The Case of the Missing Article

The Case of the Missing Article by E. Stanley, the Gardener.

“In the days before the arrival of the cicadas, the frogs and the dreadnoughts, in the land of the dead, the gardener tended the garden green. Suddenly a shot rang out.”

The” is definite English, it’s been that way since the Vikings killed the sixteen ways the Saxons (Sachsen) spoke, ways always to denote nouns. A part of speech now dead in the Isles of the Brit, many eons afore days of present kind.

To the victor goes the grammar. “THE” spake the Viking, and it was so.

Word order reigns where inflection governs. Do away with inflection and you become a slave to word order. By good fortune I suffered the arrows and the slings of Latin in high school. An introduction to case-driven tongues, that’s what it was.

scribblers.sculptors.scribes
Wheelock’s Latin

I’ve since revived my high-school understanding of Latin via (a Latin preposition you understand) the Wheelock method. I think that it’s fun to discover unexpected similarities between German and Latin, ones that originated in Indo-European. The preposition “in” uses the same cases (dative and accusative) to denote intra and inter movement, respectively. Now that is what I call a good time. A grand substitute for the dreadnought of sports`. In very fact, I am extraordinarily ignorant of any iota embalmed as sport.

indo.european.migrations

I like to bounce around among crowds of languages, to weigh their lot for commonalities, patterns and purposes.

No writings remain of Indo-European, the common root tongue for hundreds of languages. A tongue spoken in a geography we now call Ukraine and vicinity.

The English word “scribe” finds origin in the German schreiben.

Schreiben — writing.

Scribe – writer, transcription, scrivener (of Bartleby fame).

bartleby

When teaching German I would often encounter worthy mnemonics to aid student learning. Once, while writing the German verb “beschreiben” on the blackboard I noticed that its English equivalent “to describe” possessed an unexpected aspect: pivot the round part around the vertical part of the letter “b”, the letter “d.”

b d b d

beschreiben/describe

rotate the “b” to fashion a “d”, rotate a “d” to fashion a “b.”

be de are inseparable prefixes that lend flavor and spice to a foundational word, such as schreiben or scribe. It’s also great fun to encounter such things — the stuff of useful heuristics.

Thanks for reading.

 

 

 

 

 

Languages, Escape Velocity and Bigly Lies

Learning a second or 3rd or 4th language is like escaping the gravity of your native land. You probe about in another way of being, of thinking, of observing. Better still — if you’ve the inclination — learn another tongue via a second or third language. Meet the stranger in a place foreign to each.

I am so grateful for my Palestinian student who decided to learn German via English, without recourse to his native Arabic. He inspired me to do the same — learn Arabic by way of German. “arabisch lernen”

arabisch.lernen

German from the baby steps to fluency. The magic of YouTube brings me teachers who speak their mother’s Arabic in a German-speaking land. I studied in Germany for a year and a half. The other international students joined me to prepare for lessons conducted in German. Japanese medical students already knew anatomical terms, because their forefathers carried it back to Japan — including decades as fellow Axis members. Gray’s Anatomy with German body parts

Some lessons I’ve learned

Iranian students taught me about Savak and their Shah many years before the Revolution of 1979. Krupp established large industrial site in that Persian land. An industrial giant since the 16th Century. A family tradition, Blut und Eisen.

Propaganda relies upon endlessly repeated mistranslations, designed to obfuscate. Weaponized language to serve hidden agendas, to move geopolitical stakes through sabotage, bigotry, racism, straw men, false flags, pacification, liquidation; in other words, chicanery of any convenient kind. Whatever works. No questions asked.

Walls visible and invisible. Sow the seeds of discontent to ignite anger. Divide and conquer. British imperialists deliberately provoked Sunni and Shia rivalries by locating them within an arbitrary borderline. Think of it as double solitary confinement. A technique that works wonders: encourage each to fight the other over differences deep as the empire gathers spoils of conquest, to the victor go the value subtracted.

History remembered is myth created by the most talented liars. Every American recites the same short soundbites: flag-shaded collective memories. Memorized lies to mask disquieting truth. 1,000 memorized lies. Cherrypick and pass on. Manufacture your destiny as something somehow manifest by a deity for your outrageous fortune. Cloying spoilings.

shadid_lewis
Kresta and Spencer find a convenient fool

Conduct experiments on war fodder soldiers and increase your “intelligence.” Handbooks written by Chinese military master torturers were translated verbatim and reapplied in Guantanamo — word by evil word.

