8 fun facts about the German language
02 February, 2018 Languages Erin O'Neill
Learning German is no easy feat, but it is well worth the effort. Germany is often called the country of poets and thinkers; Sigmund Freud, Albert Einstein, and Johann Sebastian Bach were all native-German speakers.
Getting to grips with this language can also help to further your career; opening up opportunities to work within Germany’s flourishing economy. Read on to discover some surprising facts about the German language:
IT’S NOT JUST SPOKEN IN GERMANY
German is one of the most widely spoken languages in the European Union. It is the official language of Germany, Austria, and Liechtenstein, and one of the official languages of Switzerland and Luxembourg.
ALL NOUNS ARE CAPITALISED
In English, only proper nouns like people’s names and the names of countries and cities are capitalised. In German every single noun is capitalised.
GERMAN WORDS HAVE THREE GENDERS
In the German language, nouns are one of three genders – masculine, feminine, or neuter. This can be confusing for English-speaking language learners, as English does not gender its nouns in this way. The gender of a word is purely grammatical, and does not have to comply with the object it is naming.
COMPOUND WORDS ARE COMMON
A lot of words in German are created by fusing together smaller words. For instance, the word staubsauger (hoover) is made up of staub (dust) and saugen (to suck). Another example is the joining of hand (hand) with schuhe (shoes) to create handschuhe, which means literally ‘hand shoes’, or gloves in English.
A 63 LETTER WORD
The German language once boasted a 63 letter word: rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz. It means ‘the law concerning the delegation of duties for the supervision of cattle marking and the labelling of beef’. It was however considered too much of a mouthful, and made obsolete in 2013.
THE GERMAN ALPHABET HAS MORE CONSONANTS THAN THE ENGLISH ALPHABET
The German alphabet contains an extra consonant, ß, representing a double-S. You never find ß at the beginning of a word, and it is not always interchangeable with SS, for instance the German words masse and maße mean two different things (mass and dimensions).
ENGLISH AND GERMAN SHARE 60% OF THEIR VOCABULARY
When English speakers learn German they will find a lot of words are the same, or similar, in both languages – German and English share more than half of their vocabulary. In comparison, English and French share just 27%. The similarities are not always helpful, as is the case with the word gift, meaning poison in German – very different to the English meaning.
GERMAN CONTAINS WORDS THAT DON’T EXIST IN ENGLISH
There are German words that exist that have no equivalent in English. For example, schadenfreude describes happiness derived from somebody else’s misfortune.