Free German audiobooks

May 17, 2012

Students of German looking for recordings with which to practice their listening comprehension can try looking about LibriVox, a site that publishes public domain recordings made from public domain texts. There are a great many recordings in German; students not ready to try their ears at Fontane’s Effi Briest might find Bürger’s Münchhausen, Busch’s Max und Moritz or Hoffman’s Erzählungen für Kinder within the reach of their listening abilities.

Auf der Hut sein

August 20, 2010

At my German discussion group last night some of us were talking about politics and having difficulty coming up with German equivalents of financial terminology like ‘mortgage’.

I can recommend‘s vocabulary trainer.  It allows you to create your own list of words you’d like to learn, and to feed that into a virtual flash card system.  Users can make their lists public.  There are quite a few public lists on special topics, like this list of  financial vocabulary in German, including ‘to take out a mortgage’ (eine Hypothek aufnehmen), but also ‘to be wary’ (auf der Hut sein).

There are also lists of vocabulary for beginners.

One place where a a great deal of useful material can be found to help teachers as well as students get to grips with German is Nancy Thuleen’s page of teaching materials (Lehrmaterialien).

Three bilingual dictionaries A dictionary based on a user-built corpus, published by Paul Hemetsberger, with a ‘vocabulary trainer’ (flash-card simulator).

BEOLingus, published by the Technische Universität Chemnitz. A dictionary published by Michael Kellog, accompanied by language discussion forums.

Two monolingual dictionaries

Das Digitale Wörterbuch der Deutschen Sprache des 20. Jahrhunderts, von der Akademie der Wissenschaften

Das Deutsche Wörterbuch von Jacob und Wilhelm Grimm, begun in 1854.  Extensive documentation of changes in the meaning of German words.

Noch was dazu?

A long list of dictionaries and other resources is maintained at

Some easy German poetry

August 7, 2010

A little while ago I made a recording for a good friend of mine who’s been learning German. The recording was of me reading a poem and explicating its vocabulary — all in German. The idea, for which I’m much obliged to Camille Cavalier-Karfis, is that even someone who’s just beginning to get to grips with the language should be able to follow what’s being said, and to develop their listening skills without having to torture themselves with listening to, say, the news in German.

The poem I chose is a very short and rather famous example of Goethe’s vers libre; one of the two poems to which he gave the title Wandrers Nachtlied, which he’s said to have carved into the wood of a hut somewhere while out walking.  The text of my recording follows. If any German speakers would be kind enough use to comment function to point out any errors the may find, I’d be much obliged.

Heute werde ich dir von dem Gedicht Wandrers Nachtlied von Johann Wolfgang von Goethe sprechen.

Ich werde langsam und deutlich sprechen, und eine alltägliche Sprache benutzen, um das Gedicht zu erklären.

Das Hörprogramm hat drei Teile.

Im ersten Teil des Programms werde ich das Gedicht langsam vorlesen.

Dann, im zweiten Teil des Programms, werde ich die Vokablen des Gedichts erklären.

Am Ende des Programms, im vierten Teil, werde ich das Gedicht im schnelleren Tempo wieder vorlesen.

Wandrers Nachtlied von Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Über allen Gipfeln
Ist Ruh,
In allen Wipfeln
Spürest du
Kaum einen Hauch;
Die Vögelein schweigen im Walde.
Warte nur, balde
Ruhest du auch.

Nun, ich werde jetzt den Text erklären.  Ich werde jedesmal eine Zeile des Gedichts lesen, und dann die Vokabeln jener Zeile erklären. Read the rest of this entry »

Germanisms #1: requests

August 5, 2010

Overheard today, in an Australian library, a German-speaker who had borrowed a laptop was returning it because its battery had run out:

“Do you have another one for me?”

This formulation would usually sound awkward to native speakers of Australian English; in other contexts, say when used to request a cigarette, it may even be heard as being overly presumptuous and hence rude. In the same context a native speaker would have been more likely to say something like, “Can I borrow another laptop, please?”

The German-speaker’s formulation follows the pattern, however, of a common way of making a request in German. For example:

“Hast du mal eine Zigarette für mich?”

Native speakers don’t hear this as impolite.  The “mal”, in particular, has no other function than to soften the request, but even without it, the phrase is by no means necessarily rude.