Accuse Cuba of human rights violations while torturing prisoners on Cuban soil. Announce bounties — turn in someone you hate, an enemy or a randomly selected person, a stranger. Get paid for lying about an innocent neighbor. Extraordinary rendition is spuriously twisted language designed by twisted authority to mask torture by proxy. Look the other way. Justify everything. Celebrate the patriotic art of bigly deals. Endless war for endless profit. Drop MOABS and cut a purchase order for replacement MOABS.

This morning I read a piece from Mark Chmiel’s blog — Mistake. Dark serendipity in the same tone and key. Thank you, Mark.

And

Thanks for reading.

Die schreckliche Englische Sprache

N.B. I have not yet inserted a translation plug-in.

Why not, Bill?

I don’t want to crash this blog by pasting html code improperly.

Kommen wir gleich zur Sache — die Wikinger emigrierten von Sachsen nach England im Jahre 793, und sie hatten mit den eroberten Frauen und den zukünftigen Kindern sprechen wollen. Hör mal zu: die Wikinger konnten die ungeheueren komplizierten Endungen jedes Dingworts überhaupt nicht verstehen. Die Eroberer hatten eine Lösung schnell gefunden: zum Teufel mit den verdammten Endungen.

This is a thinly veiled attack upon the official language of the free world. What be your purpose here?

WikingerServiette

Wenn Sie English lesen können, schauen Sie den folgenden Link an:

How Vikings Changed the English Language: Morphology.

Interessanterweise fing die große Vokalverschiebung zur etwa gleichen Zeit an. So viel wurden dabei geändert, aber so passieren die alternativen Geschichten.

als ob

Stellen Sie mal vor: “als ob” habe ich in einem Glossar der literarischen Ausdrücken gefunden, zwar als eine Übersetzung des Konzepts von Samuel Colleridge:

the willing suspension of disbelief 

5 Buchstaben auf Deutsch gegen 31 auf Englisch. Finde ich den Unterschied super. Eine Sprache zu lernen ist ein Abenteuer anzufangen, meiner Meinung nach.

denken.sie.doch.selber
Bill, why did you choose a SHOUTING green font to threaten world order? We’re taking names.

Gern behaupte ich, dass man einen deutschen Text schneller als einen englischen Text lesen kann. Einfach erkläre ich den Urgrund dieser Behauptung — Schon beim ersten Wort erkennen wir die Funktion des ersten Wortes, z.B. “dem” muss unbedingt das indirekte Object signalisieren. Also, entweder Maskulin oder Neutrum, oder?

Quod erat demonstrandum.

So wurde “the” erfunden. Wortstellung muss jede Funktion, bzw. jeden Kasus erklären. Konnten Herr Wiking mit der Familie anreden.

Ich hoffe, dass die Leser dieses Dingsbums mein Thema genossen haben.

 

Those Effing German Endings

Useful foreign-language texts are good to find — I recommend library discard sales, where you can find great stuff for 50 cents or less. You can buy 300 of these for the price of a required text that you’re still paying for decades later. Actually, I spied a personal favorite: The World’s Writing Systems this way (see photograph below)

the-worlds-writing-systems
A 50-cent purchase

I lived an iconoclast’s dream for 20 years: a Saturday German class (10 to 12:30) to design a better way to learn German at the TriState German-American School: TSGAS. Our principal was happy if the students were happy. I have saved many lesson plans over the years — some of it archived from a Commodore 64. All four cases and all four genders — German handles plurals the same way as its three genders, it’s basically a fourth gender. And all by Thanksgiving holiday.

Had you elected the three-year sequence and its college textbook you wouldn’t learn about Genitive case until the third year. I don’t think you should wait that long. There are many misbegotten German textbooks out there: I found one that didn’t cover the second-person familiar until the second half of the book. How are you supposed to patch that in?

Paradigms are only useful if they are intuitive, and part of a wider heuristic. I am placing a link to an image of a very bad set of paradigms IMO rather than the actual image here because WordPress randomly selects images to accompany posts.

