RammTalk 20: Let's change the subject

September 23, 2012
English is a flexible language; lazy even.  We throw sentences together in a pick n' mix fashion, so 'I see the man', or 'the man is seen by me,' or even 'I  went for a walk with the man.'  In essence, the man seems to know his place and obediently follows us as we dot him around a sentence, and we don't give a second thought to that little word 'the', as it stays the same wherever we put it.

And yet, we don't say 'I see he' or 'he sees I', or even 'the man is seen by I', as we instinctively know we need to say 'I see him, he sees me; he is seen by me.'  So what's going on in our own language?  It's grammar, pure and simple.  Suddenly we find our language is not so flexible after all, and even English draws the line somewhere (although we do permit the Wurzels to sing, 'I seez 'ee an' 'ee seez I,' as this is local dialect in the West Country.

German is very different.  It is the Nanny McPhee of all modern languages, rapping you over the knuckles if you misplace a word and tutting furiously if you don't know whether a fish is a he, she or an it before you start.  Let's go back to the man.  If he's the subject of the sentence, in German he's 'der Mann.' Who's the daddy? He's the daddy. But if he's the object of a sentence (as in 'I see the man,') then der Mann changes to den Mann.  Ask yourself 'who sees?' to get the subject (I do, so I am the subject); what do I see? (the man, so he is now the object of the sentence.) The grammar term for subject is called the Nominative. The object is called the Accusative. In English, we also have an indirect object (with the man, to the man), and this is called the Dative. Does it change in German too? Of course; we move from der Mann (nominative) to den Mann (accusative) to dem Mann (dative.)

If all this sounds confusing, don't worry.  Golden rule is, know two things in German about a noun (person, place or thing) before you start - its gender (male, female or neuter, if it is der, die or das) and position in a sentence. And take more interest in English, be aware of the rules that govern our own language as they will help you master others.


 

RammTalk 19: A question of class, innit?

September 2, 2012
The words you use (terminology) and how you say them (pronunciation) give away either the class you are, or, in the case of those taking elocution lessons, the class you want to be.  You may think this stuff was all firmly consigned to the past, but an interesting book, Watching the English (by Kate Fox) reveals it to be alive and kicking in our linguistic present.

Upper classes like to think their way of speaking is correct, as lower classes swallow their t's and drop their h's (with to wiv; ...
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RammTalk 18: German Boot Camp (Delta)

August 18, 2012
If you're interested in learning German and don't know where to start, then try cognates.  A cognate is a word that either sounds the same and/or looks the same in two different languages.  So Mutter/mother, Vater/father, Bruder/brother, mein/mine (my), dein/thine (your) - if you learn the pairing (and the sound shift that altered the German from English,) you will quickly pick up new vocabulary.  It's all about rules:  learn the rule, accept that there are always exceptions to rules, and you...
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RammTalk 17: I no understand you

July 10, 2012
Taking a brief pause from the excellent editorial by Alexander Gorkow in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung (South Germany's newspaper, and yes, dear fans, I'm translating as fast as I can!), I am (dis)gruntled enough to want to throw the gauntlet down to Rammstein:  why now miss a golden opportunity to reach a wider English-speaking audience with a quality editorial that has taken weeks to assemble?

How often does any journalist get to reveal the inner sanctum of the band's psyche, yet alone one who kn...
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RammTalk 16: A Translator's Torment

June 17, 2012
No translator will ever be satisfied with words they've hand chiseled on the Bianco marble of the blank A4 page.  They beat themselves up in a literal sense, hurling words around the room before committing to print, then use that little-known weapon of mass interpretation (the backspace key) to eradicate any imperfection in tense or word order.  The whole process takes double the time it did to write the original, as you weave back and forth 'twixt the German and English (to the point you que...
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RammTalk 15: The Long Bag We Drag Behind Us

May 26, 2012
This is the title of a fascinating article by the poet Robert Ely.  In short, he describes how we all drag round an invisible bag, and in it we put the parts of ourselves we don't like.  This is our shadow, the dark side.  It's like Jekyll and Hyde - the respectable Doctor on the outside hides the rampant beast on the inside.  As we get older, we continue with the bag stuffing, which depletes our very life force.  If we're angry, it goes in the bag.  Disappointment, envy, greed, lust, they al...
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RammTalk 14: German Boot Camp (Charlie)

May 12, 2012
Mutter, Haifisch, Messer = mother, shark, knife, are nouns, which are words you can put 'the' or 'a' in front of, and describe a person, place, thing, animal or idea.  In English nouns, place names and people's names start with a capital letter - in German, ALL nouns start with a capital letter, no exception.  So words like Dog, Thought, Paris, Man, Woman, & Child would all have initial capitals.  Or in Rammspeak song titles, so would Shark, Mother, Longing, Angel, my Heart burns.

Another diff...
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RammTalk 13: The Outsider Comes Home

May 1, 2012
I was in two minds whether to take a train or a canoe to work this week - the wettest April in England since records began has prompted old men with beards to contact London Zoo and offer to lead animals out two-by-two to the safety of a hastily constructed ark.  It's appropriate that rain doesn't rhyme with sun or heat:  it hangs around instead causing trouble on street corners with pain, lame, blame and insane.  It got me thinking, who casts an eye on the drizzle and downpours of life and c...
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RammTalk 12: It Happened At The Wall

April 22, 2012

I remember taking the British Military train from Hannover to West Berlin in 1988, keen to take my first glimpse of the Berlin wall separating East from West Germany.  Due to the nature of my security clearance, I was not permitted to travel into the eastern sector controlled by the Russians.  I could only visit Checkpoint Charlie, gaze across the armed barricades and wonder what life in East Germany must be like.  I climbed to a vantage point where I could see over the wall more than twice m...


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RammTalk 11: Cars, Guitars and Literary Stars

April 9, 2012
A friend of mine has come up with a novel way to combine his business (cars) with his passion (guitars.)  Whilst I readily abandoned my suburban heritage to trade and travel, Gary Bond set up his car workshop in the down-town metropolis of Kingswood, Bristol, and quietly amassed over 30 years one of the largest collections of guitars in south-west England. When the building next to his garage came up for sell, he bought it, and now displays over 200 guitars that are not only for sale, but als...
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About Me


Jackie White Fluent German speaker and fan of Rammstein's music who wants to help other RammFans who don't speak German understand what it's all about.