Category Archives: German

Some similarities between German and Dutch

Learing a new language is always very exciting. Especially when the new language we’re learning is similar to one we already know. These similarities can be at different levels (phonetical, lexical, syntactical etc.).

The Dutch language belongs to the westgerman branch of the indoeuropean languages and is actually close to German (and Swissgerman).

The simplified relation between the languages ...

The simplified relation between the languages Dutch, English and German. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For many foreigners the pronunciations of “Scheveningen” or “Gouda” are a challenge. It’s especially the way the <ch> and the intervocalic <g> is pronounced that creates some articulatory problems. For Swissgermans the voiceless velar fricative <g> [x] or [ɣ] for the <ch> or the uvular fricative [χ] are very well known. They sound similar to the German in “ach”, “Bach”, “Fach” etc.. Therefore this is not something Germans or Swissgermans would find difficult to pronounce. In the southern Dutch dialects these sounds are softer and <g> and <ch> represent the palatal fricatives ([ʝ] and [ç]).

Something I personally found important to learn are the false cognates or false friends. People already fluent in German when learning Dutch, need to be aware of words that are phonetically similar and sometimes even have similar roots but are different in meanings:

The Dutch aandacht means “Aufmerksamkeit” (attention) in German, and the German “Andacht” means “devotion”.

The zetel is a seat and not a saddle (German “Sattel”), the winkel is a shop (“Laden”) and not an angle, like in German.

With vaart you don’t design the journey or trip (“Fahrt”), but only boat trip and varen refers to the movement of ships only.

Tot is not “tot” (dead) but only means “until” and is pronounced with a short /o/ (whereas the german “tot” has a long one /o:/.

A postbus is not a public means of transportation but a P.O. box (“Postfach”).

The kwartier is not a quarter or accomodation (germ.”Quartier”) but defines a quarter of an hour; and it’s often used in its diminutive form kwartiertje.

Glazuur has nothing to do with baking (germ.”Glasur”; icing) but is dental enamel (“Zahnschmelz”).

Blaffen does not mean to snap at someone, like the German “anblaffen” but the barking of the dog. In German this way to snap is comparable to the barking of a dog though and both words have the same etymon. When a Dutch says that he’s going to call you on the phone, i.e. bellen (ik ga je bellen), which is the abbreviated form for opbellen, or ring at your door, a German would think that this person would bark at him (germ. bellen). For an English speaking person it doesn’t seem too weird, as the English bell (noun) is producing a similar sound although the English verb to bell has a different meaning i.e. the semantic fields for the Dutch bell and the English one are slightly different.

The sale signs for houses and flats puzzle every German speaking person who visits the Netherlands for the first time: te huur (which means “to rent”) seems very similar “to whore” (“huren” in German), but once you learn that <uu> is pronounced like [] you’ll get over it. A similar misunderstanding could occur with the verkocht sign, when a property is sold, since it really sounds like the word for “overcooked” in German (“verkocht”).

Te huur in Huizen

Te huur in Huizen (Photo credit: CorporatieNL)

Verkocht onder voorbehoud

Verkocht onder voorbehoud (Photo credit: the_riel_thing)

What were the analogies or similarities you found between German and Dutch? Or another language you know and Dutch?

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“Guten Rutsch!”: what does this German wish really mean?

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When your German friends wish you a “Guten Rutsch!”, “Einen Guten Rutsch ins neue Jahr!” or say “rutsch guet übere” (Swissgerman), they don’t want you to “slide” or “slip” (rutschen=to slide; (aus)rutschen= to slip). They simply wish you a smooth start into the New Year.

Can’t they just say “Gutes Neues Jahr”? Yes, they can and they do. But it’s common that we wish a “guten Rutsch” to eachother.

Where does this expression come from? Is it somehow related to the fact that this time of the year people did “slide” into the snow (or on the ice)?

Since 1900 people wish “guten Rutsch”. Some think that “Rutsch” comes from the Rotwelsch language, a substratum of German “containing numerous words from other languages, notably from various German dialects, including Yiddish, as well as from Romany languages, notably Sintitikes“. But it is not very clear if the expression “Rosch ha schono” is Jiddish or Rotwelsch (cfr. Adolf Friedrich Thiele). Anyways, this expression seems to originate from the Hebraic ראש השנה טוב – Rosch ha schana tov, which means “a happy head/beginning of the year”, as the Jiddish “rosch” means “Head” since the 18th century.

