Advantages of German

Advantages of German are humorously described by Mark Twain in his book A Tramp Abroad [1880]


by Mark Twain

A little learning makes the whole world kin.--Proverbs xxxii, 7.

In German, all the Nouns begin with a capital letter.

Now that is a good idea; and a good idea, in this language, is necessarily conspicuous from its lonesomeness.

I consider this capitalizing of nouns a good idea, because by reason of it you are almost always able to tell a noun the minute you see it.

You fall into error occasionally, because you mistake the name of a person for the name of a thing, and waste a good deal of time trying to dig a meaning out of it.

German names almost always do mean something, and this helps to deceive the student. I translated a passage one day, which said that "the infuriated tigress broke loose and utterly ate up the unfortunate fir forest" (Tannenwald). When I was girding up my loins to doubt this, I found out that Tannenwald in this instance was a man's name.

Having pointed out, in detail, the several vices of this language [detailed on the web page Difficulties of German], I now come to the brief and pleasant task of pointing out its virtues.

The capitalizing of the nouns I have already mentioned.

But far before this virtue stands another--that of spelling a word according to the sound of it.

After one short lesson in the alphabet, the student can tell how any German word is pronounced without having to ask;

whereas in our language if a student should inquire of us, "What does B, O, W, spell?" we should be obliged to reply, "Nobody can tell what it spells when you set if off by itself; you can only tell by referring to the context and finding out what it signifies--whether it is a thing to shoot arrows with, or a nod of one's head, or the forward end of a boat."

There are some German words which are singularly and powerfully effective.

For instance, those which describe lowly, peaceful, and affectionate home life;

those which deal with love, in any and all forms, from mere kindly feeling and honest good will toward the passing stranger, clear up to courtship;

those which deal with outdoor Nature, in its softest and loveliest aspects--with meadows and forests, and birds and flowers, the fragrance and sunshine of summer, and the moonlight of peaceful winter nights; in a word, those which deal with any and all forms of rest, respose, and peace;

those also which deal with the creatures and marvels of fairyland;

and lastly and chiefly, in those words which express pathos, is the language surpassingly rich and affective. There are German songs which can make a stranger to the language cry. That shows that the SOUND of the words is correct--it interprets the meanings with truth and with exactness; and so the ear is informed, and through the ear, the heart.

The Germans do not seem to be afraid to repeat a word when it is the right one. they repeat it several times, if they choose. That is wise.

But in English, when we have used a word a couple of times in a paragraph, we imagine we are growing tautological, and so we are weak enough to exchange it for some other word which only approximates exactness, to escape what we wrongly fancy is a greater blemish. Repetition may be bad, but surely inexactness is worse.


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