Tag Archives: spelling reform

Unfortunate songs?!

Tonight is one of my favorite kitsch classics – The Eurovision Song Contest – which puts me in mind of an error I made a few months ago when talking about this event. Instead of saying “songs” – die Lieder – I said *die Leider which, if it were a noun, would perhaps mean something like “the unfortunates” as the most common meaning of leider is “unfortunately.” Now this is an error that should only be common among people whose native tongue includes both “ei” and “ie” as vowel combinations and who have some idea of how the word “song” is spelled in German. In other words, I made this error as a result of mis-recalling how the word das Lied – “song” – is spelt, rather than mis-recalling how it sounds.

It is also possible that pushing me away from the correct spelling, and thus the correct pronunciation, is the English false friend “lied” which shares the spelling but neither the meaning nor the sound of das Lied. Or perhaps some interference was caused by the fact that we use “lied” in English to talk about a type of music, but keep the English pronunciation so that it matches the past tense for “to lie” (lügen – past participle gelogen)?! (You may know the “lied” as the “art song” – it is usually a poem on a romantic or pastoral theme that has been set to music: http://www.recmusic.org/lieder/.)

Of course, doing the research for today’s post also allowed me to discover something else new and wonderful, namely this blog about die Rechtschreibung (“correct spelling” but somehow also something more than that since this was the result of a planned to change to German in 1996) : http://woerter.germanblogs.de/archive/2012/09/23/es-tut-mir-leid-oder-es-tut-mir-leid-wie-schreibt-man-das-richtig.htm I have to say that I am impressed that someone would make a series of videos about spelling – Rechtschreib TV.

Not to be too critical of the Eurovision, as it is certainly a cultural phenomenon worth understanding – Abba got their start this way and Bonnie Tyler is performing this year’s British entry – if for no other reason than then one can say nil point with authority, but I have to think that there might be more value in watching a couple hours of Rechtschreib TV!

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Does that ring a bell?

Meet das Handy – the German word for “mobile phone” or “cell phone.” It’s a false friend. One that makes me shake my head. First of all, in English “handy” is an adjective and that das and the capital “H” indicate that the German Handy is a noun. This means it behaves like “candy” or “party,” neither of which make sense when broken down into “stem + y” the way an adjective with this form would (even if, as in the case of “hand + y,” the derivation feels a bit forced). The fact that it is a noun in German also means it has a plural form, in this case it is one on the ones that was affected by spelling reform (more on this in future posts) – previously, you could write die Handies but now you have to write die Handys.

Next, although we do have the word “handset” in the world of communication devices, the word  “handy” doesn’t bring to mind “handset” or even “hand held,” it brings to mind “useful” or “nice to have” or “convenient.” Yes, a phone that you can take with you is certainly “handy” but then so are so many things, for instance, the pocket tissues called “Handy-Andies.”

Finally, there is the issue of pronunciation. I want to say Handy the way I would say “handy” but that could get me looks almost as odd as if I asked for someone’s “*Handy number” in the US.  Das Handy is [ˈhɛndi] and “handy” is [ˈhændi]. Thank goodness that the stress is on the same syllable at least, which cannot be said for Psychologie and “psychology” or Autorin and “author,” both of which I regularly stumble over when I try to talk about my professional life in German.

Perhaps I should simply relax and take Handy as a back-handed compliment about the versatility of English?!

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