Tag Archives: Dialog in Deutsch

Gibt es sprachliche Aufstiege?

Gestern war und das Kennenlerngespräch und heute hospitiere ich bei Dialog in Deutsch. Hospitieren ist der erste Schritt zur Moderatorin.  Wünsche mir viel Glück – wie man so sagt „Aller Anfang ist schwer“. Erfreulicherweise sind die Mitglieder des Barmbek-Mittwochs-Teams sehr nett und ermutigend. Bessere Kumpel und Begleiter gibt es nicht!

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Um Humor aufsuchen

Das Thema war Medizin. Eine Teilnehmerin sagte, dass ein Hautarzt die Haut behandelt. Eine Andere sagte, dass ein Augenarzt die Augen behandelt. Die Nächste, dass ein Frauenarzt Frauen behandelt. Ich wollte einen Witz machen und sagte „Besuchen Häuser denn einen Hausarzt?“

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Compounded, nay confounded

While compound words are a very familiar part of the German language learner’s life, I only heard the word die Bandwurmwörter – literally “tape worm words” – for the first time last Tuesday in Dialog in Deutsch. I was surprised that I’d not come across it on dict.cc, but when I did a search, I discovered that it does not come up when you enter the singular form “compound word.”

The words that we were discussing all had to do with kinds of insurance, for example:

die Krankenhaustagegeldversicherung – a benefit paid out for every day one is in the hospital

die Berufsunfähigkeitsversicherung – a benefit paid out when one is unable, due to disability or illness, to work in a specific occupation or do a part of a job

The segments making up the first “worm” are die Versicherung, das Geld, die Tage and das Krankenhaus or “the money-days-hospital-insurance.” (Compound nouns are typically considered modifications of the final item in the compound, here die Versicherung, and take their gender from this final segment.) In this case, the relationship between the parts and the meaning of the entire compound is reasonably transparent. Let’s consider another more common compound word, das Frühstück – literally “early-piece (bit/chunk/slice)” but actually “breakfast.” This is quite a bit more opaque, especially when compared to the names for the other meals das Mittagessen and das Abendessen – “lunch” and “dinner” and literally “mid-day-food” and “evening-food.” Finally, consider the word die Klobrille – “toilet seat” – which I discussed in a previous post. It falls somewhere in between as the Klo part is transparent but the Brille part is not (or rather is it, but not in the linguistic sense!).

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Seeing and looking out

For me, one of the best parts of learning a new language is the way it leads you to wonder anew at your mother tongue. In Dialog in Deutsch this morning we were talking about the various compounds that can be formed by adding a prefix to the noun die Sicht – “sight,” “visibility,” “view” and “point of view.” Now this is a favorite word of mine because it was one of the first I learned as part of a compound because Ex, one of the characters in Warum Nicht? the language learning radio program from Deutsche Welle, is an invisible – unsichtbar – elf (and, yes, that this is rather odd really does help to fix the vocabulary in one’s mind!).

The compound that caught my attention today in terms of what it highlighted about English, however, was die Umsicht. This can translated as “circumspection” – the more formal option – as well as “prudence.” I don’t think I ever put “circumspection” together with its relatives “introspection” and “inspection,” nor had a I thought about its connections with “circumnavigate” or “circumscribe.” If you look at the etymology of “circumspection,”  you will find a Latin root meaning “to look around” which shows a clear relationship to Umsicht if you pull it apart into um – “around” and Sicht – “view”. (You can also find “*spect” in the “prospect” meaning of die Aussicht.)

Intriguingly, die Vorsicht, is also given as a translation of “prudence” – amazing what one can “see” if one is prudent enough to take the time to “look out!” for beautiful language “sights!”

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Sometimes less is more

Last week I had an interesting experience to do with pronunciation (die Aussprache) in a Dialog in Deutsch group with two Spanish speakers. One of these women was trying to explain that she was working as a volunteer – eine Freiwillige – but it came out sounding like •Freibillige because the relationship between the /v/ and the /b/ sound in Spanish. Both frei and billige are words in German and they appear together online in the context Versandkosten frei billige <etwas> – “free shipping [on] cheap <somethings>” so I am guessing that this added to the comprehension issue for the native speakers present. For me, with only a bit of German to interfere, and some knowledge of Spanish, it was clear what she was trying to say. Indeed, I am not even sure that I would have noticed the error but for the blank faces and the fact that they instantly cleared up when I said Freiwillige with a strong emphasis on the pronunciation of the /v/ sound.

