Tuesday, October 25, 2005

He fixed the major thing, anyway

We'll be celebrating our favorite German next week but here's an observation on the language.  Besides his major accomplishment, Martin Luther inadvertently provided the basis for Hochdeutsche and the standardization of the language in his translation of the Scriptures.  It did nothing to change this, though:

"I was gradually coming to have a mysterious and shuddery reverence for this girl; for nowadays whenever she pulled out from the station and got her train fairly started on one of those horizonless transcontinental sentences of hers, it was borne in upon me that I was standing in the awful presence of the Mother of the German Language.  I was so impressed with this, that sometimes when she began to empty one of these sentences on me I unconsciously took the very attitude of reverence, and stood uncovered; and if words had been water, I had been drowned, sure.  She had exactly the German way: whatever was in her mind to be delivered, whether a mere remark, or a sermon, or a cyclopedia, or the history of a war, she would get it into a single sentence, or die.  Whenever the literary German dives into a sentence, that is the last you are going to see of him until he emerges on the other side of his Atlantic with his verb in his mouth."

Mark Twain, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, Dover edition p. 122-123

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