All posts by An Sasala

Linguistics Sweatpants

Everyone has that favorite pair of comfy sweats. Slipping them on feels like coming home — warm, cozy– or drinking that perfect cup of coffee/tea on a bright fall day. For some of us, that pair of comfy sweats is exactly that: an article of clothing; for others it is a song, a book, a language.

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As someone who can speak three languages with additional reading fluencies, I am lucky to have multiple pairs of baggy, well-loved sweats. I can shimmy out of my German Jogginghosen and into my Spanish pantalones de ejercicio, and relax with a book in my Portuguese calça de moletom, sliding back into my English sweatpants when necessary.

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Languages are, as the above quote mentions, a type of apparel. They allow us to clothe our thoughts in pretty words to soften blows; they help us to heighten the emotion during rallies and protests. We can even get them tattooed on our bodies or wear a patterned shirt, literally clothing our bodies in words.

With my languages, I can tell someone I love them three different ways –I love you. Te amo. Ich liebe dich–, can wrap myself around them in a linguistic hug, three different ways.

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As German-Jewish philosopher Walter Benjamin writes: “In the words Brot und pain [bread], what is meant is the same, but the way of meaning it is not. As to what is meant […] the words signify the very same thing. The difference in the way of meaning permits the word Brot to mean something other to a German than what the word pain means to a Frenchman.” Benjamin describes how two words may mean the exact same thing, and yet, because they come from different languages, their connotations will differ. I cannot speak for the French –although I have heard they do love their baguettes– but in Germany, almost nothing beats a good, old belegtes Brötchen (fantastic little sandwiches filled with lettuce, cheese, vegetables, and occasionally a slice of meat). My memories of Chile are fondly sandwiched by two pieces of white bread held together by manjar (the caramel equivalent of Nutella!).

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Dictionaries and thesauruses are the walk-in closets and buffet tables of language. Go ahead, pick out a dress, a sweater, or a pair of stilettos. Will your language make you feel hipster, sexy, warm and fuzzy, or comfy? Grab a slice of that pizza, a scoop of that ice cream, a forkful of that salad. Does your language satisfy you, fulfill your linguistic hunger? But language doesn’t have to be limited to pants or our food choices. As Ludwig Wittgenstein says, “The limits of my language are the limits of my mind”, come up with a new analogy, one which expresses the happy, contented feeling of conversing in another language. What is your sweatpants?

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Citation: Benjamin, Walter. “The Task of the Translator“ in Selected Writings Vol. 1 1913-1926, eds. Marcus Bullock and Michael W. Jennings. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1996.

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Der Mauerfall von Gettysburg College: Reflections on the Fall of the Berlin Wall at Gettysburg College

I may not have been there for the fall of the wall, I may have been only a distant twinkle in the sky of my parents’ eyes, and yet, through the eyes of my professors and words of my books, I can feel a sense of connection, of shared emotion, at what remains a pivotal moment of recent German history, memory, and culture.

The 25th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall events hosted by the Gettysburg College Dept. of German Studies sought to do exactly the opposite. Although a wall was built, it did not seek to exclude, but rather to include. Kicking off a week-long celebration, students, faculty, and administrators from across campus were invited to help construct the wall in Musselman Library from 12-1pm on Monday, November 2nd. Constructing the wall out of cardboard boxes and tape, community members elicited a number of perplexed stares and confused glances from students expecting the library to be full, but not of a construction crew.

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Building the wall seemed like a game, something comical, but, when I stop and think back on my experience of ripping tape and fitting together boxes, it created much more. I was a part of a community, and we were doing something together –something to make us US. Although we laughed, and graffitied everything from penguins and light-hearted messages to profound thoughts on our wall, I found myself to be deconstructed by it, by the process of stacking, drawing, creating.

Who was I to build this wall? What right did I have to create a barrier between students and their much needed open space in the library? Our wall could be moved by two people using only three fingers; it stood five boxes tall and eight boxes long. So small, when compared with the mammoth structure built, first in secret, by the German Democratic Republic (GDR). We did not start at night, we began and ended in the daylight, our purposes opposite of back then.

Night did play a role in our celebration. Throughout the week, a video of images and facts about the Berlin wall played on the side of Pennsylvania Hall.

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Again seeking to cross boundaries and be inclusive, Tuesday evening’s event brought current and former faculty members to the Junction in order to remember the Wall and what it meant. The evening began with a short film shot and edited by Prof. Henning Wrage, originally from the former East Germany.

Afterwards, an audience of students sat and listened to an enlightening series of readings performed by Henning Wrage, Eric Scheufler, and Laurel Cohen (German Studies), Arthur McCardle and Michael Ritterson (formerly of German Studies), William Bowman* (History), Radost Rangelova (Spanish), Joseph Brandauer (Health Sciences) and Sandra Tausel (German Studies TA), both of whom are from Austria, and Alan Perry (Italian Studies). Flags of both nations flew behind them, willing their audience to remember another time.

