Worth reading: Mark Twain, “The Awful German Language”

This essay on the german language is definitely worth reading. Especially if one has ever taken a german class as I recently have.

I found the text here. I made a nice pdf version Mark Twain, The Awful German Language.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Simen

    The essay is funny, certainly. Of course, those things are part of what’s great about German. A German might easily have written a similar article about “The Awful English Language”, or “The Awful Danish Language”, or “The Awful Chinese Language”. Every language we don’t know seems needlessly complicated, either too vague or too precise, either too complex or too simple, depending on what languages we’re already familiar with. In reality, every language is weird, contains redundancy, and is equal parts simple and complex. That’s part of the joy of languages.

  2. Emil Kirkegaard

    Some natural languages are better than others, though. I don’t find the criticism of how german sounds to be worthwhile. To me german doesn’t sound bad, but I use a similar language. The criticism of its grammatical system is fair enough in principle, though I’m not sure of all the details.

    But even a german may write an article about the awful german language. The reason that it is improbable is partly that a country’s language is a national symbol. When I first started speaking out against danish some people were surprised that I did so, being a native speaker of the language.

    Another reason why beginners of a language are often the loudest critics is that they go through the rules of the language and see how inconsistent they are. A native speaker has simply gotten used to them by practice. I write and read english on a near native level (or something to that extend) but I don’t know many of the rules, I still write ‘correct’ english though because of a lot of practice. I may know more rules of german than I do of danish or english.

  3. Simen

    That’s where we disagree. I don’t think some natural languages are better than others for the purpose they evolved for, which is communication (within some specific group). Any given language’s idiosyncracies tend to cancel out when compared to the idiosyncracies of other languages. For instance the Kuuk Thaayorre tribe (I’ve written about this here, if it interests you) speak a language that has no up, down, left or right. There are no terms relative to the speaker, there are only absolute directions like north, south, east, west. That is certainly one way to talk about space, with its own peculair set of advantages and disadvantages. But is it really inferior to the way we talk about space? And even if it is, there are probably constructs in the Kuuk Thaayorre language that are superior to the misfeatures of English (for communicative purposes).

Leave a Reply