February 12th, 2014

(relatively) recent

Fun and games with the German language

When I gave up (for the time being) learning German a year and a half ago, despite two months of classes, and a year and a half teaching myself beforehand, I could still follow no more than at best 20% of what aviva_m's rabbi said in her sermon each week. Since then, I haven't been practising, and my level has gone back down to around 5%. So aviva_m was surprised when we were in a museum exhibition on Sunday and I said I was understanding around 95% (with a bit of guesswork) of the untranslated captions. But parsing language at natural speed has always been my weak spot; given as long as I want over every sentence I do much better.

I decided the other night I'd actually try writing down exactly what I did and did not get out of a piece of text. I used the opening paragraphs of this article from the Berliner Morgenpost. Allowing myself to consult my vocab lists, here's what I understood of it. I've marked not only words I don't know, but ones where I can understand the parts that go into it but not the overall meaning:
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Whilst I have an extended German passage in front of me, I blogged a little while ago wondering to what extent German turns into English if you reverse the High German consonant shift and restore the ability to handle "th" (and the odd bit of other anglicising; I've not been entirely consistent); here's my chance to find out:
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Well, that turned out less impressive than I was expecting. Let's see if turning each word as far as possible into its English cognate (whilst not translating any of them) makes the passage more comprehensible. (I've also anglicised the inflected definite articles, and joined separable verb components, to clarify sentence structure.) Italicised words are German ones without English cognates:
Berliner Undernehms1 erward best shapeds si'2 20 years

For all the thienst3lastingsbranche lopeth good, the industry blicketh positively in the tocometh. Allthings, so betone the Handlechambers, insits these erfollow not wayen, sundern trotz the politics.

The shaped of the undernehms in Berlin and Brandenburg lope goodly, aber the erwardings on the wider ant'wickling sind1 nogh better. That hath the Konjunkturumfrage [of] the Industry- and Handlechambers (IHK) out [?of] Berlin, Potsdam, Frankfurt (Oder) and Cottbus ergiven. The so-named Konjunktur-clime-index, the sich out [of] the saldo from negative and positive inshattings [of] the [a]gainward and [of] the tocometh ergives, clettered to [the] yearsbeginning 2014 up 129 points. "That is the highest worth si' 1995", said the stellfortreading headshapedsführer [of] the Berliner IHK, Christian Wiesenhütter. The umfrage studdeth sich up the ongifts from mair4 as 1500 undernehms in the region.

Thereby overdreppeth the stimming [of] Berlin bedrives that sheen5 high niveau6 in [the] umland. 54 percent [of] Berlin undernehmers betoken 'eir shapedslair as good, 37 percent as befriethiging, nur nine percent as slight.7 43 percent outgo tothe therefrom, that the shapeds in the next months nogh better lope worthen. The half reckoneth mid8 [a]likeleaving niveau, nur seven percent blick pessimistish in the tocometh. "Berlin nimmeth konjunkturelle waxdom's-impulse sneller up as other regions"—so Wiesenhüter.
Ta-da: fluent gibberish! ;^)

1. English used to use this element; then the Vikings came and we started using their word instead.

2. "Seit" is cognate to the first half of "since".

3. Stem obsolete in English, but you can still find it (in German) on old 2p coins. :o)

4. 'Scuse me whilst I go Scottish; it requires less change.

5. Apparently schon "already" derives from schön "beautiful", for which the cognate "sheen" makes more sense.

6. I'm sorry; what language are we speaking here?

7. A false friend: the word's changed meaning in English; in German it means "bad".

8. This sense survives in "midwife" (i.e. "with-woman").

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