Our Tuesday evening of powerful reflection was followed by an insightful, lunchtime panel discussion about the Fall of the Berlin Wall in a global context. Joined by faculty members Nina Barzachka and Robert Bohrer (Political Science), Susan Chen (Asian Studies), Abou Bamba (History), Alvaro Kaempfer (Latin American, Caribbean, and Latino Studies/Globalization Studies), and Henning Wrage (German Studies), German Studies engaged in a dialogue about the purpose of the Berlin Wall and the ramifications of its fall on various countries.

Thursday evening, students of German gathered together to watch Das Versprechen (The Promise), a 1995 film which chronicles the fictional lives of two characters separated by the building of the wall.

Friday, Nov. 7th, found Prof. Cohen translating during a skype interview with Dirk Moldt, a former Wall protester and demonstration organizer. Much of his discussion centered around the role of the Wall as a symbol of oppression.

Sunday, events drew to a close with the tearing down of the wall; a catharsis for students, faculty, and staff who had viewed it with a mixture of mirth, apprehension, and confusion.

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As we tore down our wall, destroying any reminders that it once caused a division, Berlin remembered in its own way. Creating a wall of light, the city once again remembered its division, choosing to release balloons into the sky, a signal of letting go of the pain. As Prof. Laurel Cohen wrote in an email to her students, “This event changed the world you live in today…“ and it has. For those of us not old enough to remember the Fall of the Berlin Wall, the German Studies Dept. gave us a chance to create our own memories, to experience –in part– the emotion accompanying such a momentous event.

Walls are built and torn down every day, but that does not mean that we should forget that they splinter; they divide. Twenty-five years ago, on Nov. 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall fell, opening the dividing line between two halves of a whole, reuniting pieces of land and family members. Two countries once again became one. Almost immediately after the Fall of the Wall, another wall was built –this time between the United States and Mexico; another wall, the Security Fence/Apartheid Wall surrounds the West Bank. It is almost as if the world could not go on without walls. Each was built in order to keep people out, but a wall does more than that. A wall sets up dichotomies: what is over THERE is bad which makes us good; what is over THERE is dangerous which makes US safe and protected behind OUR wall. It seeks not only to exclude people, but their ideas, their culture, their languages.

I may not have been there for the fall of the wall, I may have been only a distant twinkle in the sky of my parents’ eyes, and yet, through the eyes of my professors and words of my books, I feel a sense of connection, of shared emotion, at what is a pivotal moment of German history, memory, and culture.

For another take on the events, please see Stephany Harrington’s reflective piece from The Gettysburgian.
For more information and an “insider look“ at the Fall of the Berlin Wall, please check out these recently released NSA documents. Many Thanks to Prof. Abou Bamba of the Gettysburg College History Dept. for drawing my attention to these documents.
*Prof. William Bowman’s insightful reading was published on Sunday, Nov. 9th in the Philadelphia Inquirer.
For more information about post-war culture, please see Paul Hockenos’s article from the Boston Review.

Photo Credit goes to the German Studies Dept. and Prof. Henning Wrage.

More photos, links, and videos can be found at the German Studies webpage and at the German Studies Facebook Page

Dear Ryan Murphy, The Infinitive Goes at the End

***Spoiler Alert for Episode Four of American Horror Story***

Potential Trigger: Clowns

Approximately 90 million individuals speak standard German as their first language, with an additional 30 million people speaking variations (Swabian, Austrian German, Swiss German, etc.) And then, not be forgotten, approximately 80 million people speak German as a second language. I may not be a math major and therefore capable of solving the meaning of life (42, if you wanted to know), but basic addition, that I can handle. 90mil+30mil+80mil= 200mil German speakers, one of whom, is me. When American Horror Story (AHS) creator Ryan Murphy announced that the fourth season of his cult-classic television show would be Freakshow, I got excited. When American Horror Story creator Ryan Murphy announced that the fourth season of his cult-classic television show would include German, I, and other German-speaking fans of the show, understandably grew apprehensive. American TV shows are not exactly known for their fantastic pronunciation of languages other than English.

That's right hunny, be wary of strange men offering you things!
That’s right hunny, be wary of strange men offering you things!

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014 arrived, a blustery day marking the beginning of Fall in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. As always, my friends and I gathered excitedly in front of the television screen, eagerly awaiting the creepy strains of the theme song.

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Cinematically, AHS breaks barriers, daringly experiments with camera angles, and ultimately falls flat on its Arsch when it comes to German.

