Walter von der Vogelweide

This semester I’m teaching a class on the history of the German language. Today we looked at a poem from the Middle High German period, “Unter den Linden,” by Walter von der Vogelweide. I found a great video clip on YouTube of a musician named Eberhard Kummer singing the piece. It starts at 10:14.

Eberhard Kummer singing “Unter den Linden.”

Language Change

I’ve been watching TED Talks for awhile. Only recently did I stumble upon TED.ed: Lessons Worth Sharing. So far, my favorite has been this short piece on Elvish, Klingon, Dothraki, and Na’vi. I don’t know any of those languages, but I really enjoyed this snazzy way of talking about how and why languages change.

TED.ed on invented languages

Longest Word

From time to time, you hear about a word that’s supposedly the longest German word. German is certainly a language that allows one to make up new words at the drop of a hat–one of it’s best features, in my opinion–and these compound words can get long fast. Today in the Tagesschau they’ve highlighted the recent demise of what they say was the longest word in German up to now:

You can read the story in the Tagesschau here:


I recently read, for the first time, a short novella by Theodor Storm called Immensee. What a beautiful little story. Like many of Storm’s stories (and many stories by other 19th-century authors), Immensee begins and ends with a frame narrative. In this frame narrative, we see a lonely old man return to his room at the end of the day and sink deep into thought. The bulk of the story, then, is made up of his remembrances–the story of his youthful, tragic love affair with the lovely Elisbeth–until, at the end, we return to the old man sitting alone in his room. This novella might be a bit of a challenge for a beginner because the language is old and somewhat formal, but the short length makes up for that. It is certainly a wonderfully sad, romantic story and is written with grace and beauty. I didn’t quite cry at the end, but I came close!

You can read the story here:

Etiquette from Culture to Culture

How one goes about being polite differs from culture to culture. This little website gives some of the basics in a nice format.

Language Change

The other day at lunch, a colleague in the Political Science department told me about this article on the BBC website. It’s a fascinating look at how languages change over time. (It was only after the 6th or 7th century A.D. that German and English acquired separate identities; Indo-European is their common ancestor.)

Study on the Gender of Nouns

An article in Scientific American reports on a study of how grammatical gender affects our perception of objects. In languages like German or Spanish that have a gender associated with each noun, objects are perceived differently depending on what the gender is. So if Germans consistently refer to the moon with the masculine definite article (“der Mond”), they eventually come to see the moon itself as having male characteristics, more than Spanish-speakers do, for example, for whom the moon is grammatically feminine. I think this is fascinating! The article goes on to say that we assign gender to all kinds of things–even numbers.

In my quest to find good read-alouds online, I stumbled across this site. It’s similar to the I found a few weeks ago, but it seems to have a lot more German literature. Again, it’s great because you can read and listen to the text at the same time–great for language learners. I’ve been listening to Theodor Fontane’s Frau Jenny Treibel.

Als ich ein kleiner Junge war

Erich Kästner (1899-1974) was an author of books for children and for adults. You may know his Konferenz der Tiere or Emil und die Detektive or Das doppelte Lottchen—the model for the movie The Parent Trap! Als ich ein kleiner Junge war is pitched to kids, but it’s a lovely read for anyone. My favorite section is an especially poignant passage about the destruction of Dresden, Kästner’s home town, in World War II.

I’ve been looking for sources for audio books in German, and I came across the site this week. So far I’ve listened to a fairy tale by Wilhelm Hauff (Kalif Storch) and a novelle by Wilhelm Raabe, Else von der Tanne. It’s nice to be able to listen to someone reading the stories out loud, and they seem to have a good selection of classics.