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Fun facts about the German language from the point of view of a Russian :)

'Deutschland vs. Schweden // Germany vs. Sweden, Heiligengeistfeld, 2006-06-24' photo (c) 2006, smitty42 - license:
1. Each year around 15-18 million people start studying German.
2. The very first book in the world was printed in German. It happened in 1455, and the book was the Bible. Now every 10th book published in the world is in German.
3. German is famous for its long words. According to German Wikipedia and the Guinness World Records book, the longest word in the German language is Donaudampfschifffahrtselektrizitätenhauptbetriebswerkbauunterbeamtengesellschaft. The English translation is Association for subordinate officials of the head office management of the Danube steamboat electrical services (Read more here). Here's the Russian equivalent: Общество служащих младшего звена органа по надзору за строительством при главном управлении электрического обслуживания дунайского пароходства. As Mark Twain once said, "Some German words are so long that they have a perspective!" :)

4. I love German proverbs! Some of them are extremely funny. My favourite one is "Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof" = "I only understand railway station" (actually it means "I don't understand"). Dear German native speakers, do you know how this proverb appeared? I'd be interested to know that.
5. In German, "bekommen" is not translated as "become"! "Bekommen" means "get, receive" and "become" is translated into German as "werden".
Some other false friends of German langages learners (especially English speakers) are:

  • "sensibel" does not mean "sensible". It means "sensitive". And "sensible" is "sinnvoll" in German;
  • "sympathisch" does not mean "sympathetic" (exactly same thing with the Russian language by the way). It means "nice", "pleasant". As for the English word "sympathetic", it is "mitfuehlend" in German.
  • "Gymnasium" in German is not the same as "gymnasium" in English. The English word means "sports hall" whereas the German word means "Grammar school".
  • The German word "Gift" does not mean "a gift", but actually means "poison"!

6. Nevertheless, German and English are very close since they belong to the Germanic languages, a sub-branch of the Indo-European languages. So if you already speak English, German would probably be quite easy to master :)
7. The German language has about 35 dialects.
8. It is spoken in Germany, Austria, a large part of Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, the South Tyrol region of Italy, the Opole Voivodship of Poland, parts of Belgium, parts of Romania and the Alsace region of France. Several former German colonies, such as Namibia, also have a lot of German speakers. German-speaking communities can also be found in parts of the Czech RepublicSlovakia,HungarySerbiaRussia and Kazakhstan. In Russia, forced expulsions afterWorld War II and massive emigration to Germany in the 1980s and 1990s have depopulated most of these communities.
9. A legend says that German could become the official language in the United States. Supposedly, the Americans wanted to break free from Britain so much that they decided to even speak a different language! But when the voting was held, the English language won just by one vote! I love the story, but after searching a little further I learned another fact. So, according to other sources, some German-speaking settlers in Virginia once signed a petition asking to translate the laws into German because it would be easier for them to read and understand those laws. This fact later served as a basis for that legend.
10. English has borrowed lots of words from German. You can find the full list in Wikipedia.

These facts by no means make an exclusive list :) I found them while searching the web and looking through my university notes. Some of them might not be 100% accurate, so if you have anything to add I'll be happy to read your comments!

Here are some websites in Russian and English where you can read more interesting info:
Интересные факты о немецком языке и о Германии
Факты о немецком языке
Fun facts about the German language
69 fun facts about Germany - that's a really cool post which speaks not just about the German language, but also about Germany!

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