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Posts Tagged ‘Mark Twain’

Not Hamburger sandwiches, nor Frankfurter sandwiches, but maybe some Basler sandwiches:

One of the things that makes German syntax so difficult to follow is the way a long string of words (many clauses, in fact) can be sandwiched between two words that relate closely to each other.

Especially common are what I call “article sandwiches.”  In English we normally sandwich an adjective between the definite article and its noun: the man, the big man, the big, bad wolf.  We don’t usually, however, sandwich prepositional phrases or relative clauses between a noun and its article.  German writers, it seems, love to do this.

We don’t say things like, “the in-the-moon man” or “the whom-everyone-loves man.”  Those would make perfectly good German.  Observe how many words intervene between “die” and “Bekanntschaft” in the following example—and how many words between “dem” and “Gott.”

Das Eine, worauf es ankommt, ist die nie selbstverständliche, nie schon vorhandene, von keinem Theologen in keiner geistigen oder geistlichen Tasche schon mitgebrachte Bekanntschaft mit dem von den Göttern aller anderen Theologien so wunderlich verschiedenen Gott des Evangeliums.

There are several thoughts embedded in this one long sentence.  They could be broken down something like this:

  • Das wichtigste Ding ist die Bekanntschaft mit dem Gott des Evangeliums.
  • Dieser Gott ist so wunderlisch verschieden von den Göttern aller anderen Theologien.
  • Aber die Bekanntschaft mit diesem Gott ist nie selbstverständliche, nie schon vorhandene.
  • Kein Theologe kann sie  in einer geistigen oder geistlichen Tasche (so zu sagen) schon mitbringen.
  • Why are the thoughts combined into one sentence?  Doing so better shows how the ideas are related to each other.  Moreover, it allows a certain climactic conclusion; in this case leaving the focus on the words “Gott des Evangeliums.”

    On the other hand, maybe Mark Twain was right. . .

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    A friend of a friend sent me this link to Podcasts in German.  The Literature includes the Bible a well as Don Quichote (to think, I always thought that book was in Spanish) as well as Mark Twain, Kafka, and others.  It takes a little navigating to get to the podcasts, then you have to copy and paste, but it is worth the effort.  I listened to the first chapter of Genesis, and the quality was quite impressive.

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