How does Italian sound abroad

The sound of the German language"Like a typewriter that eats aluminum foil"

Often, assessments of the ugliness of the German language are associated with an unflattering view of the German mentality. "The German" is regarded as successful and determined, but also as pedantic and cold-hearted, in the worst case even as authoritarian and arrogant. Abroad, the German language has ambivalent connotations; it is often not only considered ugly and raw, but also particularly efficient - and therefore ideal for soldiers and engineers. These assessments seem inextricably linked with the perception of the Germans as belligerent and authoritarian, as arrogant, whereby Americans generally also praise the seriousness, diligence and discipline of the Germans and you can sometimes tell that they have sympathy for it.

On Facebook and Twitter, people like to post small lists of language samples that seem unusual or curious. These include words that have no equivalent in another language - in German these are for example "Weltschmerz", "Kummerspeck", "Eselsbrücke", "Ohrwurm" or "Fremdschämen". Unusually long words composed of several components are also popular, for example "Donaudampfschifffahrtsgesellschaftskapitän" - and that's not even the longest.

Many of these things make you smile. Or they open up unusual approaches to the topic of language. One of the hits in this category is likely to be a video that has been clicked a million times on YouTube: German Language compared to other Languages - the German language compared to other languages. In it, people in typical national costumes pronounce the same terms one after the other, for example "surprise" (French), "surprise"English,"surpresa"(Italian)," surpresa"(Spanish), and then" surprise ". The real Bavarian does not use the German word normally, as the others do, but exaggeratedly energetic, distorted, aggressive, ridiculed:" SURPRISE. "

I only became aware of the emotional potential hidden behind such videos when it appeared in my own environment on Facebook: An American acquaintance had posted it, which was followed by a never-ending stream of comments. As far as I can see, most of them thought it was funny, clicked that liked, few steered against it and somehow were not amused. I don't think I'm completely humorless, but I found the video rather tiresome. Almost annoying. Yeah, maybe I even felt a little attacked.

Correlation between language and mentality is established

On the other hand, I noticed that those who once decided to think of a language as ugly were hard to dissuade from it. As if it were a higher truth, as if there could seriously be criteria that marked a language as ugly or beautiful for all the world to see. I was surprised to find that science had little to contribute to this question.

Often, assessments of the ugliness of the German language are associated with an unflattering view of the German mentality. "The German" is regarded as successful and determined, but also as pedantic and cold-hearted, in the worst case even as authoritarian and arrogant. Abroad, the German language has ambivalent connotations; it is often not only considered ugly and raw, but also particularly efficient - and therefore ideal for soldiers and engineers. These assessments seem inextricably linked with the perception of Germans as belligerent and authoritarian, as arrogant, with Americans generally also praising the seriousness, diligence and discipline of the Germans, and one sometimes notices that they have sympathy for it.

One can wonder whether envy of the Germans' economic success plays a role here. Are there current political disagreements behind this? Or is it more an aftermath of National Socialism, fed to a certain extent from the deep memory of the nations?

As far as the attractiveness of "German as a foreign language" is concerned, the attempt to take stock of the situation has yielded mixed results: the time when German was still the international language of science is a long time ago. On the other hand, for some time now, many Goethe-Instituts have seen a greater influx of people who want to learn German - be it to prepare for a study visit or because they think they have better chances when looking for a job.

Those who speak German can save

Perhaps you have also heard of the thesis of Yale behavioral economist Keith Chang, who emphasizes the advantages of languages ​​that, like German, do not have a future tense. If you speak German, says Chang, it would be easier to save money, for example. What is a "futureless language"? In German, events that occur in the future are often described with a verb form from the present. "I'll go home later" instead of: "I want to go home". And as a result, according to Chang's thesis, the future in German is always much closer to the present than in a language in which one is used, so to speak, to postpone the future. In fact, statistically speaking, native speakers with futile languages ​​do less Debt.

But that has little effect on the sound of the language.

So back to the concrete sounds.

Of throats and cracks

Critics of German are annoyed, for example, by the guttural or throat sounds as in "Ach", or the tip of the tongue, the suppository "R". Typical of German are the so-called clicks in words that have a vowel in the initial sound because the vocal cords suddenly open and the pent-up air suddenly escapes. That makes the language sound harsh. Others make fun of the long word compositions or that you have to wait until the end of the sentence to finally find out the verb.