Learning German the same way that Germans learn English doesn’t work in the long run.  Actually it doesn’t work in the short run either, as I’ve learned from personal experience. Sometimes you just have to blast away the fossilized crud that accreted in your brain. Out damned crud!

Inflection is a big deal in highly inflected languages. Ignoring that big deal does not make the inflections go away. The problem only becomes larger if you do not tackle it.

inneren.schweine.hund

Translation: “Overcome the lazy dog inside you. What I learned from a marathon runner.”

The Saxons who invaded Britain brought all those inflections with them, but then the Vikings showed up and made short work of it. ’twas the birth of “The” and the need to use word order to indicate the function of each noun.

One of the first native German speakers my ears encountered in a Frankfurt of 1971 came from a five-year-old child. This Kindergärtners command of complex inflection was free and accurate. Was it some kind of trick? Were there paradigms on the refrigerator, or hanging from a mobile above his crib in 1968? The words flowed as intuitively much as that cat in the late Jack Ziegler (no relation) cartoon:

 

jack.ziegler.cat

German Gender

Gender is not extraneous.

Most aids for learning gender suggest patterns for masculine nouns first. Don’t do that, feminine nouns are easier to learn than masculine nouns. Here is your handout:

Screenshot 2017-04-04 20.55.54

IMO it is better than the suggestions you’ll find in standard German textbooks, i.e. masculine first. So I say turn it upside down:

  1. Is it a feminine noun?
  2. No, then is it a neuter noun?
  3. In all probability it’s a masculine noun.

Am I the only German teacher who has noticed this cart in front of that horse?

Here is an exercise for practicing effing German endings at the dinner table. Unroll die Serviette and discover that spoon, fork and knife are, respectively masculine, feminine and neuter nouns — right there on the table. I’ll leave the plural forms for die Hausaufgabe (homework).

Screenshot 2017-04-04 19.14.55

By this point I have probably lost all but two of my readers. Thanks, you two — I am grateful 🙂

Now comes case in a nutshell:

  • Nominative signals subject, the gender you’ve just learned how to learn. Think four genders. You are 25% of the way there.
  • Accusative case differs from nominative only with single masculine nouns — the letter ‘n’ is a single vertical line away from ‘r’. All the others are the same as the nominative: die, das, die. You are halfway there.
  • Dative case — you are halfway to dative by realizing that the letter ‘m’ appears only with dative case nouns (masculine and neuter). You are three-quarters to the finish line.
  • Genitive case — masculine and neuter again: the ‘s’ you already know from English.

So you are left with the odd stragglers that now stand out in that 16 cell paradigm — the ‘der’ and the ‘den’.

Screenshot 2017-04-04 19.18.28

A takeaway: heuristics are fun, paradigms need context and a deliberate design. Here are some reasons:

heuristic

More to follow if you two readers are interested 🙂

Older posts on German language

Thanks for reading.

 

 

Arabic: what gives?

Many posts ago a Palestinian pal (“pal” is twitterese for Palestinian) asked me to write about my adventures in Arabic. So here ’tis 🙂

you-already-speak-arabic-arabic-loanwords-in-european-languages-9-728

This pal o’ mine is a refugee of Nakba 1948. By various twists of synchronicity he found his way to one of my German classes, intent on reading a bit of the curious language.

What resulted?

A capital stroke of good fortune — a safari if you will. And so did it begin. I said “look my friend, if you are willing to learn some German I could at least learn some Arabic.”

Arabic script is daunting at first. I compare its foundation in the arts and sciences to the Roman alphabet: Arabic script is to the Latin alphabet what Arabic numerals are to Roman numerals.

A qualitative difference?

Take a Roman number. Calculate its root. Let’s take the most important number of all time 42 (XLII). Let me know when you have an answer. Show all work.

match-stick-pi

Nevertheless, Roman civil engineers achieved the splendor of the arch and its keystone cap.

I bet you didn’t know Farsi from Arabic at first.

That is actually correct. I looked at Persian and thought the pairing would be simple — like switching to Dutch from German. Well, a well of Arabic words exist  in Farsi, but Farsi is not based on the root system, a method residing at the very foundation of Arabic. It’s closer to English that way. Rootless.

arabic-or-farsi

Well well well. WTF is a root system?

Consonants that appear in a certain order to suggest meaning. The word ‘safari‘ has roots od SFR. Place some prefixes, suffixes and a few vowel sounds here and there. You’ll discover vocabulary treasures relating to ‘travel’ one way or another.

