA) 316 + (Canada) 33 Million all speaking English (&/or a little bit of Spanish & French).
    • The world is not going to switch to trading & communicating in eg French or German - that boat has gone. The Lingua Franca is English.

2 Fixes To German Language to delay it's inevitable eventual decline.

That would be Far more use than the daft expensive two stage Rechts- Schreib- Reform (& would have obviated clowns pontificating on 3 adjacent 's' ) Grammars have many inconsistencies & logical errors.
When a whole bunch of foreigners from different cultures all make the same mistake in speaking a common 3rd language ... its the language that's wrong, not all the foreigners (Applies to all languages).

German grammar is a nightmare, stacking a cascade of verbs & a nicht (Not) at the end, & male, female & neuter nouns (worse than & inconsistent with French genders), & capitalising single nouns (a discarded habit of old English a few hundred years back), & inverted couplets in spoken number sequences (another discarded old English habit), &
Worst of all: German grammar rams nouns together, discarding spaces (OK English also does that a bit too, but much less.

It makes German harder to look up in dictionaries & learn. Examples:
Germans sometime have fun trying to make sentences out of single words rammed together)

Try these (where I deliberately inserted lots of "- " so web browsers wouldn't freak out & need a long horizontal scroll bar, (particularly on eg a small mobile screen) but note official German would require all those "- " should be deleted to make an electric sword long enough for Darth Vader & Star Wars ;-) :

Donau- dampf- schiff- fahrts- gesellschafts- kapitäns- mützen- halte- nagel
  (Yup, I added the halte- nagel)
Donau- dampf- schiff- fahrts- gesellschafts- kapitaens- muetzen- halte- nagel
Danube steam ship trip company's captain's cap's holding nail.
One can easily create longer single words, eg: Unterer- mississipi- dampf- schiff- fahrts- gesellschafts- etc ...


the Society for the German Language (GfdS) once inventing the word Rind- fleisch- etikettierungs- überwachungs- aufgaben- übertragungs- gesetzes- entwurfs- debattier- klub- diskussions- stands- bericht- erstattungs- geld- antrags- formular
beef labelling monitoring assessment assignment draft law debating club state of discussion reportage payment application form.

A Welsh name extended in 19th century: L l a n f a i r p w l l g w y n g y l l g o g e r y c h w y r n d r o b w l l l l a n t y s i l i o g o g o g o c h

(Spaces were appended after each letter above to allow web browsers Not to need to invoke a horizontal scroll bar after such a long unbroken line).
  • Typically, a Brit new in Germany doesn't realise "Rotkreuzplatz" is Rot- Kreuz- Platz (Red Cross Square) - just too long a blur to recognise, hard even to know how to pronounce.
  • Rothschild in Britain gets pronounced as "Roth's Child", as no one has a clue it derives from a German immigrant named "Rot- Schild" (Red Shield) & not "Roth's- Child" aka Robinson, Erikson etc.
  • Another ludicrous word to fail to look up in a dictionary is Urinsekt One might wrongly guess that meant Urin- Sekt (Pissy Champagne ?) - But No, one might eventually guess Ur- Insekt (Ancient less evolved Insect)
  • The 2 German Rechts- schreib- reforms around 2000 (1996 & ? ) could have (but failed to) put spaces back, & (they only half dumped Sharf Ess = Eszett = ss = ß, & they retained umlauts ä ö ü. (That's my crude take on it, I invite someone to create a web page about it). PS lucky Switzerland eradicated it between 1906 & 2006.
  • Polytropon wrote me some of next bits :
    There is a "rule" in the "official governmental ruleset" that suggests using the hyphen, just as it has been done 500 years ago, to indicate a word gap. But it's hard to find out where exactly to apply it.

  • Some examples of reforms:
    kennenlernen kennen lernen kennenlernen
    leid tun Leid tun leidtun
    zu Hause zuhause (but not: nachhause)
    zur Zeit zurzeit (but not: zutisch)
  • Some questions of inconsistency:
    • Why is "zusammen schreiben" written separately, but "auseinanderschreiben" compounded?
    • Why is it "Blut saugend", but "blutstillend"?
    (English is also an inconsistent language, but the 2 above worth remembering next time one meets eg fellow Brits enthusing how regular German is.
  • Adding spaces & dumping umlauts could have made it Much easier to learn German, (& sort text, without too many variant sorting conventions), & could have avoided stultifying debates on triple S in some cascaded noun horrors.
  • Worse, the clowns who messed up Rechts- schreib- reform, changed their minds a few years later, & did a 2nd bodge job, causing a 2nd lot of dictionary reprints (& near compulsory purchases for firms & parents ) & confusing more kids, annoying more parents & profiting dictionary publishers again.
  • German officialdom blew their chance.
  • Germans make mistakes - a page in German: Schreibreform: Fehlergalerie
  • German was never an easy language to learn, & they failed to fix the basics.
  • It's now down to German speakers individually, to fix the German language to be more learnable: to re-insert spaces & swop out the umlauts for eg AE OE UE. (Whoops! I'm guilty here too! Plenty of my web pages have "proper" singular byte Umlauts (in proper HTML escape sequences) instead of the 2 byte equivalent. I put them in to make my pages look "better" to Germans, forgetting logic demands scrap single byte umlauts. (Actually German language is lucky, apparently some other European languages don't have standard 2 byte sequences to replace weird local-only national characters in their extended Latin font sets).
  • Germans should Not feel constrained by the incompetent language professionals who have failed them, it's their language to change if they will .
  • English by contrast doesn't need or have an official body to define or protect it, it evolves, adopting foreign words as needed. Compare that with eg German (as above) pontificated on by academics, & compare with French, where French people are prosecuted by French laws against foreign [English] words in newspapers), & compare with Welsh (that needed people blowing up TV masts to force government to subsidise broadcasting in Welsh)
  • Darwinian evolution & "Survival Of The Fitest" is rather patchy on human languages. There's much illogical un-designed foolishness & lazy humans, cling tenaciously to familiar first languages, resistant to improvements.
See Also: & more generaly:
  • PS I also wrote a 3 page paper (offline) on why to avoid the Cobol language (I use C (& avoided Cobol by coming to Germany - A tale over a beer).

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