A German native speaker does not easily notice these features. It takes some distance to imagine what your own, familiar language might sound like in the ears of others, as it were perceived from the outside.

Irish comedian Dylan Moran says the German language sounds "like a typewriter that eats aluminum foil and is kicked down the cellar stairs".

Perhaps it is surprising that such assessments do not just come from the recent past, but go back a long way. Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, is said to have said 500 years ago: "I speak Spanish to God, Italian to women, French to men and German to my horse." Even then, the German language didn't do well - even if it sounded completely different from the German we speak today, yes, we probably wouldn't even have a chance to understand it.

Twain's "horror of the German language"

The American writer Mark Twain, who wrote an essay entitled "The horrors of the German language", which he presented to the Press Club in Vienna in 1897, called the study of German a grueling and bitter undertaking. He went on to write: "There is definitely no other language that comes across as disorderly and systemless and so eludes any access." Twain didn't just want to put up with it. In fact, he wanted to improve the "noble language" - as he nevertheless called it - to simplify lavish, rambling constructions, "to suppress, abolish, and destroy the eternal parenthesis; forbid the introduction of more than thirteen subjects in a sentence; the verb so far after." move forward until you can see it without a telescope. " His goal: "a splendid German language".

A hundred and fifty years later, it can be seen that his efforts were unsuccessful. Attempts to change a language in a guiding way usually lead to nothing.

Marcel Proust should be known as the writer who had a feeling for smells, noises and sounds like hardly anyone else. And he seemed to have a sympathy for the German language. And indeed it unleashed itself where one would not have expected it at all - in the name of Prince Pfaffenheim.

Or was that meant ironically?

One should judge for oneself, here is the excerpt from the novel In Search of Lost Time:

"In the freshness with which the first syllables - musically speaking - began and in the stuttering repetition that they chanted, the prince's name contained the verve, the graceful impartiality, the clumsy Germanic" delicacy ", like green foliage over the the dark blue enamel of the 'home' falls, where behind the pale, finely chased gilding of the German 18th century, the mysticism of a Rhenish church window unfolds. "

Cliffs breaking in

The French romantic Charles Nodier wrote in 1828 about the "sublime emphasis" of Greek, "similar to the sound of the currents of Peneios". The Italian rolls "in its syllables the rushing of the waterfalls and the trembling of the olive trees". It is different in the cold countries, where the words are coarse and consonant-rich: "Their resounding and bumpy sounds are reminiscent of the whispering of the torrents, the scream of the fir trees bent by the storm and the noise of the rocks breaking in," said Nodier.

Even if you want to join the comparison between language and landscape, many questions remain unanswered: Is a "hard" language automatically ugly and a "soft" one always beautiful? Do people who speak hard-sounding languages ​​themselves feel drawn to softer-sounding ones? That could explain why Germans are downright infatuated with the melodic romantic languages ​​of the south.

Speech melody and nasal sounds in French

French, for example, is characterized by a pronounced speech melody - the speaking height of the speaker fluctuates relatively strongly. Added to this are the nasal sounds typical of this language, which are perceived as musical. Italian also has many vowels, but has comparatively few ups and downs, which creates a staccato-like impression and the feeling that the language is being spoken faster.

"Melanzane parmigiana con spinaci,”... "Mozzarella! Parmigiani! Gorgonzola! "

Perhaps you remember the American comedy film A fish called Wanda, in which Jamie Lee Curtis always weakens when her film partner speaks a few half-sentences in a sonorous voice in Italian - or whatever is believed to be, because Italian is not really authentic, it sounds more like a string of culinary delicacies and fragments a language travel guide.

Likewise, an Italian opera must obviously be sung in Italian so that real connoisseurs can really enjoy it - even if only a few listeners are actually able to wrest any meaning from the language and are better off familiarizing themselves with the plot of the opera in advance.

Arabic - rough and harsh from throat sounds

As a small consolation, the Germans may find that their language is not all alone among the unloved idioms. Arabic, for example, is known for its pronounced throat sounds; the rear part of the tongue is more stressed there. That sounds rough and harsh to European ears, tends to have negative connotations, at least perceived as strange, especially since you hardly have a chance to recognize a word - apart from "Allah" or "habibi"Maybe. And all the cultural differences - even if they are often just misunderstandings - and political mix-ups do not make it easier to approach this language with the openness that it actually deserves.