Can you think of any other typical examples?

Further discussion of this structure, and here as well (both in German).

Dichters Land

November 30, 2009

Wer den Dichter will verstehen
Muss in Dichters Lande gehen.


If the poet you’d understand
Go you must in the poet’s land.

I read that these lines are frequently cited by guidebooks and corporations for the promotion of tourism in places where literary tourism is popular.  For myself, I had always read it as in injunction to try one’s hand at artistic production.

Translator’s Note

Adorno published Der getreue Korrepetitor in 1963. Subtitled Lehrschriften zur musikalischen Praxis it was taken up after his death into volume fifteen of his Gesammelte Schriften or collected writings, which volume also contains Komposition für den Film, a book he co-authored with Hans Eisler in 1944. Parts of The Faithful Répétiteur derived from Adorno’s time in America as well, namely from the studies he made of the NBC Music Appreciation Hour. They provided much material for the book’s first chapter, from which the excerpt presented here is taken. The excerpt begins at the point in the chapter at which “the negation of music appreciation turns into the plan for an idea of structural listening”, as Adorno says in the book’s preface. Read the rest of this entry »

[A translation of a post by Anatol Stefanowitsch of Bremer Sprachblog. The original is here.]

Language doesn’t only allow us to exchange information about the world, it also serves to negotiate and signal interpersonal relationships.

This is something we do by means, amongst others, of so-called polite-forms (or honorifics). In the simplest cases, they can involve special forms of address, like sir and ma’am, which are frequently found in American English, or the somewhat superannuated mein Herr or gnädige Frau in German.

But they can also occur as inflectional endings, which constitute a stable component of the grammar of a language, as, for instance, in Korean. If I should like simply to say “I eat lunch” in Korean then the neutral form is as follows: Read the rest of this entry »

63. The body belonging to a monad that is its entelechy or its soul constitutes together with the entelechy that which can be called a living being, and together with the soul that which is called an animal. Now this body of a living being or an animal is always organic; since each monad is, in its own way, a mirror of the universe and the universe is ruled according to a perfect order, there must be an order in that which represents, i.e. in the perceptions of the soul, and consequently in the body that is represented in correspondence with the universe. Read the rest of this entry »




When in the course of the history of living beings, it becomes necessary for one species to dissolve the bands that have bound it to another, and to assume, among the powers of the earth, the independent and equal station to which the laws of nature and its divinity entitle it, a decent respect for the opinions of all creatures requires that it should declare the grounds on which it acts.

We hold these truths to be self-evident:

that all creatures are created equal,

that they are endowed by the creator with inalienable rights, that among these
are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,

that in this respect no difference between human beings and animals obtains,

that therefore, according to the measure of the highest ideals, the proposition holds, all animals are human beings,

that accordingly dogs too may properly claim human rights,

that among the human rights of dogs there are included, aside from eating, drinking and sleeping: sniffing, straying from the path, barking, biting, cocking legs, playing at nonsense and a reasonable measure of general destruction, Read the rest of this entry »

Zanthens Yacht Xanthippe
war völlig unberechenbar,
trieb stets regelwidrig quer,
prosperierte oft nicht mehr,
landete kreuz-jammerbar
im Haitihafen gar,
fuhr entgegenkreuzend dann
Cubas Blumenküste an.

[By J Krüss, via !anaj ,em s’taht.]

Untranslatable, surely, but imitable. Some day.

For Moominissa.

Most translations have as one of their central goals an attempt to render the sense of a source text into a target language. But there is more to a text than what we mean by its “literal meaning”. One could even go much further, and say that phonic or graphic properties of a text, more than merely adding something the sense of the text, are co-constitutive of its sense, and that if they are changed, then the sense is changed. The concept of “translation loss” registers the fact that no translation can keep all the elements of a source text the same as they are: every translation must concentrate on some at the expense of others.

Aside from the interesting philosophical issues that this raises, it can pave the way to a broader conception of the possibilities of translation. I was first alerted to “phonic imitation” by Hervey, Higgins and Loughridge (Thinking German Translation, 44):

An entertaining illustration of the way phonic imitation in a [target text] renders the sense of the unrecognizeable is John Hulme’s Mörder Guss Reims, which consists in a playful imitation of English nursery rhymes. Here, for example, the text of ‘Humpty-Dumpty’ is reproduced as

Um die Dumm' die Saturn Aval;
Um die Dumm' die Ader Grät' fahl.
Alter ging's Ohr sä¨ss und Alter ging's mähen.
Kuh denn 'putt' um Dieter Gitter er gähn.