Why did your pal bleed from the ears?

Not just my friend — most of my students. Encounters with German involve a crazy  grammar that most German students to long for escape (The Great Escape). Though toddlers who drop every dread adjective ending perfectly every day — imagine tossing a deck of cards into the air and thinking them into well sequenced suits.

german-article-adjective-and-pronoun-chart-updated

What’s the deal with Arabic grammatical gender?

Look for a taa marbuta at the end of a noun — it’s that smiley face you see to the right, it’s easy to recognize too.

ta-marbuta

Arabic nouns are never neuter. There is no “it.” Just masculine and feminine. Wowser, that’s a 50% increase, from 2 to 3. There is no verb “to be” in the present, though there is a “was” in Arabic. The verb “to have” does not exist in the way of “haben” or “have” or “habeo.” Habemus Papam.

Did you know that it’s almost impossible to say anything in German without knowinf a noun’s gender?

Only a small exaggeration.

Herr Ziegler, can you craft a short sentence containing all four cases for us?

Let me grapple that in another post.  Gellerese anyone?

gellerese5

Thanks for reading.

We’re Just Out Of Waldorfs

Some decades ago, in another millennium, I learned how to teach German language at the Cincinnati Waldorf School — by learning to flow smoothly.

waldorf-painting-turtle

Waldorf pedagogic method follows the thought and moment of Rudolf Steiner.

We’re still here, Bill. And we have a question. Is there a difference between pedagogic and pedantic? By the bye, we are bored.

Yes, there is a difference. My apologies for the tedium that now threatens tedia.

Each student had this blank book and a set of block crayons.

stockmar-beeswax-crayons-16-blocks

A fine point between  a pointed crayon and a block crayon. Boundaries are the literal point of a more muffling model. Art, dance, theater and connection to the Earth. Veganism was the norm, as it should be.

You have a gift for wandering off task. Do you know that?

The German for poison is das Gift. Snow White (Schneewittchen)  bit into a gift from a person of some political moment. The gift was Gift. On a side note — where I prefer to spend my time — you can frequent souvenir shops all over the place called: Das Gift Haus. Caveat emptor!

Bilingual puns are the death of wit, an affront.

Some few years ago, between 1989 and 2013, I enjoyed another singular privilege: teaching at the TriState German-American School. It’s a local institution that arose from a large number of emigrees to Cincinnati, arriving from German-speaking countries.

Pedantry alert. Pedantry alert.

The TGAS principal did not impose a curriculum on my class “Getting Around in German.” If the students were happy she was happy. My students were happy. This happy happenstance allowed me room (did you know that the name Zimmerman arises from the German ‘Room Man’ for carpenter. A Ziegler lays tile. The first mayor of Cincinnati was David Ziegler.

david-ziegler

My green italic critics shift nervously on respective chairs.

You stray like a thief in the night, Herr Ziegler. These Pults are a horror.

God save us from the prison that the Prussian system of student control imposes. Just my 7 1/2 cents.

From Fawlty Towers: “I want a Waldorf Salad.” Fawlty: “I think we’re just out of Waldorfs.”

fawlty-out-of-waldorfs

It’s quite a comfort to holiday at the Fawlty Towers. Let’s listen in on a few fellow guests recently arrived from Deutschland.

“We didn’t start it. Yes you did, you invaded Poland.”

But to return to something completely different, I developed a number of techniques in my Saturday German class that offered a more gentle way in my lesson un-plan. I introduced concrete objects without recourse to the succor of English.

Point at the sun, define a circle with your fingertips. The sun is big. She is yellow. She is big, round, yellow and hot. How can you remember that something is round — leave the round part “o” out, and so rund.

Two favorite verses did I glean from Waldorf and refresh in my class:

Hutsch He! Hutsch He! Der Ackermann sät.

The classroom floor became a plot of land to sow in Spring. In Autumn (Herbst/harvest) that same floor became a field of wheat that flowed with the wind and became ready for harvest.

Hutsch He! Hutsch He! Der Ackermann mäht. 

Use the same arm movement used for sowing the seeds, but then suggest a scythe that cuts the grain and readies it for baking bread.

sowing

Spring to Fall   —sät to mäht.

Thanks for reading.