Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Those Humorless Germans

Language Log is just about my favorite blog. Today, Mark Liberman has a fun post about German and English humor.

1 comment:

sally said...

The overall stereotyping and such in that article was pretty silly, but I'd like to focus on one particular factual claim that was made.

My German is pretty bad, but it's not hard to imagine using the pecularities of German grammar as a mechanism for "surprise endings" along the lines of the "off the bus" example that they cite as being unsayable in German. I remember that when I was reading "The Metamorphosis" in German that part of the pleasure and drama arose from the distinctly German (as opposed to English, not all other languages) practice of having one verb at the beginning of the sentence and all the other verbs at the end. It made for a lot of inherent tension in many of those sentences. It seems to me that an equivalent joke could be written exploiting this practice. Maybe something along the lines of "My wife thinks I'm lazy but it isn't true. For instance, Thursday was a very busy day. By five o'clock, I had to the green grocer, to the post office, to the butcher, to the library, to my child's day care [ad nauseum] considered going. I was still wearing my pajamas and lying in bed when she got home from work, but already exhausted from just thinking about all this activity." OK, this isn't funny, either, but it seems basically the same as the "off the bus" joke. Of course, perhaps my memory of German grammar is fuzzy enough for this example to be completely screwed up, but I am pretty confident that a competent German speaker could write a funny statement using this general approach.