Here is Gustav Mahler’s Wenn mein Schatz Hochzeit macht in phonic imitation. Mahler’s original text is available here, together with a translation that attempts to convey more literal meaning.

Venn mine shuts, hocked sight mucked

Venn mine shuts, hocked sight mucked,
Fur licker hocked sight mucked,
Hub BIC mine ant row, rig an' tug!
Gay hick in mine gamma line,
Do inkless gamma line,
Vine, an' vine, ooo! Mine an' shuts,
Ooo! Mine, an lea, ban shuts!
Bloom line blow! Bloom line blow!
Fair Dorevitch! Fair Dorevitch!
Berg-line Zeus, berg-line Zeus,
Dosings Alf crooner hide 'er.
Yuck! VSD felt's ocean!
T's a cute! T's a cute!
Zing! it nicked! Blue! it nicked!
Lenses char for buy!
Alice' singin', listnin' 'ouse.
Tess' are Ben's, Venn Nick's laughin' gay.
Then kick un-mine lied 'er.
Un-mine lied 'er.

Notes and Difficulties

Venn (ll. 1, 17), John: English logician 1834-1923.

Row (l. 3) must be pronounced as the word for ‘altercation’, not as the word
for ‘scull’.

VSD (l. 12): an abbreviation for I know not what.

In many places one could have chosen between an “an'” and a present participle verb
ending “-in'”.

Further reading

Charles Bernstein cites a few examples of phonic imitation, or, as he terms it, homophonic translation:

Louis and Celia Zukofsky’s Catullus., David Melnick’s Homer
at Eclipse: Men in Aida part one and part two; Ron Silliman on homophonic translation (his own, Melnick’s, and Chris Tysh’s), and two examples by Charles Bernstein — from Basque and from Portuguese.

Giambattista Bodoni

No art has more warrant to look towards future centuries than typography. For what it produces today is for the good of the world to come no less than for that of living generations.

Translated from the German (c) by Marc Hiatt. (12.01.07)

This quotation from Bodoni (1740-1813) is given as a typographical example by Jan Tschichold in his Meisterbuch der Schrift (1952) (known in English as Treasury of Alphabets and Lettering):

Keine Kunst hat mehr Berechtigung, ihren Blick auf die künftigen Jahrhunderte zu richten als die Typographie. Denn was sie heute schafft, kommt der Nachwelt nicht weniger zugute als den lebenden Geschlechtern.

Trento, the 11th of September [1786], morning.

After wholly fifty hours of life and continual occupation I arrived here yesterday at eight o’clock, went soon to rest, and now find myself again prepared to continue my story. On the evening of the ninth, when I had brought the first portion of my journal to a close, I still wanted to draw my lodging, the post office, in its place in the Brenner pass, but it was unsuccessful, I missed its character and went home half annoyed. My host asked whether I should like to leave, by moonlight was the best way, and whether I knew that he needed the horses in the morning to take in the hay , he would like to have them back by then. Although his counsel was self-serving I was pleased to take it, since it accorded with my inner impulse. The sun let itself be seen once more, the air was tolerable; I packed, and left at seven o’clock. The atmosphere got the better of the clouds and the evening turned quite beautiful.

The postillion fell asleep and the horses went down the mountain at the fastest trot, always taking the way familiar to them; if they came to a flat spot we went correspondingly slower. The driver woke up and drove them on again, and so, passing between high rocks, I reached the roaring Etsch river [1] with great speed. The moon came up and illuminated monstrous objects. Several mills between ancient pines over the foaming stream were complete Everdingens.[2]

Everdingen, Forest Scene

When at nine o’clock I reached Sterzing, I was given to understand that they wished me away again. In Mittenwald at twelve o’clock on the dot I found everything in a deep sleep, except the postillion, and so we continued on to Brixen, where I was once again helped on, so to speak, so that I arrived in Kollmann with the day. Read the rest of this entry »