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Archive for Mai 2009

Hi folks!

You might have wondered why the updates were so sporadic, well, truth be told I was on vacation! But fortunately enough, I had time to find new topics to talk about, so I hope you can forgive my self-important week off.

The first topic that came to mind is this – as a German native speaker with a few American friends, I noticed that there a quite a few words in my language that have no equivalent in English – you will always have to explain what exactly it means. A good example of this (and the one I stumbled upon this weekend) is „Schützenverein“ – it is a club where we shoot at targets, competitively. The whole idea dates back to the lawless times before the German reunification, and the Schützenvereine rallied to be a political enemy to nationalistic ideas – they vied to be somewhat of a local militia, but Bismarck’s „Revolution von Oben“ superceded that, rendering their political function useless. However, they are still around as an competitive shooting club, and much of the traditional culture in any given village derives from its Schützenverein, and the annual festival, the Schützenfest.

I’ve strayed a bit off topic (well, I had to since that has been what I was surrounded with the last 8 days), but you know what I mean – words like Führer (referring to Hitler) are hard to translate (leader is not a good approximation, so Führer is just substituted in English), and some English words that convey more than one meaning are split up into different words in German („home“ can mean „daheim“ or „Heimat“, for instance) which makes it difficult for a German speaker to translate since he has a different word for each concept.

I’m sure you can think of more words and why they are difficult/impossible to translate – I’ve actually left out a fair share so I can get a few comments on this one!

-Moritz

Today I want to go into a bit more detail concerning a specific difference between German and English – the different formation and use of compounds.

A compound is loosely defined as a word that consists of two different words, forming a new word. Put more academically, it is a lexeme with more than one stem. An example in English would be eyeblack – the two words eye and black form a completely new word (in this case, eyeblack is the stuff football / baseball players use to decrease the glare from the sun during a game). Of course, there is more to compounding than just sticking two words together, but that is too much information for this article.

German is special when it comes to compounding – we have an affinity for creating incredibly long compounds, and we use compounds much more frequently to describe something – in a stereotypical description, a German might say „Schau dir diesen Lederhosenträger an.“ („Look at that lederhosen-wearer.“). A sentence like „Schau dir den Typ, der Ledernhosen trägt, mal an.“ („Look at the guy wearing lederhosen.“) seems less elegant to a German. In fact, the whole construction requires a „mal“ to sound remotely plausible – compounds, to the German, are a very quick and easy way to say something without starting a new clause.

But what really distinguishes German compounding is its ability to stack word stem after word stem to form extremely long compounds. The word that is most used to show that oddity is „Donaudampfschifffahrtsgesellschaft“, which loosely translated means „the society for steamboat shipping on the river Donau“ – it was a game during when I was at school to elongate the compound by adding more word stems that made sense, if even just remotely. An example would be Donaudampfschifffahrtsgesellschaftskapitänshutständer, which again loosely translates into „captain’s hat-rack of the society for steamboat shipping on the river Donau“. By the way, that was a really weak attempt, but you see the pattern.

More on German compounds (in German, beware):
Kompositakompliment
discussion in a german online-dictionary forum about the longest German compound

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Hey,

Unser Blog läuft ja nun schon eine Weile, und wir haben uns gefragt, woher unsere Besucher überhaupt kommen, bzw. wie sie auf unseren Blog gekommen sind. Daher heute eine kurze kleine Umfrage dazu, bitte fleißig abstimmen.

Our blog has been around for a while now, and we asked ourselves where our visitors come from, or more specifically how they came here. To that effect, I added a poll, and I hope you all participate.

-Moritz

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Today’s topic has a bit more to do with literature than my usual posts – I hope it is still interesting enough for you to read it!

Fanfiction is exactly what the name says – fiction by fans. A fan of a specific book, TV series, or whatever (there is fanfiction for everything, believe me), might decide he wants to put his writing skills to good use and set a story in the fictional universe of, say, Buffy.

And many people do. In fact, fanfiction writing have huge communities, all gathering around the initial universe – there are specific sites for Harry Potter fanfiction, for MacGyver fanfiction, and any other ‚universe‘ you can think of.

