Tag Archives: linguistics

Cechy, Abertawe and München…

A while ago I met a Chinese girl and she told me that she was from Beijing. An awkward pause followed because her face made me assume that she was expecting me to know that city. But I didn’t. Until it hit me; Peking! Okay, I must admit that the resemblance between these two names is rather great, but well, I had a blond moment and after all, I had never talked about the city in English before – I might have heard the term in passing – but in my head it was – until then – simply ‘Peking’ (note that Peking is the name of the city according to Chinese Postal Map Romanisation, and the traditional customary name for Beijing in English” – wikipedia)

This (a little embarrassing) incident made me, not for the first time, wish for universal place names. Or do you know how to ask the way to Bohemia in the Czech Republic (assuming you are in a place where no one speaks English)? Cechy! Swansea in Wales? Abertawe! Munich in Germany? München!

Onomastics is the study of names. More specifically, the study of place names is called toponomy or toponomastics (Anthroponomastics is the study of personal names).

Place names are historical records of events or a person’s existence; for example Liechtenstein is named after Anton Florian of Liechtenstein.
This historical insight you can get from a name really is a fascinating and interesting feature of place names. Just a couple of days ago, a friend told me what they had learned in a German lecture about the various names (due to the country’s history and geographic position probably more than for any other European nation) for Germany and what they (might) indicate.
The German word for Germany is “Deutschland”, which is, along with similar-sounding names derived from the Old High German word “diutisc” which has the meaning “belonging to the nation”. On the other hand, the root for Germany in Slavic languages is sometimes said to be related to “niem”, which stands for “dumb”. Different people, different views on people!?

Nevertheless, apart from that “historical” feature, wouldn’t it be just more convenient to have universal place names, facilitating cooperation and taking away the burden of learning even more “vocab”?

As a solution, I would suggest to use the name of a place in the language that the people speak in that place. Surely, it might take some effort to pronounce that strange ayn (voiced pharyngeal fricative) in al-mamlaka al-arbiia as-saudiia (the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia), but even if just pronounced as a glottal stop (or so), it would still be more alike to the original name than “Saudi Arabia” is…

Quote: “German is underlying a verb-final language, but statistically this isn’t the case”

Because Richard encouraged us to BLOG, I’m not posting the following as a comment but as an actual post (my first one). So let me start with; German grammar is really not that bad. It’s actually rather nice in terms of word order because the case morphology allows more word order possibilities than, say English (which lost a great deal of it). But let’s focus on the verb position that Richard was questioning.

In simple sentences, the word order is SVO, just as in English. For example “Ich trinke Wasser” ‘I drink water’. So the conjugated (finite) verb is in the second position (not necessarily second word: “Die zwei bösen Männer klauen Geld” ‘the two bad men steal money’ – all translations are literally).

When you’re dealing with a compound verb, the first part of the verb phrase is in the second position and the second part (either past participle, separable prefix or infinitive) is in the final position. For example: “Ich werde morgen singen” ‘I will tomorrow sing’.

For emphasis, the sentence can start with something other than a subject (“topicalization”), which then comes straight after the verb. No matter what begins the sentence, the verb is always in the second position. For example: “Wasser trinke ich” – ‘water I drink’, “Geld klauen die zwei bösen Männer” – ‘money steal the two bad men’, “Morgen werde ich singen” – ‘Tomorrow will I sing’).

The only cases where the verb doesn’t follow this “second-position-rule” and the word order changes to SOV are in dependent or subordinate clauses. For example: “Das ist Richard, der viel im Internet schreibt.”  ‘This is Richard, who much in the Internet writes’, “Ich tanze, weil ich Tanzen mag” ‘I dance, because I dancing like’.

To cut a long story short:
The classification of German is a little tricky because the verb often consists of two parts that are found at different positions in the sentence (second and last respectively). In subordinate clauses, the subject and verb have a fix position and the parts of the verb cannot be separated (say it was a separable verb such as “anfangen”; in a main clause it would be separated, as in “Ich fange an” – ‘I start’, but in a subordinate clause it wouldn’t, as in “Ich will, dass wir anfangen” – ‘I want that we start’). So frequently the word order of the subordinate clause is taken to be the basic word order, classifying German as an SOV-language.

I hope that this wasn’t confusing but clarifying and that we’re all now agreeing on GG (assuming this stands for German Grammar) being jawsome 🙂