Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Think negative!

Here's a quick lesson on one of the nuances- or should I say, precision- of the German language. The word nicht, meaning "not," with its literal negative connotation, plays a crucial role in the German language. Like its other variation, kein/keine/keins, and permutation in other languages, can negate one word, part of, or the entire sentence itself. This linguistic maneuver I learned the easier and artificial way in my German class last week. I will use the direct English translation which sounds a bit funny. Let the kissing begin...

Nicht ich kuesse dich heute. Not I kiss you today. (But someone else will...)

Ich kuesse nicht dich heute.
I kiss not you today. (I will kiss someone else, sorry)

Ich kuesse dich nicht heute.
I kiss you not today. (But definitely some other time... Patience is a virtue)

Ich kuesse dich heute nicht. I kiss you today not. (Tell me, when then?)

This might be irrelevant to Spanish, Italians, French, and Latinos, who just kiss, not only once but at least twice or even thrice. With Germans, though, one should be careful of the use of these sample sentences.

Those who have learned the language may tell me that I should simply forget the negativity. Learning German is easy. Now... das weiss ich nicht! (that I do not know!)


K. from the Philippines said...

Wow, German's a very precise language! No ambiguity at all! If the Germans carry this precision over to other aspects of their society and culture, it's no wonder they are excellent in science, technology and industry!

jadz said...

Hi, K. I am not (yet?) a fluent German speaker so I cannot say there is or no ambiguity at all. One of the difficulties in learning the language are the varying articles (i.e., der- masculine, die- feminine, das- neutral). They change from one gender to another in more 'complex' sentences. There are tendencies in most of the grammatic rules, but there are also exceptions!

This precision (and lack of which) has its pros and cons, in language, culture and society, in Germany and elsewhere.

K. from the Philippines (ulit) said...

I should have qualified my previous comment, so as not imply a blanket statement when I intended to posit a (very)speculative correlation. My German is limited to JFK's unfortunate "Ich bin ein berliner," so your musings about the German language as you live and learn it right there in Deutschland is really appreciated! Looking forward to the next installment. :D