Saturday, 11 May 2013

Deutsch kann ich schon

The standard whine of all foreigners trying to learn German is: The genders for nouns make no sense. Der Löffel, die Gabel, das Messer (the spoon masculine, the fork feminine, the knife neuter). And der Betrieb, die Firma, das Unternehmen (the company masculine, the company feminine, the company neuter).

I tried this whine on my colleagues in a slightly different form: normally nouns ending with e are feminine, but then there is "der Name", how annoying is that. This whine was a mistake. They told me that it makes perfect sense, since "name" is masculine in Latin.

Indeed, it sometimes feels like I should learn Latin to be able to learn German. At least it would help.

For example:
"Essential" derives from to Latin "essentia" which refers to "being". Similarly, "essential" in German, "wesentlich", contains "wesen" which somehow is the same verb stem as "sein" (to be), e.g., "ist gewesen" (has been). The verb "essen" (to eat), is, however, not related.

And undoubtedly knowing both German and Latin would be useful:

Unterhalten sich zwei Freunde. Sagt der eine: "Ich lerne jetzt Latein." Fragt der andere: "Warum?" "Ich habe gehört dass man in Himmel Latein spricht." "Und woher weißt du dass du in den Himmel kommst?" "Das weiß ich nicht, aber Deutsch kann ich schon."

(Two friends are discussing. One says: "I'm studying Latin nowadays." The other asks: "Why?" "I heard that they speak Latin in heaven." "And how do you know you'll go to heaven?" "That I don't know, but I already speak German.")


  1. There is a slight difference between Betrieb, Firma und Unternehmen. A Betrieb is more a industrial production site, while I would say that a Firma is a small firm. A Unternehmen is more of a bigger company. And there is a reason, why we Germans have such a compilcated language. When somebody invades us, they are so occupied understanding what we say, that the occupation won't last long.

  2. "Name" is actually neuter in Latin (nomen). Latin won't help you with the German genders, there are a lot of differences. Besides, the average Latin student unfortunately never comes to know the vocabulary he/she needs in everyday life. But it is a beautiful and precise language! It encourages me to reflect about modern foreign languages and my mother tongue.