History Of The German Language
The Germanic languages departed from the other
Indo-European languages by a shift in sounds called the First Germanic Sound
Shift, and by other distinguishing features as well. More detail can be found here.
The language we now call German departed from the
other Germanic languages (mainly English, Dutch, Scandinavian and the now
extinct Gothic) by a shift in sounds called the Second Germanic Sound Shift. Its
effect can still be seen by comparing modern German words with their English
cognates: pound->Pfund, pipe->Pfeife, hope->hoffen,
apple->Apfel, plant->Pflanze, tide->Zeit,
cat->Katze, heart->Herz, hate->hassen,
The rules for this sound shift are:
p->f, pp->pf, t->ss, tt->ts
(written [t]z), k->ch, kk->kch, where
initial p, t and k are treated like their doubled
counterparts. The p->(p)f shift is quite regular, and so is the
t->(t)s shift, which is somewhat blurred by the later
differentiation between tz and ss. The k->(k)ch
shift, however, is fully in effect only in Swiss German; in standard German and
in most of its dialects we find kk (written [c]k) instead of kch.
(The characters in square brackets are not written initially in a syllable.)
The Second Sound Shift divides Germany into a smaller
Northern part (without the sound shift) and a larger central and Southern part
(with the sound shift). The border between the two regions approximates a line
passing through Cologne (Köln) and Berlin, but there is a more or less fuzzy
region of more than a hundred kilometres width south of that line where the
language underwent the Seconds Sound Shift only partially. In Western Germany,
for instance, the non-initial t (e.g. dat and wat instead
of das and was) reaches much farther south than most of the other
non-shifted sounds. There are several central German dialects that have neither
initial p nor pf, but f instead. The other countries where
German is spoken are all south of this line. More
Young children attend a Kindergarten
(children's garden). Gesundheit doesn't really mean "bless
you," it means "health" -- the good variety being implied.
Psychiatrists speak of Angst (fear) and Gestalt (form) psychology,
and when something is broken, it's kaputt. Although not every
English-speaker knows that Fahrvergnügen is "driving
pleasure," most do know that Volkswagen means "people's
car." Musical works can have a Leitmotiv. Our cultural view of the
world is called a Weltanschauung by historians or philosophers. Such
terms are commonly understood by most well-read English-speakers.
More English words borrowed from German:
(Notice how many have to do with food!) - blitz, blitzkrieg, cobalt, dachshund,
delicatessen, ersatz, frankfurter, glockenspiel, hinterland, infobahn (for
"information highway"), kaffeeklatsch, Munster and Limburger (cheeses
named for German cities), pilsner (glass, beer), pretzel, quartz, rucksack,
sauerkraut, schnaps, (apple) strudel, waltz, wiener. From Low German:
brake, dote, tackle.
Germanic cognate terms:
(Shared in common; mostly family-related words, parts of the body, and old basic
words) - der Arm, der Ball, der Bruder, die Hand, das Haus, das Ende, das Gold,
gut (good), der Finger, lang, der Mann, die Maus, Montag (Monday), die Mutter,
der Vater, die Schwester (sister), der Sohn, die Tochter (daughter), das Wasser,
das Wort (word).
English in German:
The following German words have been borrowed from English. Usually the only
difference is the use of the German article (the - der, die, or das - masc.,
fem., neu.) and the capitalization used for all German nouns. The pronunciation
is usually similar to English, but sometimes with a unique German twist. They
are usually German's more recent borrowings. English terms: das Baby, der
Babysitter, babysitten (to babysit), das Bodybuilding, das Callgirl, der Clown,
der Cocktail, der Computer, fit (in good shape), die Garage, das Golf (der Golf
is "the gulf" or a VW model), das Hobby, der Job, joggen (to jog), der
Killer, killen (to kill), der Lift (elevator), der Manager, managen (to manage),
das Musical, der Playboy, der Pullover, der Rum, der Smog, der Snob, der Streik,
das Team, der Teenager, das Ticket, der Tunnel, der Trainer (coach), der Waggon
Loan Words from French (Französisch)
The following German words look like English words, but they are actually words
from French that both English and German have adopted. They are more recent than
the Latin borrowings below. French borrowings include: das Abenteuer
(adventure), die Armee, das Ballett, die Chance, fein (fine), galoppieren, der
General, die Infanterie, die Kanone, die Lanze (lance), der Offizier, die
Parade, die Parole (saying, motto),der Platz (place, square), der Preis (prize,
price), der Prinz, die Prinzessin, der Tanz (dance), die Uniform.
Loan Words from Latin (Latein)
Both English and German have borrowed heavily from Latin. Latin was the language
of the universities in Germany and the rest of Europe during the Middle Ages.
