Updating German

Once upon a time I jokingly said that if Germans spoke English they would take over the world. I now suspect that this may not be such a joke after all. With the UK out of the EU, there is little to challenge the German leadership of the block and as they increasingly embrace English as an (almost) gender neutral, easy to learn, language, the possibility that Europe can move forward towards a united continent, draws closer. Reasons for the rapid spread of this offshoot dialect of German, seasoned with French and Latin and spiced with words stolen from around the world may, at first, be difficult to understand. After all, we all have a mother tongue, absorbed along with mothers’ milk. Why do we need more? The answer is of course business, the driver of our lives and supplier of all the material things we hold dear. How much easier it is to do business with somebody you can actually speak to.

It is the relative ease with which a little bit of English can be learnt that gives it the edge over alternatives. You can go a long way with a little bit of English, not so German. And though Spanish might be equally easy to pick up, it doesn’t (apart from South American) have the global connections which English has developed over the past 200 years, first with the British Empire, then with the USA.

With eight years of teaching English in a German speaking country, let me predict the way both the German and English languages will change over the coming years. First, efficiency. It is clear that, for what ever reason, language changes are being driven by a desire to be efficient. The need now is to express ideas with precise words with clear meanings. As an example I give you zeitgeist. Count the syllables. There are two. Now look at the English translation and you get, yes its true, zeitgeist. Now if you ban this, clearly German, word from English you would need to write “spirit of the times”. Count the syllables and you get five. Zeitgeist is clearly more efficient. Similarly iceberg is more efficient than the English word for berg, mountain. The Titanic may have hit an ice mountain, but they called it an iceberg.

The second motivator for the “Anglicisation of German” is actually the size of the language. German has many compound words, words made by adding nouns together. For example, luftkissenboot. You don’t need to be an expert in German to figure out that this is a boat which kisses air or, in English, a hovercraft. So I would contend that English has more discrete words and as another example offer sicherheit, a German word which can mean either safety or security. In English they have separate meanings. Now of course, German speakers can understand the difference in meaning because they can compare the context in which it is used. Unfortunately, there is a whole industry based on context free words. I mean of course the advertising industry. Advertisers need to catch the audience with one or two words. They have no time for context. So German marketeers default to English for a snappy headline and, due to the spread of English pop songs, they are understood.

Yet the biggest problem which is hitting the German language, particularly in Austria, is its gender bias, and the struggle to overcome it. Formerly the word “Österreicher” meant Austrian people. The drive to eliminate gender bias now dictates that “Österreicher und Österreicherin” is used. Clearly this is a bit of a mouthful. We may yet come to a time when “Austrians” is adopted as the simplest solution!

PS, actually, the German word for kiss is küssen not kissen, kissen is a pillow. In my mind the hovercraft “air kisses” the sea but for Germans, the air is a pillow on which the hovercraft rests. As they say, “the devil is in the detail”!


My vision for 2030

Walk down any street and it soon becomes clear that people are not equal. They come in all shapes, sizes and opinions. Is there any single idea to which, if not all, then a substantial majority can ascribe? Governments now would have you believe that there is, that money and cash value fit the bill perfectly.

And so everything is monetised, everything privatised, with profit only as the yardstick by which everything is measured.

It might appear that this is the greed factor in action yet I believe that the reason goes beyond this. In an increasingly complex world it provides a simple and understandable measure with which to judge. The happiness index is totally subjective. Money however is easy to count and everybody can understand it. It is with this seductive simplicity that neocons and their fellow travellers have managed to capture political power.

There is however a even simpler concept which not only most people can understand but is the cornerstone of a Liberal Democratic society in 2030. It should be fair. The simple concept of fairness appears to be almost innate in European society and this is the message that must be shouted from the rooftops. We want a fair society where the only real equality, that of opportunity, is offered to all.

So say it proud and say it loud. A fair society where merit, not nepotism, rules. A fair society where the income disparity between the rich and poor is embarrassing. A fair society in which honest work is lauded, a fair society which we can all be proud of.

Motor mouth Farage does it again!

So F*&*!?age thinks that the Schengen treaty should end because the killer from Berlin managed to get to Milan. What rubbish and, more to the point, what has it got to do with him? Britain is not in the Schengen area and looks even less likely to join but that is not the point. Did you know that there are no borders between states in the USA, an area of 8,080,464.3 km compared with the Schengen area at 4.312million km²? Of course you knew that. So for what possible reason should there be borders in the Schengen area? Come on F*&*!?age, spit it out. Exactly why should there be borders, apart from the fact that it gives you some exercise for your mouth?

Doomed to failure? Maybe not.

The vaguely liberal, vaguely centralist consensus under which we, in Europe, have lived for the past 70 years looks like coming to an end. The rise of so called “popularism” which is perhaps better termed, the rise of the ignorant, will see to it.

