Tag Archives: grammatical gender

Sagt ein Fehler mehr als 1000 Wahrheiten?!

Heute habe ich das Buch »Grammatik in Bildern Deutsch als Fremdsprache – Jeder kann Grammatik lernen« bei der Bücherhalle Barmbek gefunden. Es ist total neu, in 2015 veröffentlich. Ich liebe den Begriff: man kann mit Bilder schneller lernen und Ideen länger im Kopf behalten. Aber ein guter Begriff allein sind gar nicht genug. Der schriftliche Inhalt muss auch wertvoll sein. Da liegt der Hase im Pfeffer. Als ich das Buch las, fand ich auf Seite 12 zwei Fehler. Die Beispiele für die Laute [b] und [ʒ] sind falsch. Es steht, dass in dem Wort »Ball« der »a« mit [b] verbindet ist. Und auch das, dass in dem Wort »Garage« der »G« mit [ʒ] verbindet ist.

Laut    Bespiel
[b]       Ball
[ʒ]       Garage

Wenn man frisch alphabetisiert ist, könnte man an das glauben und danach sehr verwirrt sein.

Mit meinen Verdacht erregte, fuhr ich fort. Und ich war aus allen Wolken fallen! Auf Seite 18 steht es, dass »das« der Bestimmte Artikel im Genitiv von »der« und »das« steht. Ist Ihr Name Hase?! In diesem Moment hörte ich mit diesem Buch auf. Hätte ich nicht demnächst einen Termin, würde ich direkt zurück nach der Bücherhalle gefahren bin. Ein großer Verlag wie PONS sollte nicht Mumpitz schrieben! Dieser Fall hat mein Vertrauen erschüttert.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

The Keys to The Kingdom

Just recently, I was listening to a German language CD and heard the word die Schüssel – “the bowl.” That’s the word that was said anyway, what I heard was der Schlüssel – “the key.” Keen observers will notice right away that like Dorothy and her ruby slippers, I had the key to unlocking this misunderstanding with me all along: “bowl” is a die word and “key” is a der word. But as David Bergmann so elegantly and succinctly captures in the title of his book about wrestling with the German tongue – Der, Die, Was? (or in his own English translation “Take Me to Your Umlauts”) – we don’t have grammatical genders in English (although see my thoughts on at least one occasion where we do have intuitions about gender) and thus this useful key to correct word recognition is one we fail to take advantage of all too often!

Those of you who know about some of my past experiences will know that the main impact I had on the world of experimental psychology was to show that the earlier you learn something, the easier that something is to retrieve from memory and in many cases the more likely you are to continue to be able to retrieve it following a stroke or other event that compromises your cognitive abilities. This suggests that the later you learn about grammatical gender, the slower you will be retrieve it. Thus, the downside of not having learned about grammatical gender early in life is that even when I do know a word’s gender (as I feel do with der Schlüssel), it is relatively hard to retrieve and thus it can be hard to make use of this information to help me understand what I am reading or hearing. The upside is that unlike a speaker of French, or many other languages, I don’t need to displace the le from chat when I learn die Katze – “the cat” – as I don’t have any competing gender designations to distract me. An additional implication of the earliest things being easiest to retrieve is that early learned words within a language can compete with each other. As I learned der Schlüssel quite a long time ago (when I was first learning German in 1989), it competes very effectively with die Schüssel which I only learned the other day. In the struggle to make any meaning from what I read and hear, the early learned words simply come into mind unbidden with a minimum amount of evidence to support their presence.

And don’t get me started on the competition that arises in my head between different meanings for the same word, for example das Schloss (“the palace” and “the lock”), or I may have to be locked away!

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Is it Mother Sun in your mother tongue?

We don’t have grammatical genders in English – we say “the” for all of our nouns (at least the countable ones) – but even where there is no obvious connection to gender, there are some words with gender-based associations .  For example, “the sun” and “the moon.”  Although we have the expression “the man in the moon,” I would suggest that the common association for the moon itself is with the feminine and for the sun it is the masculine. In learning German, though, one has to go against this and learn der Mond and die Sonne. Even worse, if you also know a bit of Spanish, Italian, Portugese or French, all of which do have grammatical genders, you have a further challenge as “moon” takes a feminine and “sun” a masculine pronoun in each of these languages! And in my limited understanding of Chinese symbolism, I believe that the moon is associated with the feminine/yin/dark and the sun is associated with the masculine/yang/light.

Indeed, there is enough interest in the gender associated with the moon and sun that when you type [sun masculine] into Google, one completion it provides is [moon feminine]. The story that resonated most with me was that the further north you went, the more the sun came to be associated with giving life by giving light and thus with the feminine through the connection with giving birth. Now since arbitrary things are hard to learn, and most of the relationships between German nouns and their grammatical genders are arbitrary (or even misleading, to give the famous examples of das Mädchen – “the girl” or “the maiden” – and das Fräulein -“young lady” or “miss” – where the nouns follow the rule that diminutives with –chen and –lein take das), having a somewhat meaning cue for sun and moon feels helpful.

Therefore while Die Sonne scheint still doesn’t sound quite right to me (and not just because it seems such a rare event here in Hamburg), some light has been shed!

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,
a free state of mind

Thoughts from the Journey...

The Diversity Dividend

Doing Diversity Differently


Smart language learning

Leading with Trust

Trust is the essential ingredient for leadership success.

Akademie für geile Texte

Literaturnobelp-Reis, Basmati, 3min

Idol Musings

Ray's ruminations, rants and reflections on his American Idol addiction


Taking a Fresh Look at the English Language

Marathon Sprachen

Unravelling the complexities of German in English

The Elementalist Epoch

Stories and Poems from the mind of Tristan Nagler

Reality Swipe

Welcome to the Reality Swipe experience... Brace yourself