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7. Language

7.1 Internet resources for learning German

University of Victoria's German for Beginners is one of the first online-courses. 1996-10

The Internet Handbook of Grammar provides an introduction to the fundamentals of German grammar (intended for beginning students)...

...so does the German Grammar site 1996-10

The newsletter Der Weg and its associated website are a great resource for anybody who wants to learn German ‐ if you already know some German since it is entirely in German. It also has a very strong Christian slant.

7.2 Learning German as an Adult

Summary of experiences as reported by various readers of s.c.g (winter 95)

Courses and tapes recommended


Reading German as a means to learning spoken German was high on everyone's list. The following were recommended:

Factors to success Miscellaneous experiences:

I am learning German in the US, and though I have the benefit of a German wife, she speaks such good English, that we never talk in German. I get children's books from the library (including picture dictionaries!), and I try to watch as much German TV as we get on cable: (Mind Extension University.) We also get the international channel, which has other German shows. Also, get a short wave radio and tune into Deutsche Welle, which broadcasts worldwide. I decided that it's like learning a language as a kid. Kids hear the language constantly, and absorb it all like sponges; kids don't even speak until they've been hearing a language for 12 to 24 months, so i figured I'd do the same, and did a lot of listening, so it would seep into my soul, and now, about a year later, I'm starting, with croaking voice, to speak, and it's fun.

I learned German as an adult through a language 'school' called Inlingua (they're like Berlitz). They offer instruction by native speaking teachers and it is taught by 'total immersion', i.e., only German is spoken in class. This is the best method to learn although it can be expensive (my company picked up the tab). If taking a formal class such as I did is not an option, I strongly suggest that while you are learning German through tapes, community college courses, etc., take every opportunity you can to speak German. In the car, to spouse/kids/partner/ roommate, family, or even to yourself. I would come home from class and tell my wife, in German, what I learned in class or did at work that day. I got some strange looks, but it really helped me to start thinking in German. When you start dreaming in German, you'll know you making good progress.

I have had German exchange students, and have had great experiences with them. I would not recommend them as a way to learn German, however, as they are interested only in speaking English.

I learned to speak German in a small village outside a city that had itself a rather böse dialect. I learned the local platt, and found that I got on better with that than I did with my attempts at high German. When speaking dialect I was always mistaken for someone from a farm town over the next hill, however on the rare occasions when I tried to speak High German, I was spotted immediately as an Ami.

I've had good experiences renting from the German Language Video Center (see Audio / Video Tapes.) They also sell documentaries from Deutsche Welle TV for US$16.95, which I think is the same price Deutsche Welle sells them for. You can also get the documentaries on some PBS (Public Broadcasting System) stations - in the San Francisco area, channel 60 broadcast two episodes of Schauplatz Deutschland starting last night at 11 p.m. It's in German with English subtitles.

After I had gotten somewhat into the basics of the language, I started to read books that I had already read in Norwegian. This enabled me to keep most of my mind on the language, since I already knew what the story was.

In addition to this, it would come in handy if you can listen to German on the radio, and after some time, and practice, you should of course go to Germany for a month or three.

NB: When going to Germany, go alone! I was in Germany once, travelling with a group of other Norwegians, and whenever we were two or more Norwegians in one spot, we would speak Norwegian. I therefore made it a rule for myself to keep away from my fellow travellers as much as possible. Otherwise I would not have gotten full benefit of my stay.


7.3 What does the Adjective German Mean?

The origins of the German language are quite manifold as various peoples have influenced it throughout history. Conversely, there is an impressive variety of expressions for the meaning of the adjective German in those languages.

  1. The German deutsch or (ancient) teutsch, has developed through history in several stages, referring first to the language, then to the people and finally to the territory. It stems from the old German word thiutisk or theudisk, which the West Franks used since the 9th Century to refer to their language, the common language, as opposed to the educated language Latin. Karolus Magnus (Karl der Große, Charlemagne, Charles the Great, 742-814 AD) took it to name his multilingual and multicultural empire as deutsch because this did mean just the people and had no specific reference to any particular nation living in his empire. Other derivations from theudisk found their way into a number of other languages, as well:
    • Scandinavian: Tysk
    • Italian: Tedeschi
    • Dutch: Duits
  2. Tribe names; many European peoples adopted the names of Germanic tribes living close to their own territory:
    • Latin; germanus in Latin meant the tribes settling in central Europe. Probably originally adopted from the Germanic expression spear-bearer (ger-man.)
    • The English word Dutch is related to deutsch and originally meant German. Since Holland became an independent country in the 17th century, it was used for that former part of the German empire only. The new word for Germany in English was adopted from Latin.
    • French, Spanish and Portuguese: Alemans was the name for the southwestern German tribe, next door neighbour to the French.
    • The Baltic peoples picked a different German tribe as a word for all of Germany: Saksalaiset. (Hence the Saxons as in Anglo-Saxons...)
  3. In Slavic dialects, the root *nEm- generally means "mute" (unable to speak), dialectal data and the Church Slavic literature strongly suggest that this root also means incomprehensible for the listener, and, by extension, speaking a foreign language.
    • Russian: Njemzij
    • Polish: Niemzij
    • Tchechian: Nemci
    • Slovak: Nemec
    • Croatian: Nijemac
    • Serbian: Nemac 1996-06
    • the Magyars took this term and called them Nimetek

