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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

‘Short German’ text speak spares you from grammar

More and more Germans are using the language of texting in their spoken conversations – conveniently leaving out notoriously complicated adjectives, articles and prepositions that bloat the word count.

'Short German' text speak spares you from grammar
"...and if you leave out the adjectives, you can forget about the Dative!" Photo: DPA

Linguist Diana Marossek has collected dozens of examples of SMS-style 'Kurzdeutsch' (short German) in a new book, Kommst du Bahnhof oder hast du Auto? (You coming station or do you have car?).

According to Marossek, it's becoming increasingly common to hear phrases like “Ich bin noch Büro” (I'm still office) or “Er hat Tor geschossen” (He's scored goal).

That's leaving out some of the parts of German – articles, prepositions, and the troublesome case system and adjective endings that come with them – that often cause German learners the most trouble.

In fact, the way this Kurzdeutsch is constructed is reminiscent of the way many people with a migrant background speak and write, although it's increasingly popular with native speakers, linguists say.

“Such expressions are used when someone wants to sound young,” said Ludwig Eichinger, director of the Institute for the German Language.

And social media as well as texting have their role to play.

“If it's really important to be brief, then there's a high likelihood that such structures will play a role,” Eichinger noted. “You leave out whatever isn't completely necessary.”

“This Kurzdeutsch is even worse than trying to text with Bavarians.” File photo: DPA

“You chat with your mother in the same way as with your mates” on Facebook or WhatsApp, Marossek agreed, explaining that these are new spaces with no particular standards of conduct.

Many researchers also see Turkish influence on the new speech style – although phrases like “Ich bin auf Arbeit” (I'm at work – shortened from “Ich bin auf der Arbeitsstelle”) have long been current in Berlin and elsewhere, said Melanie Kunkel of the Duden publishing house (which publishes the most widely-used German dictionaries).

The Turkish language itself has neither articles nor prepositions.

“The more widespread this way of speaking is among young people, the more influence it has, little by little, on adults without a migratory background who have a lot to do with it in their job or otherwise,” Marossek found out.

During her undercover research in German schools, Marossek even heard teachers using Kurzdeutsch amongst themselves in private – noting phrases such as “Welches Kino geht ihr denn?” (Which cinema are you going?).

“Teachers of course bring it home, and that's how it spreads.”

No fear for end of 'high German'

But Marossek sees little danger that the slangier way of talking will displace classic high German.

It's more likely that Kurzdeutsch will fade away after a generation – or remain firmly stuck in a niche of very informal registers.

“Phrases like 'Kommst du Bahnhof' are even thought of as slangy by the people using them,” Kunkel said.

“Most people who use them are in a position to switch to the standard language depending on the situation.”

SEE ALSO: The 10 weirdest German words that don't exist

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ITALIAN WORD OF THE DAY

Italian expression of the day: ‘Qualcosa non torna’

Does this phrase add up to you?

Italian expression of the day: 'Qualcosa non torna'

Ever get the feeling that things aren’t quite right, that perhaps you’re missing something, that something fishy might be going on?

In Italian you can express that with the phrase qualcosa non torna (‘qual-KOH-zah-non-TORR-na’).

Qualcosa you’ll probably recognise as meaning ‘something’, and non of course here means ‘doesn’t’, so the slight wild card for anglophones is the verb torna.

That’s because tornare means ‘to return’ in most contexts – but it can also mean to balance, to add up.

Ho calcolato le spese, il conto torna.
I added up the costs, the bill checks out.

I conti dell’azienda tornano.
The company’s accounts add up.

The Math Seems To Check Out! GIF - The House Will Ferrell The Math Seems To Check Out GIFs

The word can also refer more nebulously to something sounding or feeling right – or not.

Secondo me c’è qualche parte del mio discorso che ancora non torna.
I think there are parts of my speech that still aren’t quite right.

And when something doesn’t torna – that’s when you know things are off. It’s the kind of expression you’re likely to hear in detective shows or true crime podcasts. 

Qualcosa non torna nel loro racconto.
Something about their story’s off.

C’è solo una cosa che non torna.
There’s just one thing that doesn’t add up.

It’s similar to how we can talk in English about someone’s account of an event not ‘squaring’ with the facts, and in fact you can also use that metaphor in Italian – qualcosa non quadra (‘qual-KOH-zah-non-QUAHD-ra’) – to mean the same thing as qualcosa non torna.

Trash Italiano Simona Ventura GIF - Trash Italiano Simona Ventura Qualcosa Non Quadra GIFs

You can adjust either phrase slightly to say ‘things don’t add up’, in the plural: this time you’ll want le cose instead of qualcosa, and to conjugate the tornare or the quadrare in their plural forms.

Ci sono molte cose che non tornano in quest’affare.
There are a lot of things about this affair that don’t add up.

Le loro storie non quadrano.
Their stories don’t square.

You can also add pronouns into the phrase to talk about something seeming off ‘to you’ or anyone else.

La sua storia ti torna?
Does his story add up to you?

C’è qualcosa in tutto questo che non mi torna.
There’s something about all this that doesn’t seem right to me.

alfonso qualcosa non mi torna GIF by Isola dei Famosi

The next time something strange is afoot, you’ll know just how to talk about it in Italian. Montalbano, move aside…

Do you have an Italian word you’d like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.

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