I’m sure it isn’t unusual for one non-native speaker to be able to understand another non-native speaker better than a native speaker who is part of the same conversation because both non-native speakers are struggling. In addition, there is a sense of community among non-native speakers that centers around the desire to communicate and the frequent sense that the right word is just out of reach. If you can search your own word bank and pull out something that might help the other person express him or herself, you get a nice jolt of satisfaction from being helpful. And as many models of learning stress, helping someone else is a great well to build your own skills. I don’t think I’ll be forgetting the meaning or the pronunciation of Freiwilligefrei or billige any time soon, at least not voluntarily.

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Most of my opportunities to practice speaking German come during sessions of Dialog in Deutsch, a wonderful, free program run by the Hamburg libraries whose slogan is Menschen Treffen, Deutschen Sprechen. In one group today I learned the word der Aberglaube – “superstition.” It is the result of an adverb + noun combination – aber + Glaube. This is a rare type of compound for German, of the 173,782 nouns in the Canoo.net online dictionary, only 578 entries are of this type. As an adverb, aber can mean “however” or “though.” It is also a conjunction meaning “but” as well as a particle (a little word that adds spice to your speech, there are several posts worth of material on German particles) that can mean “but,” “really,” “oh” and “yes, of course.” Der Glaube means “belief” or “faith.” I like think about a “superstition” being a “belief” about which there is a “but” or a “however.” This seems like quite a nice definition.

In the DWDS entry for der Aberglaube, the following words are included in the etymology section:

das Aber – “but” or “catch” or “snag” as in “There’s only one problem…” Da ist nur noch ein Aber
der Aberwitz – “folly” (same adverb + noun formation: aber + Witz), here the meaning feels somewhat related to me
abergläubisch – “superstitious”
abermals – “once again” which is formed from aber plus the suffix –mals, other examples are erstmals – “initially” or “for the first time,” letztmals – “for the last time,” mehrmals – “repeatedly” or “many times” and vielmals – “many times” or “very much”

And among the words which the DWDS entry lists as having significant connection with der Aberglaube are:

feudalistisch – “feudalistic”
unausrottbar – “deep-rooted” or “ineradicable”
heidnisch – “heathen” or “pagan”
töricht – “foolish/ly” or “unwise”
weitverbreitet – “widespread” or “common”

Most importantly, though, I wanted to share one of the Aberglaube that I have had to learn here in Germany. A New Year’s tradition is to give good luck charms, one of which is a man with a ladder and a four-leaf clover or two. I saw these adorning bouquets, pictured on cards and as small figurines and so asked something along the lines of “what’s up with the leprechaun with the ladder?” To which people, after taking a moment to figure out what I was talking about (as so often is the case when something is part of your culture, you don’t notice it), said (but in German) “You mean the chimney sweep [der Schornsteinfeger]? He is good luck charm [der Glücksbringer].” After I had pushed all thoughts of the breakfast cereal out of my head, I wasn’t any more clear on why he was lucky, but at least I had a better idea about why he had both a ladder and those shamrocks!

To complete this post, I decided to learn a bit more about this superstition and discovered that there was a link to yesterday’s post through the hearth being the center of the home – ooh, now that’s a bit eerie, isn’t it?! If your chimney wasn’t clean, chances are you couldn’t make much of a fire and keep your house warm or cook your food. In addition, using a dirty chimney was risky when your house was made of wood and there were no smoke alarms or fire departments. There was also the possibility of poisonous gases killing you while you slept. Apparently because the sweep could rescue you from these possibilities, he came to be seen as a good luck charm or a “luck bringer.”

BTW, der Aberglaube happens to be the first entry in the list of adverb + noun combinations, perhaps the superstitious would make something of that?!

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