Because such words are very old and have undergone changes over the centuries,
some are not very obvious equivalents. For example, the German word Birne
comes from Latin pirum which gave us the English word pear. Some other
Latin loan words: aktiv, der Altar, der Atlas, die Disziplin, der Esel (ass,
donkey), das Examen, die Feige (fig), das Fieber (fever), der Kaiser (Caesar,
emperor), die Kammer (chamber), die Kamera, der Kanzler (chancellor), der Keller
(cellar), das Klima, das Kloster (cloister), das Kreuz (cross), die Lilie
(lily), der Markt (market), die Meile (mile), das Münster (minster, church),
die Münze (money, coin), opfern (to offer, sacrifice), die Pforte (portal), das
Pfund (pound), die Rose, der Student/die Studentin, die Tafel (tablet), der Wein
The German Umlaut ("diaeresis" in English)
The two dots sometimes placed over the German vowels a, o, and u are known as an
Umlaut. The umlauted vowels ä, ö and ü (and their capitalized
equivalents Ä, Ö, Ü) are actually a shortened form for ae, oe and ue
respectively. At one time the e was placed above the vowel, but as time went by
the e transformed into just two dots. In telegrams and in plain (ASCII) computer
text the umlauted forms still appear as ae, oe and ue. A German typewriter or
computer keyboard includes separate keys for the three umlauted characters (plus
the ß, the so-called "sharp s" character). The umlauted letters are
distinct from plain a, o, or u, and they are pronounced differently.
The Swiss-Germans have managed to get along just fine without the ß for many
years, and with the new spelling reforms being introduced in all three
German-speaking countries, Switzerland may not be alone much longer. For more
about Rechtschreibreform see the New
German Spelling Rules from a German Web site.
It's a doozy!
The English expression "doozy" (also "doozie") -- as in
"Man, that one was a real doozy!" -- comes from the name of
German-American car maker Frederick S. Duesenberg (1877-1932, born in Lippe,
Germany) and his luxurious high-powered Duesenberg roadster. The
American-built Duesenberg SJ could reach speeds of 130 mph (210 km/h). The
Duesenberg Motor Company produced its streamlined, elegant motor cars from
1917 to 1937 to compete with similar expensive roadsters such as the Italian
On a related but different note, "Dear Doosie" by Werner
Lansburgh (Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag) is a humorous love story that plays off
of the German Du / Sie problem -- hence the title. Written in an
interesting mix of English and German, the book can be read by anyone with at
least an intermediate command of German and a good German-English dictionary.
Written in the form of a series of letters, "Dear Doosie" has
fun with the hazards of learning another language, in this case, a German
learning English. But the book is also helpful for English-speaking learners
of German -- and an amusing read besides.
NOTE: This book may be available from Amazon.de.
The Germans have a word for it
English may have more
vocabulary than any other language, but that doesn't mean it has a word for
everything. Every language has words and expressions that are unique and very
difficult or impossible to translate into another language. The Eskimos,
contrary to popular legend, do NOT really have fifty words for snow, but German gemütlich
takes several words to explain in English: cozy, comfortable, warm, inviting,
and hospitable. Sometimes these words or expressions are adopted wholesale into
another language -- Kindergarten and Gesundheit (health), for
example, from German into English. But more often the word is just unknown in
other languages. German is a rich language that has words and turns of phrases
that have no equal in English. (The reverse is just as true, of course.)
German makes certain distinctions that English does not. For English "to
know" German has two words, each reflecting the difference between knowing
something through understanding (wissen) and knowing something through
recognition (kennen). A German can also understand immediately from the
use of one of two distinct verbs whether an object has been "put" on a
surface in a standing (stellen) or a lying (legen) position. When
it comes to eating, animals and humans in German have two different words: fressen
is used for non-humans, while people essen.
Some German expressions, such as Schadenfreude (a malicious pleasure or
gloating over another's misfortune), don't really have an English equivalent.
("Crocodile tears" -- Krokodiltränen -- aren't really the same
thing.) The adjective überfragt (lit., "over-asked," as in
"Da bin ich überfragt." "You've got me there. I don't have the
answer.") has no one-word English equivalent either.
German slang and colorful expressions
One common mistake made by
beginning language learners is to assume that expressions can be translated
word-for-word from one language into another. (See "A Dictionary Can Be a
Dangerous Thing" above.) They'll take an expression such as "to bite
the dust" and render it into something like "zu beissen den Staub."
Besides its word order problems (the phrase would go "den Staub beissen"
in German), this literal translation makes absolutely no sense to a
German-speaker. In the German language, when one "bites the dust," one
actually "bites into the grass" (ins Gras beissen), perhaps because
Germany is much greener than the wild West associated with this expression in
English, although the German expression goes all the way back to the 16th
These are words which mean the same in German as in English. There is probably a
slight difference in pronunciation. But the words are the same in both
languages. By working on lists like this, vocabulary in a foreign language
Additional resources with things which may be
familiar to you:
For vocabulary expansion, try these:
words of one syllable with some explanation (in English)
The BBC offers online German Language training. MORE.
und Präteritumformen (matching infinitives with past-tense
stems of strong verbs)
Substantive und Pronomina
Click HERE to continue.
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