People tend to associate different languages with different tones and sounds. French, which is often described as the “language of love,” could be compared to a soft, seductive ballad reminding you of your first dance with your significant other. French, along with Italian and Spanish (and Romanian, etc.) is a Romance language, meaning it is derived from the Latin of Rome. It is also a language that has a tradition of elaborate description and is one that makes poetry writing easy. English on the other hand may be a radio friendly pop song that you dance to when no one’s looking. When people think of English (especially British English), they think of people sipping on tea all day and saying “cheerio” to almost everyone that passes by. But what about German? By reputation at least, the mother tongue of Bach, Beethoven and Goethe is the death metal of languages. Non-German speakers often describe it as “harsh,” “angry” and “guttural.”
The videos below show an entertaining comparison between the different languages, ending with German each time:
This series of video emphasises on German’s harsh and angry reputation. But is that reputation necessarily justified? Not really. As you can see, the videos showed a variety of well recognised, but not necessarily accurate, national stereotypes. Note the French woman eating a baguette and the exaggerated drawl of the “redneck” of the South American. According to German teacher Renate Graßtat , spoken German actually sounds quite different:
“In fact, the language sounds hard if you don’t use softeners like “denn, doch, ja” etc. – words which lose their original meaning when put into a sentence just for the sake of the intonation. Nobody would say to a child crying: “Was hast du?” Try to express the same thing with “Was hast du denn?” and you will feel the difference.”
Plus, there’s the fact that the other speakers in the videos are talking normally, while the “German” actor snarls his lines.
The perception that German apparently sounds harsh and aggressive to non-native speakers has been widely influenced by historical events in the first half of the 20th century. Recordings of nationalistic propaganda (and of course its content) have hugely contributed to the false accusation that German is an angry sounding language.
However, we have to distinguish between the tool and its usage. Chopsticks for example, are being largely used to transport pre-sliced pieces of food from a plate / bowl to the mouth. However, people acting with ill-intent, might use chopsticks as a weapon and hurt the listener. But this doesn’t make the chopsticks a tool of aggression. Following the same logic, German was merely the tool which was used to transport an evil message or give orders which entailed serious consequences.
The belief that German sounds angry and linguistically-similar languages do not is definitely a cultural fragment. Too many people cannot recall any German except Hitler’s speeches or the exclamations of movie villains with German accents (movie villains are often angry, you rarely see them in romantic situations) or Rammstein (who trained to have a harsh accent and mostly write angry songs).
The German movie industry produces a lot of comedies but has trouble selling them abroad, so most German movies people may have seen are also the dark kind, like The Experiment and Downfall. The French movie industry has the opposite problem, having trouble selling anything but romantic comedies abroad. In the end, French and Spanish are being reinforced as sounding romantic while German, with many of the same sounds, is being reinforced as sounding angry.
For proof that German doesn’t have to sound scary, here’s a video on how lovely German sounds compared to other languages:
Doesn’t sound so bad after all, does it?
By Narmatha Pathmanathan