WORLD OF TEXT

Translation Corner: article jumble

Posted on: 5. September 2009

Hello!

Just recently I got a nice little comment to my article about, ahem, articles.

Just a quick question for you, but I’ve often wondered about to what extent articles differ from region to region. There are a few examples I’ve come across, such as arguments over der/das Joghurt, der/die/das Butter, der/die/das Sieb etc. but it’s difficult for me as an English speaker to imagine how striking these differences are. Could you for example place where someone was from just based on the articles they used, disregarding any accent?

There are words where people cannot decide, or disagree strongly, what articles are to be used. For instance, the word „Schild“ (meaning shield, or sign, depending on context) could either have the article „das“ or „der“ – back in ye olde days when „Schild“ only meant shield, it was accompanied by „der“ – it was considered part of the arms men wore to war, so it was something masculine. The added article (together with the added meaning of „sign“) only came into being, when knights used their shields to show their allegiance in battle (displaying their specific coat of arms, for instance) – since then the new meaning & article gradually took hold. And since the invention of modern firearms, sword & shield are less used, which meant the first, original meaning wasn’t as important anymore.

However, back to the original point – words and their articles are more affected by change through time than through specific dialect usage. In fact, I can’t think of a specific word that uses a different article in another dialect (which doesn’t mean there isn’t one, it just means it is not a very noticeable factor, if one at all).

What is affecting article-usage in Germany is the continuing spread of Anglizismen – since we usually only adopt the word, and not its grammatical usage (such as how to form its plural, or its articles, etc) we basically decide which plural version of the word and which article sound the best – for most words, that is decided quickly enough and most people agree with it („Die Mailbox“, „Die Mailboxen“ especially used in online-context), however there are quite a few words that are either too new to have an established German article and plural, or are only rarely used, so they never developed a proper article in the public eye (I can’t give you a good example for that since most germanized English words only are in that phase for a short time, because sooner or later we have decided upon an article, and then it is common usage – you’d have to get a new word to spread for the phenomenon to happen again ;))

For more (German) background on etymology of words (in this example, „Schild“), you might want to read the following:

http://www.etymologie.info/~e/d_/de-milita.html

-Moritz

3 Antworten to "Translation Corner: article jumble"

Thanks for the response. It’s interesting that articles can change as word use develops over time, something that I presume is seen in English without the associated gender changes. In cases of words like der/das Schild, do people use a particular article more depending on their intention when using the word? Rather like the meaning of the word „Band“ is changed entirely based on the article it takes? Or is it down to personal preference and a case that the newer use has perverted the original?

With regard to dialects, I suppose there aren’t actually so many disputed genders as to make the differences obvious. But I would assume there must be some regionality in how they differ, since we learn our languages from our families and the people who live around us. However I respect that the differences need not have any relation to differences in dialect etc.

as far as I know, people do not switch articles when referring to different version of „Schild“ – mainly because they either do not recognize they actually have used the same word in a different context, or because they are not aware of the second, older article. People that regularly use „Der Schild“ are either very conscious when it comes to language and its usage or just want to flaunt their knowledge – better known as „Besserwisser“😉

I’m sure there are regional differences, but that is a topic that I on my own would not even consider tackling for a blog article – it is something one could do research for a bigger paper, perhaps.

Aha, so that’s how it works with the der/das Schild. Thanks for clarifying!

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