Increasingly I blame the internet – and I’m only half joking. The gift of anonymity has freed the population from any of the social restraints which once operated. Now, anything can be said anonymously which gives us look into the darkness which is, for many, the human soul. Just read any of the discussion comments on newspaper articles to see the venom and bile which seems to be the motivator. As liberal, socially conscious people, we are at a distinct disadvantage. We limit our actions through consideration and thought. The others have no such constraints. So obsessed with the “rightness” of their cause they would take any action, make any statement to further it. The Nazis didn’t burn down the Reichstag for fun, they did it as a means to an end, the end justified the means. For the charismatic confidence tricksters, the puppet masters of the new reality, the aim is power and in pursuit of that, any thing goes, and anything can be said. Their foot soldiers are the voters seeking simple solutions in a very complex world. The thoughtful and rational stand a good chance of being defeated.

On the bright side, it looks like Trump is willing to stand up to China. Their claim to the South China Sea is reminiscent of, again, Hitler. “our territorial ambitions extend no further than the Sudetenland”. And we all know where that ended.
And on the bright side again, I have, of late, been suffering from extreme tiredness. I had considered that it might be a sort of lassitude as precursor to death but last night I had a revelation. I think the problem is the statins I have been taking to reduce my blood fat levels. Checking the internet (yes, it is good for something) I find that, indeed, tiredness is a possible side effect. I feel better already! And so I say now, to borrow the famous lines of Winston Churchill,  “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender”.

The truth is out there.

What Trump won’t do.

We have to be very clear about Donald Trump. He would say ANYTHING to win a deal, and that is exactly how he saw the campaign for the Presidency. Another deal to win. So you should forget Hillary in prison and forget the Mexican Wall and forget the end of trade with China. Donald has already forgotten it, and you should too. The problems is of course that a lot of people actually believed him. How will they feel in one or two years’ time when nothing has changed? Who can say. There are a lot of crazy people out there and many have guns . . .

A good test of Trump’s intentions will be what he does with Chris Christie, the crooked New Jersey politician who connived in closing the road access of a town whose mayor failed to support him. It seems that two of his aides will  go to prison for this though Christie has escaped punishment for now. He supported Trump’s campaign. If Trump takes him into the administration you can kiss the USA goodbye for the next four years. Meanwhile Nigel Farage has intimated that he will accept US citizenship to serve in Trump’s administration. Perhaps we should start a fund to pay for his ticket.

A moral dilemma

If you thought that Brexit was over think again. For one company, owned by a friend of mine, the consequences are very real. Employing 21 people, the collapse in the value of £Sterling has seen a dramatic increase in costs. The business must contract to survive. Now of course this collapse of Sterling was well forecasted by experts but, as the pro Brexiters said “what do experts know”. One of those Brexiters is employed in the Company and so it seems to me that he should be the first to lose his job.

This is a very real case though size and gender have been changed to obscure the actual company. In any event I doubt that person in question will understand such a complex issue as this, Brexiters like it simple. So, should he go or should he stay? You decide.

I don’t believe it.

For those unfamiliar with UK TV, that was the catch phrase of Victor Meldrew, the miserable old man who was against everything. Any slight problem, any action which was less than efficient was met with the response “I don’t believe it”.  And just like Victor Meldrew I don’t believe it.  I don’t believe that there are 2.2 billion Christians in the world, or that there are 1.6 billion Muslims, or even that there are 1.1 billion Secularists.

For the religious there are two key words, “belief” and “faith”. When I check these words in the dictionary what do I find? Belief: an acceptance that something exists or is true, especially one without proof. And for Faith, rather similarly: complete trust or confidence in someone or something.  If, when answering the question, “are you a Christian?” (or Muslim) the answer given is yes, you might believe that the respondent had some knowledge of the faith they claimed loyalty to. Regrettably that is not the case. It is rather that the person is what they have been told they are. Thus, being told from childhood that you are a Christian and being brought up on Jewish history (I mean of course the old testament of the bible) and going to Sunday school to hear of the nice stories of miracles is a pretty good way to ensure that the answer to the question “are you a Christian?” will be met with the solid affirmation of “yes”. Of course when pressed to answer questions on the basic principles of say Catholicism, eg transubstantiation, when the bread and the wine miraculously is transformed into the blood and body of Christ, there is often no response. Even the well indoctrinated have trouble swallowing that, if you will forgive the pun.

The same is true for of course for Hindus, Muslims or, with some small exceptions, any faith based group. The fine details which might erode the message are either glossed over or completely ignored. For example, one of the tenets of Hindu faith is “Hindus believe that all life is sacred, to be loved and revered, and therefore practice ahimsa, non-injury, in thought, word and deed. Similarly “Hindus believe that no religion teaches the only way to salvation above all others, but that all genuine paths are facets of God’s Light, deserving tolerance and understanding”.  Presumably if you don’t believe that you can’t be a Hindu except of course Hindus in India frequently carry out massacres of Muslims.  In the case of Islam, I fail to understand how a religion of peace can be spread by violence. Now religious scholars have made a lot of money explaining how I and other secularists and non-believers are wrong, that somehow we are failing to understand the subtlety of the holy works upon which their particular faith is founded.  Some might prey for my enlightenment in sorrowful regret of my ignorance.  Others might wish to cut off my head.  What they usually won’t do is change their mind.  Yet despite all the pressure applied for conformity there is some good news. In 2007 16.1% of Americans identified themselves as secular, in 2015, 22.8% so described themselves. In the face of quite substantial pressure to conform to the concept “one nation under God” this is quite an achievement. Keep up the good work

English in Vienna