7.4 German is so Strange...or is it?

Long Words!,

The notorious Donaudampfschiffahrtsgesellschaftskapitänsmütze in all its possible extensions is often cited as evidence how the German language uniquely burdens all non-native speakers with what seems to be nothing but curious absurdities.

What do you know? English, does not, either, regard this type of word as excessively sesquipedalian...Richard Lederer (in Crazy English) tells us that even antidisestablishmentarianism is not very hippopotomonstrosesquipedalian. -- Hmm? Oh, German words are simply concatenated? Well, that, as well, is not that unique. Ponder, for instance, pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis ... it is not to be floccinaucinihilipilificated!

Really, very very very (...you get the picture) long words are not used in German, despite their possibility -- anything comprised of more than two parts (like Gedanken-anstoß) is rare. 1996-07

7.5 Duden Editorial Board

The most widely accepted authoritative answers to questions about the German language are provided by the

Sprachberatungsstelle der Dudenredaktion, Postfach 100311, 68003 Mannheim, Germany, tel +49(0621)3901426

7.6 German Words in English

Oh my -- there are so many...and yet, there are so few, compared to the rest of all the English language. English has been influenced by so(!) many languages, that each makes but a more or less insignifcant portion of the whole. (Hope I don't insult any Latin speakers;-)

As languages do so often (except for esperanto, I am told;-) I shall define a few arbitrary categories under which to collect some of those words. (Apply the usual "include, but are not limited to"...)

Also, it should be noted that many of these words are of Yiddish origin -- according to Webster's dictionary, which I shall take as the definitive reference. Yiddish and German have had a somewhat symbiotic relationship over the centuries, with German words making it into Yiddish (e.g., Scheitel, Geld) and Yiddish words of differing origins being added to German ; in both cases, Yiddish is the link between quite a few German and English words.

Commonly known words

angst, blitz, bratwurst, geld, gestalt, gesundheit, hinterland, kaffeeklatsch, kindergarten, rucksack, sauerkraut, schadenfreude, umlaut, wanderlust, weltanschauung, weltschmerz

Words of scientific origin

ansatz, bremsstrahlung, eigen- (value, vector), entgegen and zusammen, leitmotiv, reststrahlen, umklapp process, zwitterion


affenpinscher, deutsche mark, doberman pinscher, festschrift, gegenschein, groschen, kaffeeklatsch, kirsch, kitsch, meerschaum, putsch, putschist, schilling, schlemiel, schlep(pen), schlieren, schmaltz, schnaps, schnauzer, schnitzel, schnorkel, schnorrer, schnozzle, schorl, schottische, schuss (Skiabfahrt), schwarmerei, tusche, wiener schnitzel,


blitzkrieg, ersatz, katzenjammer, kibbutz, kibitz, kibitzer, pretzel seltzer, sitz bath, sitzkrieg, sitzmark, spitz, switzer, waltz

my personal favorite

Gemütlichkeit, zwieback


7.7 Tongue Twisters

Challenge your German pronunciation skills with these...

Not strictly tongue twisters, more brain benders:

7.8 Platt

Platt is the kind of German spoken mainly in northwestern Germany. It is almost ununderstandable to people who only speak "high" German, since it is very similar to Dutch and English; indeed, the transitions between many Germanic languages are rather fluid and Platt is part of the fluid link between Dutch and German.


FOLKHART is an ongoing project of a group of American (mostly Midwestern) descendants of Northwest German immigrants whose ancestral language is/was Low German (Plattdeutsch); it was founded to provide an online vehicle to help to learn/preserve/share/promote Platt (Low German). Sacred Seasons and other classical texts present introductory Plattdeutsch language as well as North German culture.

There is also an adjunct project called WIND-MILL online. 1998-02

Listserver LOWLANDS-L for Friesisch and Niederdeutsch

This email forum discusses those germanic languages and cultures that originated from costal areas around the North Sea and the Baltic Sea, including Frisian, Dutch, Lower Saxon, Afrikaans, and more.

To subscribe to the listserver...

send email To: listproc@lists.u.washington.edu with body subscribe lowlands-l
For more information email H.A.Y. Wolf 1996-1

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