Clear51° WeatherClear51° Weather

Germans debate place for language

BERLIN — Mark Twain famously dissed it, legions of Hollywood "bad guys" have hissed it and now Tina Fey has definitively pronounced the German language "so uncool."

All that aside, members of Chancellor Angela Merkel's ruling Christian Democratic party agreed at a recent party conference to seek to "anchor" the German language in the nation's constitution.

The proposal envisions a six-word phrase being added to the 22nd article, which stipulates Berlin as the capital city and the German flag as horizontally striped black, red and gold: "The language of the Federal Republic of Germany is German."

It's no real surprise some Germans feel a need to prop up their language.

With its four cases, three genders, maze of clauses and propensity for hanging verbs at the end of unusually long sentences, even Germans poke fun at their native tongue.

Americans have wrangled over the centuries with the complexities of Teutonic sentence structure, most famously Mark Twain in his 1880 essay on The Awful German Language.

"Surely there is not another language that is so slipshod and systemless, and so slippery and elusive to the grasp," Twain wrote of German, adding that a person "is washed about in it, hither and thither, in the most helpless way."

At that time, German Romanticism was the world's dominant cultural movement and the German language was linked to the great "Dichter und Denker" or "Poets and Philosophers," such as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel.

But by the end of World War II, Adolf Hitler and the Nazis had given the language a bad name — and a German accent became the trademark of a true Hollywood bad-guy.

More than 60 years on, German still gets a bad rap.

Fey recently told Vanity Fair that she speaks "less than first-grade" German and has her character in comedy show do so, too, because "German is 'so uncool.' "

Yet despite the World War II stigma, some of the strongest support for the German language proposal came from Germany's Central Council of Jews.

"The German language is part of the national identity," the council's general secretary Stefan Kramar said. "It is not exclusive, but is part of the identification with our country."

The Christian Democrats' resolution — which Merkel opposes — comes as Germany debates ways to better integrate its millions of immigrants, many of them Turks who moved to Germany as guest workers in the '60s and still struggle to speak German.

For many Germans, enshrining the language is more about strengthening the country's image internationally than fears about foreign influence.

"It's about our self-confidence in Europe," Volker Kauder, head of the Christian Democrats' faction in parliament, told the Bild am Sonntag weekly.

Seventeen EU states guarantee their native tongues in their constitutions, including neighboring France and German-speaking Austria. German is also a national language in Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Luxembourg.

Since 2006, Germany has lobbied hard to have the language elevated to "official" status in the European Union, alongside English and French.

"This would support our efforts to have German — the most widely spoken language in Europe — included as an official working language in the European Union," Kauder said.

Germans debate place for language 12/13/08 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 4:46pm]

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Associated Press Writer.
    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...