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).


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 »

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 »

Bozen. September 1st, 1788.

All my dear children: Gottfried, August, Wilhelm, Adelbert, little Luis and Emil!

I am now near to the borders of Germany and have nearly crossed the great highlands of the Tyrol. The mountains are high, on several there has been much snow, and the so-called “Portal” or “Cell” through which one passes into the Tyrol is especially beautiful, splendid and wild. We also came by Martin’s Wall where the Emperor Maximilian got lost, and in Innsbruck we saw a very beautiful memorial to him, of which I will tell you in person. I am now in Bozen where today there is a terribly great mass of people; 19,000 children are to be confirmed, since the bishop has not confirmed for many years. In front of our lodging-house, in the sun, there is a fruit market the like of which you have never seen in your life; there are pears, plums, grapes, nuts, figs; for figs do grow here. Soon we will come to the region where quinces and lemons grow. O, if only you were with me here, or that I could send you a basket of such fruit! But the lovely fruit would go bad on the way, just as lovely human hopes sometimes rot from the inside out. — Already there are flat roofs here, of which there are said to be many in Italy, where one can see a long way in all directions; and the air is entirely gentle, warm and mild. In the Tyrol highlands we saw chamois leaping, in Innsbruck we also ate one, and saw a tame one, entirely charming, that followed its provider, a farmer’s wife, everywhere. It was as agile as I wish you all to be. I would that you had been there with me and seen it, and I wish too, that you may one day see the mountains of the Tyrol and journey through them in gladness.

Apply yourselves to your studies with industry, and behave yourselves well; also, do learn to draw, for I regret very much that I cannot. The region is entirely too beautiful, and between the mountains there are a thousand waterfalls made by a stream, the Etsch. It flows very rapidly and particularly in the diocese of Brixen has beautiful trees on its banks: poplars, birches and willow-trees. For many hours we travelled far beside it. Seek it out on the map, you will be able to find our path. Tomorrow we arrive at Trento, perhaps I will have news of you there. Keep well, dear children, hold me in your affection and be healthy, and live in good accord with your mother and the rest of the household! It is late and no doubt you will be sleeping in your beds. Sleep tight!

Translated from the German (c) by Marc Hiatt. (6.08.06)

Reprinted in H G Fiedler (ed.), Das Oxforder Buch Deutscher Prosa von Luther bis Rilke (1943) Oxford.

Writers still object that because the typewriter does not obey the innervations of the hand it is supposedly incapable of producing a bodily sort of contact between thought and writing; writers for whom such contact is paramount should, it is said, keep with the fountain-pen. O romantic and inexperienced objection, that even maintains the mistrust of technology there where the thought long ago came to the rescue of technology! Nowhere is the contact between word and thought closer than on the typewriter. Not, admittedly, that between writing and thought. The hand that strikes into the material of the keys doesn’t bother itself with the written result that hovers way up there on the horizon of the machine. Rather it chisels word-bodies out of the keys, so clearly that it is as if they were held in the fingers under whose pressure they are sculpted out of the keyboard. On the machine, writing has been transformed back from a two-dimensional into a three-dimensional process. Words, across so many centuries merely read, can once again be felt; perhaps in this way we are getting them back within our grasp, whereas for so long we had been under the sway of their foreign power.

Translated from the German (c) by Marc Hiatt. (Last revised 5.08.2006.)

Written 1931. Collected in Gesammelte Schriften Bd. 20.2 (2003) Frankfurt a. M..

I got to know the music we are accustomed to calling classical as a child, through four-handed playing. There was little of the symphonic and chamber music literature that would not be incorporated into home life with the help of the large wide-format volumes, uniformly bound in green by the bookbinder. They seemed made for page-turning, and I was allowed to turn the pages well before I knew the notes, following only my memory and hearing. Even Beethoven’s violin sonatas found themselves included in peculiar arrangements. Some pieces, such as Mozart’s G-minor symphony, so impressed themselves on me during that time that even today it seems to me that no orchestra could ever produce the tension of the introductory semi-quaver movement as completely as the questionable attack of the second player. This music more than any other was suited to the apartment. It was brought forth on the piano as on a piece of furniture, and those who plied it without shyness in the face of interruptions and wrong notes belonged to the family.

Four-handed playing laid the geniuses of the bourgeois nineteenth century as a gift at my cradle in the beginnings of the twentieth. Four-handed music: that was music with which one could still live and commerce, before the musical compulsion itself demanded solitude and secret craft. That says something not merely about the practice of playing but also about that which was played. Read the rest of this entry »