Less than 10 minutes into “Monster Among Us,“ (the first episode), I cringed. Jessica Lange’s German accent is passable; painful, but passable. Her German “R’s” which occur in the back of the throat are inconsistent, as are her “V’s” which sound like an “S” and her “W” which sound like a “V.” (Don’t look at me, I didn’t come up with the pronunciations!)

“Das Leben will geliebt werden. Life is to be lived.“ is the first German line spoken by Jessica Lange’s Elsa Mars. Immediately my little, German-speaking heart sank.

Mr Clown, that is exactly how I feel when people mess up German during TV shows.
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Although this sentence is grammatically correct, the translation into English is not. Geliebt is the past participle of the verb lieben, which means to love, making the correct translation, “Life is to be loved.” Also a good sentence. If the episode writers truly wanted Elsa to say “Life is to be lived,” they should substitute geliebt with gelebt, the past participle of leben: to live. Additionally, the third person, present tense conjugation of werden (to become), wird, would make the sentence grammatically correct: Das Leben wird geliebt werden.

Thankfully, the German was kept to a minimum of colloquial phrases until episode four, “Edward Mordrake: Part 2.“ The second half of the AHS Halloween special, it should actually be titled “Night of the Living Trope,” as the episode grossly misrepresented the Weimar Republic, confused geographic and political terms, and perpetuated portrayals of Germans as depraved, sexually immoral, inhumane Nazis. I am not saying that the Nazis were not horrible people –they most assuredly were!– however, Germany, its people, and its history, cannot and should not be limited to “Nazis!” simply because the trope is too “difficult” to avoid. As a scholar of the Weimar Republic, I had to leave the room; the show’s disrespectful (and historically narrow-minded) depiction of “sexual deviancy” as vulgar and perverted via a voyeuristically debasing camera angle made me sick. To top it off, the German spoken matched the horrific nature of the scene.

Snape is not amused and refuses to watch any longer.
Snape is not amused and refuses to watch any longer.

Fourteen minutes into the episode, Edward Mordrake, a freak searching for a depraved soul to take back with him to Hell, forces Elsa to relive her worst memory–the loss of her legs during a snuff film. However, before she could relate the horrific details of her experience, it was necessary to butcher some German.

“Willst die Hunde pissen?” questions Elsa. Translation: Does the dog want to pee? At least, that is what they were going for; the actual translation of this sentence would be along the lines of “Does the dogs want to pee?” The mistakes being made do not involve more than basic, intro-level German; the German 101 students whom I tutor write more complex and grammatically sound sentences, and they have only been studying the language for two months! First, die Hunde is the plural of der Hund (the dog); as there is only one human pretending to be a dog in the scene, the plural is not necessary. Next, subject and verb agreement. In German, the subject of the sentence determines the form of the conjugated verb. The verb used here is wollen: to want to, to will. Willst is the du form of the verb, as described in the table below.

Ich will (I want) Wir wollen (We want)
Du willst (You -informal- want) Ihr wollt (Y’all want)
Er/Sie/Es will (He/She/It wants) Sie/sie wollen (You formal/they want)

Had Elsa wished to ask the man a question, she should have said, “Willst du pissen?” This question is also useful if she is actually talking to a dog. Had her intention been to completely dehumanize the man and ask “Does the dog want to pee?” Elsa would need to say, “Will der Hund pissen?“ Instead, she mixed the two forms and accidentally used a plural. Did Ryan Murphy even consult a German-speaker for this show?

The answer is obviously a resounding “NO,” as Elsa’s next statement is equally grammatically problematic.

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“Nay, nay, nay. Du kannst nichts steihen wie ein Mann.” Translation: No, no, no. You cannot stand like a man. The beginning of the sentence is fine. The subject du (you) and the verb können (can, able to) agree; however, the rest of the sentence makes me wince. Nichts (nothing, none), although a proper German word, does not work in this context; only nicht (not) is needed. The following word, which I understood as steihen (no translation available as it is not a word), is most likely a mispronounced version of stehen (to stand). In addition to being mispronounced, it should follow the phrase “wie ein Mann” which is written correctly.
Dear Ryan Murphy, the infinitive goes at the end.

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For another analysis of television’s use of “bad German“, please see Rebecca Schuman’s review of Grimm at Slate.com

American Horror Story: Freak Show airs Wednesdays on FX at 10pm EST/9pmCT.

Searching for a Voice, Hoping to Be Heard

Imagine knowing who you are, but not being able to express that inner knowledge verbally, to tell someone else, “This is me! I am _____________” This inability to successfully expound upon a facet of one’s identity is acutely felt by those of us who identify as a non-binary gender –a gender other than the stereotypical male or female dichotomy– and who speak a language which is heavily gendered. The World Atlas of Language Structures Online (WALSOnline) offers an extremely useful interactive map of the world categorizing spoken languages by their type of gendering. Specifically, I struggle with finding the words and expressions in Spanish, a language classified by WALSOnline as having gender in first, second, and third person pronouns. This pre-set gendering can seem inescapable, and, causes confusion when I say I am neither él (he) or ella (she): I am someone else. They question: How can you exist if there is not a word?