There is an other fact to consider: the Jewish Newyear doesn’t coincide with the Christian one and the Jiddish expression for the Jewish and Christian holidays differ.

Carl Wilhelm Friedrich points out that the Christian New Year is called schone chadosche (lit. new year), whereas the Jewish New Year is called rosch haschone (lit. beginning of the year). Johann Heinrich Callenberg testifies in his Jüdischteutschen Wörterbüchlein (Halle 1736), that the New Year’s calling for Christians is schone chadosche (lit. that God may provide you a good New Year), and Walter Röll wonders how this schone chadosche that Jews would wish their Christian friends became a “guter Rutsch” also among Christians.

The fact that neither the Grimm brothers didn’t mention the expression “Guten Rutsch” in their Deutsches Wörterbuch, nor Daniel Sanders in his Wörterbuch der deutschen Sprache (Leipzig 1876) indicate that this expression entered into the German language around 1900, probably through postcards which started to circulate around 1890/1895. After 1900 the market of openly and commercially sended New Years greetings mushroomed (cfr. Simon Neuberg & Walter Röll 2002).

Rutsch

In the German dictionary or Deutsches Wörterbuch from the brothers Grimm, “rutschen” has the meaning of sliding: “gleitend bewegen” (gliding), “freiwilliges und unfreiwilliges Gleiten”, “kriechen” (creep, crowl) but it’s also attested in the expression “da rutscht’ ich fort” and “Sonntag rutscht man auf das land” cfr. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, as well as in the lemma “anrutschen” in “ich werd nächstens bei dir angerutscht kommen”, a more humorous way to express the “travelling” and “riding”.

Johann Andreas Schmeller gives another evidence for this figurative meaning in his Bayerisches Wörterbuch from 1836, where you’ll find under rutschen among others “Irgend wohin rutschen, im Scherz: fahren. An Feyertagen rutscht das lebsüchtige München gerne auf Bering oder ins Hesselloh”.

In Grimms Wörterbuch, the feminine form “die Rutsche” (the slide) occurs in the phrase “glückliche rutsch” with the meaning “travel”, “journey”. Heinz Küpper attests the form since 1800 and confirms its use in “auf Rutsch gehen” (go on a travel/journey) for the 19th century.

The masculine form “der Rutsch” is attested in the phrase “guten (glücklichen) Rutsch” for “safe travel” since 1820. – Since the 19th century, “der Rutsch” stands for a short travel distance, where the verb “rutschen” (lit. gliding) originally referred to the gliding of the sledge (in the Winter) and later to the rail ride. Küpper assumes that the wish for a “guten Rutsch ins neue Jahr” suggests a good transition into the New Year, a effortless slide into the New Year, like on a sledge. And Lutz Röhrich says that the underlying idea is the slow, almost imperceptible sliding that is also expressed in the common short version of “Komm gut rüber!”

And here is an explanation for children (and adults) about the meaning of “Rutsch” today (from “Die Sendung mit der Maus”; © WDR VideoPodcast 27.12.2009):


Unfug= mischief

Along these lines I wish you all “einen Guten Rutsch ins Neue Jahr 2014!

Bibliography mentioned in this post:

Friedrich, Karl Wilhelm, Unterricht in der Judensprache, Prenzlau, 1784.

Küpper, Heinz, Wörterbuch der deutschen Umgangssprache, 1. Auflage, 6. Nachdruck, Stuttgart, München, Düsseldorf, Leipzig 1997, Seite 684, Lemmata Rutsch I und Rutsch II

Neuberg, Simon & Walter Röll, Anmerkungen zum „Guten Rutsch“, in Jiddistik Mitteilungen, Nr. 28/November 2002, pp. 16–19.

Röhrich, Lutz, Lexikon der sprichwörtlichen Redensarten, Band 4, 4. Auflage Freiburg, Basel, Wien 1999, p. 1266, Lemma Rutsch.

Röll, Walter, Guten Rutsch?, in Jiddistik Mitteilungen, Nr. 27/April 2002, pp.14–16.

Schmeller, Johann Andreas, Bayerisches Wörterbuch, Theil 3, Stuttgart, Tübingen 1836, Spalte 191, Lemma rutschen.

Thiele, Adolf Friedrich, Die jüdischen Gauner in Deutschland, ihre Taktik, ihre Eigenthümlichkeiten und ihre Sprache, Berlin, 1840