German (German: Deutsche Sprache) is spoken by 100 million people (especially in Central Europe), and if we take into account those for whom it is a second language, this figure rises to 200 million, being the language with the largest number of speakers in Europe. The country where German is spoken all across is Liechtenstein. In Romania, this language is spoken by about 60 thousand people. German is widely known as the language of the “Dichter und Denker”, writers and thinkers. One of the greatest is Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
The beginnings of this language are identified in the Middle Ages when it began to develop with several dialects. Regarding German dialects, these are divided into three groups: High German (Hochdeutsch) is spoken in Southern Germany, Austria, and Switzerland; Middle German (Mitteldeutsche) and Low German (Niederdeutsch) are spoken in Northern Germany. Hochdeutsch was formed between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries by the intersection of high and low German, becoming today’s standard German.
In standard German, the length of sounds plays an important part. A long or short vowel pronounced may cause a difference between two words that are otherwise identical. For example, Miete, with long i, means ‘rent’, but Mitte, with short i, means ‘middle’, ‘center’. Ofen, with long o, means ‘oven’, ‘stove’, but offen, with short o, means ‘open’. Another important point is that the German common nouns are written with initial capitals.
Regarding the German language genders, there are three: masculine (der), feminine (die) and neuterl (das), but what is strange, we might say, is that this division means the reality as we perceive it is simply a grammatical convention. For example, the words denoting ‘girl’ (das Mädchen) or ‘wife’ (das Weib) are neuter. As Mark Twain said: “In German, a young lady has no sex, but a turnip has (die Rübe)”.
Although German and English come from the same source, there are common words with the same form in the two languages, but totally different in meaning, which can cause funny confusion or even be a source of danger: for example, the word gift means ‘present’ in English, but ‘poison’ in German; similarly, rat, describing an animal in English, means ‘advice’ in German. Furthermore, English and German share many words. In some cases they’re almost the same, with slightly different spelling, while others include accents and punctuation appropriate for one language (for example, Bär in German means ‘bear’ in English). There are some everyday German words that have English origins, including simple things such as babysitten meaning ‘to baby sit’ and joggen for ‘jogging’.
German is famous for its long words. One of them is Rechtsschutzversicherungsgesellschaften which would translate as ‘legal expenses insurance’. In 1999, the German language introduced its longest word: Rindfleischetikettierungsueberwachungsaufgabenuebertragungsgesetz, a word of 65 letters which means ‘law for the delegation of monitoring beef labelling’, but which was dropped in 2013. For those forced to use the term routinely, an easier abbreviation was coined: RkReUAUG. However, because such words are used rarely and in small groups, they were not included in the standard German dictionary. The longest word found in the dictionary is Kraftfahrzeughaftpflichtversicherung, which means ‘automobile liability insurance’.
German words can become overwhelmingly long, but just see it as a challenge and read the word slowly out loud. How many words can you spot in the following compound nouns? Due to the economic crisis, the German government passed the Wachstumsbeschleunigungsgesetz, ‘growth acceleration act’, and the Abwrackprämie, ‘scrappage scheme’, or ‘cash for clunkers scheme’, to support the German car industry.
If that is not tongue twister enough for you, here’s a really popular one: Fischers Fritze fischte frische Fische – ‘Fisherman Fritz fished fresh fish’.Tricky even in English!
Also, Germans have some extremely funny proverbs. A few examples of that:
Alles hat ein Ende, nur die Wurst hat zwei! – Everything has an end, only sausage has two!
Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof – I only understand trainstation (It is all Greek to me)
Das ist nicht dein Bier! – That is not your beer! (None of your business!)
Mastering the subtleties of irony is still work in progress, but, just like other countries, Germans like to make jokes about older people, blondes and politics and they have a special fondness for jokes about civil servants:
Warum dürfen Pausen in Ämtern nie länger als 60 Minuten dauern?
Damit man die Beamten nicht jedes Mal neu anlernen muss.
Why are civil servants not allowed to take one hour breaks?
Because there’s not enough time to train them again and again.
Was ist das ideale Geschenk für’s Beamtenbüro?
What is the ideal present for a civil servants’ office?
A motion detector.
One final fact that is a bit strange: German almost became the official language of the United States of America. The Continental Congress, convened in Philadelphia during the Revolution, at one time considered adopting a new language for the future of the United States, with the aim of cutting off all ties with England. Among the languages suggested were German, Hebrew and French. When it finally came to a vote, English narrowly won – just by one vote!
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