The German club hosted an event with cake, coffee, and games, so I went. I was surprised by the number of people who showed up (but I guess since it advertised free ethnic food, I should not have been too surprised). There were definitely more German students in attendance than the number of Chinese students that would normally come to Chinese events, so I had to find a seat on the floor. I managed to make my way over to the table with home-made German cakes, and got a delicious piece of cake topped with whipped cream. We played a game where we tried to guess the meaning of German idioms. My favorite one was about giving a monkey sugar (I don’t remember the exact phrasing). The meaning is essentially to give into one’s desires, which here is symbolized by a monkey. So, after learning this idiom, I gave my monkey some (literal) sugar, and enjoyed another piece of cake. It was interesting and enjoyable to learn more about German culture embodied in the language, and I hope to be able to attend more German club events in the future!
As a Global Engagement Fellow, I get to study abroad at least twice during my college years. After coming back from my semester in China, I started thinking about where I wanted to go for my second trip.
I decided that learning a language would be the most valuable thing I could get out of a study abroad trip, so I ruled out places that already spoke English, such as New Zealand and England. Secondly, I wanted to learn a European language, since I already speak an Asian language. Even though I have had some experience with learning Spanish, I decided to learn German instead. Practically speaking, German is a language connected to many opportunities in the STEM field, and is a powerful country in the hub of Europe. So, enrolled in German 1115 this semester to open up my options for studying abroad in Germany next year.
The first day of German class was like I had just walked off the plane in the Frankfurt airport, surrounded by clueless Americans (myself included) and trying to communicate with a tour guide who only spoke German. I never thought it would take so long to learn “My name is Ashlynne” and “I come from Texas.” We had name tags with prompts in case we forgot the sentences, but even after hearing my professor ask every single person one after the other, I hesitated and had to look down at my name tag when she finally asked me “Wie heißt du?” I had never experienced a complete immersion environment since I already knew some Chinese before I went to China, so it was a pretty exhilarating experience. When I finally was able to understand what she was staying (with the aid of her expressive hand motions), it was as if I had just discovered gravity. As the semester progressed of course, those “ah-ha” moments became pretty ordinary, as she pretty well maintained the “German-only” policy in class. Even though I feel like I learned a lot of German this semester, I know there’s still a lot more for me to learn. I look forward to studying abroad in Germany soon, and being able to speak more German!
For those of us more scientifically and analytically inclined, poetry can difficult. Poems are a tricky art; rather than painting canvases or modeling clay, poets craft their masterpieces from the selfsame words used to email a co-worker or write a shopping list. As a mathematics major, I like my ideas to be clean and clear. I like exact answers and definitions. In my experience, that does not mesh well with poetry. I cannot clearly define poetry, I cannot list the criteria for a text to be considered a poem. Poetry is a form of artistic expression and therefore fights such restraints. Despite this, I am fairly decent at recognizing the poetry I do encounter. Sometimes it is the rhyming scheme, sometimes the ebb and flow of emphasized syllables, but generally, one thing or another will tip me off, so to speak, that I am reading or listening to a piece of art. That is, provided the poem is in English.
A few weeks ago I attended a German poetry night at the urging of my German instructor. Having never studied German before college, I could only understand bits and pieces of the recitations. In Jabberwocky, Lewis Carroll wrote nonsensical verses, stuffing them with made-up words. To my ears, German poetry sounds much like Jabberwocky, a few basic words are clear, but the others are undefined. One thing that surprised me about the event was that I frequently had trouble recognizing the rhythm of the poems. I could pick out instances of basic alternate rhyming schemes, but the other forms of poetry, especially those relying on the meaning of certain words, sounded merely to be choppy nonsense sentences. It made me begin to consider how a different culture would draft epics and convey sweeping grandeur with a different language.
Those who have studied a language know that literal translations only work for basic sentences. Before very long the literal translation becomes jagged and crude. It becomes necessary to paraphrase if you will, the meaning being conveyed. In German, I can say I am doing well with the phrase “Mir geht es gut.” Translated word for word, it would be along the lines of “To me goes it good.” German, like all languages, has its own quirks, idioms, and “strange” structures. It only makes sense that German poetry would reflect these. In fact, this particular phenomenon came into play when translating the Harry Potter series. Translators ran into great difficulty replicating the rhymes and puns J.K. Rowling had worked into the text. A German translator, Klaus Fritz, was forced to call Diagon Alley simply by the name of Winklegasse, or Corner Alley, thereby losing the play on words. Interestingly enough, he manipulated the text slightly to achieve the same humorous feel, as he could not directly replicate the jokes.
I attended the poetry reading out of curiosity, not expecting to get much out of it. In one sense I did not; I listened for over an hour to words I did not understand, spoken with passion but with masked meaning. In a different sense, however, it was time well spent. I walked away with a question that asked me to take a closer look at the assumptions I held with certainty. As students, limited in our current knowledge, is that not what we should expect from the international events on campus? Are they not only for our entertainment but also another opportunity for us to learn?
(In looking up the name of the German Harry Potter translator, I stumbled across this article about translating the series. It touches briefly on the issues and approaches of translating the books into various different languages. It is not an in-depth analysis, but if you are a fan of Harry Potter, you may find it an interesting read: http://bytelevel.com/global/translating_harry_potter.html)
A few weeks ago, I attended the German Poetry Night in the OMU, and even read a poem myself. Since this is my first semester even taking German, I did not expect to understand very much, and I was not surprised when I didn’t. Many of the readings and poems performed by other students, including several of Goethe’s writings, were far beyond my comprehension level. However, that did not mean that the evening was not enjoyable or entertaining. Just listening to the language itself was interesting, and several students from my German class and other classes put on a few plays that were incredibly funny even if I didn’t know what was being said. One of the plays was Red Riding Hood in German, which was very easy to understand without actually understanding the words because everyone knows the story of Red Riding Hood. It was performed in a spur of the moment manner that lent for a lot of funny acting and improvisation. The second play was about a tailor that cut off the thumbs of a child because the child couldn’t stop sucking on them. While it may sound gruesome and not funny in the least, the way in which it was performed made it very entertaining, and the whole room was left laughing at the end.
The poem that I read for poetry night is titled “Ich bin auf der Welt allein”. It is by Rainer Maria Rilke, an Austrian poet who lived from 1875-1926, and is loosely about becoming oneself. The poem in German is below, and an English translation can be found here.
Ich bin auf der Welt zu allein und doch nicht allein genug,
um jede Studen zu weihen.
Ich bin auf der Welt zu gering und doch nicht klein genug,
um vor dir zu sein wie ein Ding,
dunkel und klug.
Ich will meinen Willen und will meinen Willen begleiten
die Wege zur Tat;
und will in stillen, irgendwie zörgernden Zeiten,
wenn etwas naht,
unter den Wissenden sein
Ich will dich immer spiegeln in ganzer Gestalt,
und will niemals blind sein oder zu alt,
um dein schweres schwankendes Bild zu halten.
Ich will mich entfalten.
Nirgends will ich gebogen bleiben,
denn dort bin ich gelogen, wo ich gebogen bin.
Und ich will meinen Sinn
wahr vor dir. Ich will mich beschreiben
wie ein Bild, das ich sah,
lange und nah,
wie ein Wort, das ich begriff,
wie meinen täglichen Krug,
wie meiner Mutter Gesicht,
wie ein Schiff,
das mich trug
durch den tödlichsten Sturm.