Fun Facts about your language

"Every language is as unique as a person: It has its wonderful, but at times also crazy or funny characteristics. While learning a new language, you focus mostly on the complicated parts of a language, let’s laugh and wonder a bit about some fun facts of a language.

Here are some for German:

  • Ancient German had five grammatical cases, modern German has four and German in the future will maybe only have two or three. The Genitiv case is already dying out and in some dialects also Dativ disappears. :sob:

  • The adjective “deutsch” means “as common people speak”, but was also used as “pagan language”. :roll_eyes:

  • For some German dialects, especially Swiss German, a so-called “Idiotikon” exists - a dictionary which explains dialectal expressions. :blush:

  • The standard German is based on the first Bible in German, translated by Martin Luther (finished around 1530). He wanted every German to be able to read the Bible, that’s why he used a mix of the various dialects that everyone was able to understand. Many of the expressions used in this Bible are still common in modern German. :innocent:

And what about your language? Do you know some funny or interesting facts about it? :grinning:

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:astonished: :astonished: I had no idea! These are fascinating language facts :blush:. Sadly I don’t know that many facts about Spanish but… I do know that Spanish is an official language not only in some countries in America and Europe but also in Africa and Oceania.

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Wow, I didn’t know standard German was a mix of all the dialects!

Some fun facts about my native language, English:

  • Shakespeare was certainly English, but if he came to life today he would sound more like an American than his own countrymen! This is because of how the American and British accents have changed over time: American accents were more isolated and changed less than those of the British. The American predilection to pronounce every R (think American “wah-turr” vs. British “wah-tah” for “water”) and to keep the “a” sound broad (think American “paath” vs. British “pahth” for the word “path”) are both holdovers from Shakespeare’s day. It’s actually a bit more complicated (and fascinating!) than what I’ve laid out here; this article gets into the details: https://www.bbc.com/culture/article/20180207-how-americans-preserved-british-english

  • When I was a kid I used to wonder why we seemed to have two completely different words for everything, usually a “normal” word and a “fancy” word. If you are at home, for example, you will certainly say you hit your “finger” with a hammer, but later at the doctor’s office with a broken pinky the doctor might very likely write that you injured a “digit.” Similarly, if you’re going about the very mundane activity of trying to decide what to eat for dinner, you might “think” about it, but to have a real, deep confrontation with your inner-self, you’ll have to “contemplate.” There are innumerable examples of these ordinary/fancy pairs: brother/fraternal; cat/feline; milk/lactose – they’re everywhere in English! It turns out that generally the “ordinary” word is Germanic in origin, and the “fancy” word is Latin/French in origin. This is because of the Norman conquest of England back in the 11th century: the French were the rulers and so French-derived words that entered English became “fancy,” while the words of German-origin remained our “ordinary” and most frequently used words. This is also why English has words like “cow” vs. “beef” and “pig” vs. “pork:” the Anglo-Saxons were doing the raising and the hunting, so the English words for live animals come from them, while the wealthy French were doing the wining and dining, hence the English language’s inheritance of their animal words for food. This is also probably why French still sounds “fancy” or “romantic” to English-speaking ears even today! :slight_smile:

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What a great answer, you mentioned many facts I didn’t know!
Would you still understand Shakespeare’s texts when you read them?

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Native English speakers can understand Shakespeare, though most will need footnotes to cover some of the more exotic usages in his texts. Most students are required to read a number of Shakespeare’s plays in their school days — I had a middling education and was required to read Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Othello, Julius Caesar, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream before graduating high school at age 18.

But that doesn’t mean Shakespeare’s English isn’t often confusing to English speakers! We can take for example one of the most famous lines of all of Shakespeare’s works, from Romeo and Juliet. Here Juliet has already fallen in love with Romeo. She is standing at her balcony, wistfully looking out into the night, thinking of how unfortunate it is that she has fallen in love with the one boy she can’t have, a boy whose family — the Montagues — are the sworn enemies of Juliet and her family, the Capulets. In a sigh of frustration and longing, Juliet exclaims to the night:

O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo!

These lines are so famous that they are a cliché in English, known to almost everyone. Yet even as English speakers are comfortable with Shakespeare’s art’s and thou’s, many misunderstand the word “wherefore” to mean “where,” and believe Juliet is looking out into the night and saying “Where are you, Romeo?” This interpretation is coincidentally supported by the fact that Romeo appears to Juliet just after she gives this speech. But “wherefore,” like German “wofür,” actually means more like “why,” (technically “for what”) as in “Romeo, why did you have to be Romeo!” Juliet is actually saying: “Why couldn’t Romeo have had a different name?” This reading becomes clearer when you look at the line in the context of the speech in which it is given:

O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy father and refuse thy name.
Or if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love
And I’ll no longer be a Capulet.
‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy:
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? It is nor hand nor foot
Nor arm nor face nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O be some other name.
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name, which is no part of thee,
Take all myself.

Here you can see how poetic Shakespeare’s English is, and yet how similar to modern English it can be. But even as many English-speakers have this speech memorized word-for-word, they may still misunderstand the meaning of the first line!

As with the wherefore/wofür relationship, there is actually much interest in Shakespeare for German speakers. Shakespeare’s English, for instance, conjugates the second-person ending the same way as German does. So, for example, where modern English would call for “you speak,” Shakespeare’s English instead demands “thou speak’st,” exactly as German’s “du sprichst.” In fact, the relationship is so close that sometimes the words are exactly the same! For Shakespeare, modern “you have” is “thou hast,” exactly as German’s “du hast,” and this is not exotic for English speakers — none would need footnotes to understand “remember whom thou hast” (The Tempest). Shakespeare’s English also still preserves a formal and informal “you,” as in German, with “thou” standing for informal second-person and “you” for the formal. By reading Shakespeare, we can really see how English has evolved from its roots in German — it’s such a eureka moment every time I’m reading and I make these connections! It’d fill a book to catalogue them all.

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