How To Fix German Grammar
How To Improve It To Delay Extinction
by Julian H. Stacey (An English man in
Germany a quarter century).
If you want to debate it, not by email, come to a Beer Garden
If German speakers want their language to die later rather
than sooner, they need to make 2 simple
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
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
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
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,
world's booming & eventual number one
- 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
- 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,
wrote in his blog "Bi-lingual readers,
did you notice my Chinese posts are always
I (jhs) wonder if characters are bigger, more
entropy & need 2 bytes per character ? (See
German is less efficient than
- 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
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
- Title: Operating Systems,
Design And Implementation
- Author: Andrew S. Tanenbaum
(A Dutch man BTW)
- Width: English: 3.4 cm.
German ?? mail
- 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
- 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
- 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
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
It makes German harder to look up in dictionaries &
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
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
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
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:
||(but not: nachhause)
||(but not: zutisch)
Some questions of inconsistency:
(English is also an inconsistent language, but the 2
above worth remembering next time one meets eg fellow
Brits enthusing how regular German is.
- Why is "zusammen schreiben" written separately, but
- Why is it "Blut saugend", but "blutstillend"?
- 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
- 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:
- 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
- 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