Many, on the other hand, have little interest in the sound of Danish - unlike Norwegian or the much more melodious Swedish - although both languages ​​are closely related to Danish and the speakers can understand each other without any problems. It is said that the phonology of Danish is so complicated that it cannot be put into simple rules. A peculiarity is a sudden sound that occurs so often that it dominates the sound of Danish. In addition, written consonants are swallowed in the pronunciation.

No formula for the beauty of language

In search of a law for the beauty of a language, one might get the idea of ​​breaking it down into its details. Perhaps the key is in the ratio of vowels to consonants? It would be too nice to be able to develop a mathematical formula that could prove the aesthetic superiority of a particular language.

But there is no such formula. Also because the ratings vary from culture to culture. Another example: In Great Britain, for example, a larynx or crackling sound is considered ugly, in Farsi - i.e. Persian - on the other hand, it is a sign of careful, stylistic brilliance and a renunciation of it is more a sign of sloppiness.

More than two hundred years ago, the Schlegel brothers personified the German, Greek, Italian and French languages ​​and allowed them to enter into a curious competition in which each "linguist" confidently emphasizes his or her special qualities. They refer to Klopstock's "grammatical conversations", who incidentally was not embarrassed to claim a special relationship between the German and ancient Greek languages. Some of the brothers quote him directly in these dialogues. In this, the German refuses to use the "soft language" of the Italians, and even thinks that they should not "open their mouths" to the "masculine" German language. And accuses it of almost dissolving, of being monotonous and that its endings are almost always feminine. Whereupon the Italian confidently cites examples that his language describes "the strength of objects" far better. He calls "Rauco, forte, fracasco, rimbombo, orrore, squarciare, mugghiando, spaventoso ”. What the German "Hoarse, strong, roaring, echoing, shuddering, tearing, roaring, terrible "replied.

As expected, there is no solution or a winner.

There are people who have a special talent and speak many languages ​​so that they actually have the best overview. Ioannis Ikonomou, for example, who works as a translator for the European Commission in Brussels, is considered to be extremely polyglot. The native Greek speaks no less than 32 languages ​​fluently and also understands a few dead languages ​​such as Maya and Old Iranian.

"No language is not beautiful"

His answer to the question of which language is beautiful and which is less beautiful is clear: "I don't find any language beautiful at all. I also don't know what makes a language interesting. You just fall in love with a language. At least I do . " And like someone you fall in love with, Ikonomou also wants to get to know the whole history of the language. "Language is like love" - ​​beautifully said!

It can play a major role in individual perception whether it is spoken by a woman or a man, because the respective diction differs considerably. However, the tone of the voice of women is currently changing considerably - at least in Central Europe. Sociologists have found out that women's voices have decreased by an average of a third, i.e. by two to three semitones, over the past few decades, and they attribute this to emancipation. Because: a self-confident woman with a beeping voice? It just doesn't fit.

Do we find it more charming, maybe even sexy, when a French, American or Chinese person speaks German with his or her accent - or is it uncomfortable because we think he or she would not pronounce it correctly?

In the weekly newspaper "The time" a long time ago there was a rubric with the title "International understanding". This included, for example, the following instruction on:" Speak German like Italians ".

1. If a word ends with a consonant, always add an "e". Example: bosses instead of bosses

2. If -en or -er are at the end of the word, leave out the "n" or "r". Example: run, trouble

3. If there is a "ch" at the beginning or end of a word, it becomes like "sch", if it is in the middle, it is pronounced like "k". Example: "Mikaele Schumaker"

4. Never say an "H" at the beginning of a word. Example: "Unde" for "dog", "Ondurase" for "Honduras"

5. Swap "the" and "the". "That" is completely omitted. Example: "the car", "the woman"

6. Say "ä" after each sentence.

At the end of the course, the readers were then able to form the sentence in perfect Italian German:

"Mikaele Schumake's car drove slower than Onda vone my bosses, the like."

Linguists are not expected to make aesthetic judgments about languages.In return, they provide a thesis on how such aesthetic judgments can come about.