Now, when I began reading and writing fanfiction, I’d think that a bunch of fans wouldn’t be able to write anything worth reading, and while about 80% of all fanfiction is just a release valve for the writer to get their favorite scenarios for a specific character out of their heads (if you read fanfics, you know what I’m talking about), there is actually a rather large amount of quality writing that has spawned entire careers. This quality literature, free and most importantly dealing with my favorite character / storyline / whatever, got me hooked pretty quickly.

So why is fanfiction so popular? I already mentioned the first – many firsttime authors want to get the original story ‚right‘ by rewriting the parts they didn’t like. Some good stories have come out of that, but it is usually a stepping stone for the author to establish himself, get a grasp of what writing a small novel entails. The second thing is the addiction factor – if you are a diehard fan of, for example, Lord of the Rings, and you watched all the movies and read the books a dozen times over, but you still want MORE, then fanfiction is the next step to go – if you are in ‚fan withdrawal‘, the prospect of literally hundreds if not thousands of stories about your favorite characters is most alluring. Not to mention the fact that it’s free of charge and easy to use & find.

I hope I have sparked some interest in you, and if you feel I should divulge more about fanfiction, post a comment saying so!

Links to fan fiction sites / archives:
www.fanfiction.net – the biggest ‚general‘ fanfiction archive online
www.fictionalley.org – biggest and extremely well-kept community page and archive for Harry Potter fanfiction
www.bigapricot.org – Superman fanfiction archive

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Since the topic has been one of the most-visited on our blog, I thought I could talk a bit more about it, namely I picked the topic of dialects and accents in popular culture – most importantly, film.

Now, you’ve all noticed this – in Germany your average actor has to speak High German – there are almost no series, no movies in which dialects are used. And since High German was originally devised as a written language, the same holds true for literature – the only area where you will find dialect freely in German popular culture would be comedy – as a means of getting people to laugh at (stupidly sounding) dialects. A good example of that would be Mario Barth: listen to some of his stuff, he speaks in dialect (albeit a weak form), but he uses that mostly to underline his jokes. Now try to find a movie or a series in which a character continously speaks in dialect – you will have a hard time finding someone.

Now, in the English realm of popular culture, the whole situation is reversed. Dialects and accents are everywhere – not only because the different countries claiming English as their mother tongue have different accents of the same language, but also because one country might use different local dialects more freely, due to missing stigmata. For example – the black vernacular is used regularly and, if it were missing, would completely ruin a character. Let me explain that – if you had a black character in a movie, he had to talk like one – while it seems racist to assume the color of your skin changes the way you speak, Hollywood has basically mimicked „street language“ to be a working dialect for black characters. And while there are exceptions (Dr. Eric Foreman in House MD, who could not be „busting heads“ due to him being a doctor and all), those are rare and usually the few well-rounded black characters in American popular culture. Another example would be the latino vernacular – basically the same deal as with the black vernacular, only instead of „fo‘ sho!“ you’d have „Esse!“ – I kid.

But those were dialects depending on a different subculture, not just on regional differences – but we have those too. The regional dialects of the South (I know there are more to distinguish from, but for shortness‘ sake I will abbreviate them like this) are widely used to mark characters as stupid (redneck stereotype) – an example everyone can relate to would be Cleetus from the Simpsons. More honest (and less degrading) examples would be movies like Forrest Gump and TV series like The Dukes of Hazzard.

So, why is the American dialect so much more accessible to the media? I don’t know, I have my ideas though – due to the cultural melting pot, there is no uniform American culture – it consists of many small cultures that blend together. That means, the way people speak is more diversified – while Germans speak their dialect and a degree of High German to communicate with people that don’t understand their dialect, Americans don’t have the distinction of a „higher“ language and their everyday speak. That doesn’t mean they don’t understand each other, they just don’t speak the other persons dialect, they understand it well enough, though.

If you have any comments or insights about this topic, feel free to leave them!

-Moritz