 

With the increased visibility of non-binary individuals, language and terminology, languages such as Portuguese and Spanish, which operate on a man/woman binary, have come under fire for their inability to include and provide a voice for its non-binary speakers. The grammatical structure of Spanish is based upon gendered nouns, whose gender is denoted by the accompanying article —el for masculine and ella for feminine; a general rule of thumb for those learning Spanish as a second language, is that el words end in “o” and la words end in “a.” This shows that rather than an entire word being gendered, it is only one letter added to the root which genders the word and compels adjectives to add the correlative ending –“o” or “a.” For example, the root of the Spanish word for puppy is cachorr-, the masculine-gendered being el cachorro and the feminine-gendered being la cachorra. Adding the adjective cute, lindo, the phrase changes to el cachorro lindo and la cachorra linda.

 

It would appear that everything in Spanish must be gendered; however, it is important to note that there is a difference in the inclusivity of the spoken language and the written language. Over the past few years, starting in an academic context and moving outwardly into the cotidiana (everyday), two alternative forms of word-endings have emerged. The first to arrive on the scene involved ending a word with both the “o“ and the “a“ and using both articles at the front: el/la cachorro/a. The slash is meant to create a separation between the gender and the word which allows for a mediocre version of gender-neutrality and a rather unwieldy vocabulary if one must always say “el/a cachorro/cachorra.“ The second gender-neutral ending to emerge involves the replacing of the typically gendered “o” or “a” ending with an “x,” a completely gender-neutral letter. However, this does not account for the preceding articles; one still has to write: el/la cachorrx. This creates gender-neutrality and a visual break from the typically gendered endings in the written language but still lacks a corresponding vocal. The most utilized gender-neutral ending for Spanish again seeks to combine the “o“ and “a“ endings through the use of the @ symbol: el/la cachorro/a becomes l@ cachorr@. Sadly, this form lacks a vocal, a spoken component.

Now, one would think that adding gender-neutral terms to a language would be seen as revolutionary –inclusivity and all– however, there has been some push back. Part of the reason for the resistance comes from the perception that the addition of gender-neutral pronouns would actually remove gender from the language, which would then disrespect and attempt to invalidate the gender identities of people who know that “I am a man!“ or “I am a woman!“ The addition of gender-neutral terms is not to eradicate gender, but instead to provide a linguistic space within which non-binary individuals can explore and express sus propias identidades (their own identities), within which they can bend the rules and establish new ones. From this space, they can proclaim to the world “No soy hombre ni mujer, soy nonbinari@ y llámeme ____!“ (I am not a man nor a woman, I am non-binary, and you call me by ________!)

LRC Student Staff Member: An Sasala

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The new semester has begun, and we are featuring profiles of our multilingual and multitalented student staff members.

Hallo! Hola! Hi! My name is An Sasala; I am a senior from Cleveland, OH with a double major in German Studies and Spanish/Latin American/Caribbean/Latino Studies with a minor in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. As if that was not already enough, I fill up the rest of my time with long (and by that I mean short) naps, homework, the Women’s Rugby Team, tutoring for German 101 and 103, and being a Tour Guide for the Office of Admissions (plus a gajillion other things, but nobody wants a laundry list!).

This is my third year working for the LRC providing focused language assistance for individuals interested in learning German, Spanish, Yiddish, or Dutch. Not only will my smiling face and mass of curly hair greet you at the front desk when you check in, but the LRC is full of what else: Language Resources. Our library is full of manga, novels, and dictionaries in various languages; board games abound; and we even got some nice comfy chairs over the summer that are great when you need to practice conjugating all those verbs.

Language has always been a passion of mine, and helping other grow beyond the constraints of knowing only one tongue remains one of my highest goals. Being a double language major comes with a lot of scoffing. ‚Oh, what an easy course load you must have!‘ ‚Languages, that’s easy, right?!‘ If you think languages are easy, I double doggy dare you to sit in an upper level German grammar class; it is JUST as difficult as economics or physics, and every bit as applicable to real life. However, just like I need the basic functions of a calculator explained to me over and over, some people need a helping hand with languages. My hand (and my shoulder if conditional tenses make you want to cry) is here to help you along whether it is finishing that German Movie Maker Project, or picking up some basic Portuguese. Remember: Se puede! Es wird besser!​

p.s. The picture is of me with Mozart while in Vienna during my second semester abroad in Berlin, Germany; one of the most famous German/Austrian chocolates are the delicious Mozarkügeln! (I went to Valparaíso, Chile my sophomore year!)