The Israeli linguist Guy Deutscher is the author of the international bestseller In the mirror of language - why the world looks different in other languages and does research at the University of Manchester. He explained it to me like this:

"Some sounds like m, b, g and d exist in almost all languages, while others are more rare and appear in fewer languages, for example Swedish 'sj', German / Dutch 'ch' as ​​in 'Buch', English 'th'. If a language has sounds that occur less frequently, speakers of other languages ​​who are not familiar with these sounds run the risk of sounding less pleasant to their ears for example consonant clusters, take for example the combination 'lbstv ‘ in ,Of course'. Italian, on the other hand, has very few sounds (if at all) that do not appear in other European languages, and also few consonant clusters; it is generally seen as a 'beautiful' language. That shouldn't be a coincidence. Of course, cultural prejudices also play a role. "

For example, I was surrounded by the Turkish language in Berlin from my earliest days. I took note of it; it didn't sound particularly beautiful to my ears. But the first courses at the community college helped me identify and understand words. It soon became clear to me that the Turkish language, which belongs to the large family of Turkic languages, is structured completely differently from the Indo-European. It distinguishes that meaningful units are attached to words, linguists speak of an agglutinating language. For those who are not used to this, it demands a lot of mental acrobatics.

I hear Turkish with different ears today. Also with a certain respect for people who speak this difficult language so well.

In the English-speaking world, an astonishing change has taken place in relation to the German language. Until around a hundred years ago, German was associated with artists of the Romantic era, with philosophers, musicians and intellectuals. A certain naivety and passivity were ascribed to the German - in any case they saw no threat in it.

It is no coincidence that reservations about the German language are deeply rooted in America to this day. At a certain point there was a break: with the entry of the United States into the First World War in 1917, the German language and any manifestation of German nationality in general became suspect and ostracized, and in many cases even persecuted. As part of a campaign launched in 1915 American Defense Society German was then branded as the "Hunnish language". From then on it was banned as the language of instruction, and even streets were renamed German savings bank became the Central Savings Bank, the Germania Life Insurance. Became the Guardian Life Insurance. And sauerkraut was only allowed liberty cabbage be called, the hamburger became that Salisbury Steak.

While the Japanese have been able to shake off the reputation of representing a "yellow threat" over the decades, the prejudices against the Germans have proven to be more tenacious. Why they continue to be written, even though the Americans, British and Germans are allies today in many respects, remains a question that needs to be explained. Because basically English and German are very close to each other in terms of linguistic history.

The inherent value hypothesis

Prejudices about a certain language are continued at the level of regional variants. It's hard to understand today, but until a few decades ago the absurd "c"Many followers. This hypothesis states that reputation is inherent in a standard dialect or has a biological basis. Amazingly, this hypothesis has been maintained for a long time, although it is easy to refute. For example, speakers of French Canadian perceive their language variant as less aesthetic than the standard French spoken in France, but if both variants are played to Welsh who do not speak French, they cannot detect any aesthetic differences.

In other words: aesthetic judgments that affect the mentality or personality of a certain ethnic group are nothing more than social myths. Of course, that does not mean that such thought structures are without meaning, they can still develop great power and defy all rational attempts at explanation.

Linguists call the opposite position that social connotations hypothesis. Accordingly, it is a consequence of social conventions that a dialect is associated with pleasant or unpleasant associations. A standard or high-level language is not superior or elegant in and of itself; the judgment is rather socially constructed.

Conversely, social differences can very well be identified in dialects. Between city and province, for example. Between adult and youth culture. How someone speaks often allows conclusions to be drawn about their origin, their ethnic group, their education, the milieu - the Frisian farmer with his flat, the Russian-German with his rolling "R", the genitive of the educated citizen, the Oxford English of the upper class.

In reality they may be rich in nuances, metaphors or foreign loanwords - dialects tend to be socially devalued, tend to be associated with the lower class, with the common rural population, as vulgarly vilified or only spoken in leisure time or in relatives. Worse still: If someone does not speak the standard language, they may be denied certain professional opportunities, for example management functions.

Conversely, a political force is hidden here - speaking a dialect can be a form of self-assertion by an oppressed minority. You can use it to enclose things that are meant differently. Think of the subversive role that their language played in the emancipation of Afro-Americans.

Being able to hear foreign, exotic languages ​​is an advantage of our globalized world. Today we can dial into almost any television or radio station on earth with a few clicks of the mouse and listen to the sound of strangers.

Ugly - hard - melodious? It doesn't seem particularly wise to be on hand with a quick assessment. It pays to think about how we come to see a language one way or another. We have to recognize that our own language is only one facet in a gigantic mosaic of sound.

Bernd Brunnerlives in Berlin and Istanbul and has published books and essays on the "art of lying down", the "invention of the Christmas tree" and the relationship between people and bears.