I’ve written before about the challenges of syllabification in learning German in Uh-oh, a stop and Breaking up is hard to do and this morning I finally figured out a mistake I was making in trying to figure out an English name. On my run, I go by a column covered in posters for upcoming musical events. I’ve been looking at one of them for a few days and not been able to make sense of the band’s name. My first mistake was to imagine from the somewhat gothic writing that they were a German group (not so, they hail from Texas) rather than a heavy metal one (true). My second mistake flowed from assuming it was a German name and thus should be broken up in German fashion. The third problem is that running and trying to read gothic-style letters at the same time is not as simple as it might first appear. (For those interested in the use of gothic or blackletter fonts, here’s a piece on some of their musical and cultural resonances: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/inspiredby/2014/10/typography-from-gothic-to-blackletter.html)
Today I stopped. I looked hard. The mysterious HELLY|FAT or HELLY|FAH was suddenly clearly HELL|YEAH. Phew.
Which got me to pondering the words bisherig and bisher. The first was familiar to me from having moved so often and needing to provide my Bisherige Anschrift – “previous address.” However, I’d never heard this word spoken and made the English-language-driven mistake of syllabifying it in my head as bish•er•i•ge where the “sh” is rendered as [ʃ] as sch would be in German. (Also at play may be the fact that my last name “Hirsh” was anglicised by my grandfather, making it easier for me to see »sh« as an alternate spelling for »sch« and I’m not helped by the fact that there are many, many loan words with the »sh« spelling and the [ʃ] pronunciation in German.) The actual syllabification and pronunciation is [bɪsˈhe:rɪgə].
I was disabused of this error when I first heard the word bis•her [bɪsˈhe:ɐ̯] – “until now” or “up until now” or “currently” or “yet” – spoken last Saturday. More than the usual number of participants had arrived for Dialog in Deutsch, and so although there was only one leader, we split into two groups. Luckily, at the Wednesday group, one of the leaders had brought a number of sentence stems to start us off on a discussion of our pasts (and to help us practice the perfect tense). The one with bisher in it was Die schwerste Aufgabe in meinem Leben war bisher… It turned out that for many of the group this most difficult task was making or coming to terms with the decision to live in Germany.
Amazing how much difference growing up hearing German as opposed to just reading it can make. Never dawned on me that one could break bis-her into bish-er. Interesting what one takes for granted. Might suggest how important listening to dialogs from native speakers can be. Or, perhaps reading along with an audio book might be a way of associating the spoken and written word.
Bischof (Bishop) popped into my mind as an example of a word that would seem to create a quandary as to pronunciation. It is divided after the h: Bisch-of. To me, it always sounds like Bisch-hof. But, I suspect it is actually bish-oaf. As in, that bishop was a real oaf. So, perhaps the problem stems from the anglicized Hirsh, which was likely Hirsch (deer or stag) and that is causing a ‘false friend’ like confusion — sh is not usually pronounced sch in German.
Some additional fun with bis —
Bis zum nächsten Mal
Bis zum wiederhören
Bis zum bitteren Ende
Bis ans Ende der Welt
or — until the cows come home —
bis die Kühe nach Hause kommen
Wonder what a translator would actually use to convey that idea? Seems clumsy.