December 1st, 2008


I've been studying German for the past few months and seem to be struggling now more than ever.  We are currently working in the perfect tense, and I am sort of losing it.  I think this is just a lot thrown at me after a 10 week summer class in German, so I feel like the other students are so much further ahead of me (and they are but many of them have been studying it for a couple years now or have travelled and spent time in Germany).  So just some questions to clear some things up for me.

To: zu, nach, auf, an, in
At: bei, um, an

When do I use each one?  What is an example of how to use them properly?

Even the cases are throwing me for a loop sometimes.  Sometimes he says its dative and accusative and nominative and I feel like we're never really changing the terms of the sentence! 


I also have question about the perfect tense, I realize you use an auxiliary verb and the past participle.  But I'm a little lost on how to construct a sentence like this:

Was hast du gestern gemacht?
I went dancing with Martin.
Ich bin mit Martin tanzen gegangen.

Holmes pipe 2


A small question to native speakers of English - do you detect any difference in meaning between the words 'sled', 'sledge' and 'sleigh'? Would you be more likely to use one of these words rather than another, either in general or in specific contexts? It would be nice if you could state what variety of English you speak.

EDIT and conclusion:
Thank you for this amazing response! I was led to reflect on this matter because I am translating some 16th Century Dutch and German acounts of the sleds/sledges/sleighs used by the Samoyeds, and I was wondering what the most appropriate term was. I am English and would most naturally use the word 'sledge' for such objects; dictionaries confirm that 'sled' is 'chiefly US and Canada', while not being an 'Americanism' in the sense of sounding odd or affected when used by a British person. All three words have the same basic etymology, being derived by different routes from Germanic words for sliding.

It would seem that 'sled' has maintained itself as the usual word for such objects in North America, and 'sledge' in Britain, while 'sleigh' generally has narrower connotations everywhere, being specifically associated with Santa Claus, reindeers and that kind of thing. I doubt that the latter was so much the case fifty years ago; Fowler indeed speculated in the 1930's that 'sleigh' would probably displace the other terms. Usage in Australia/NZ seems caught between British and American as so often.

With regard to 'sled' and 'sledge', however, there interesting differences in emphasis. Some North Americans find 'sledge' strange and unfamiliar, while others might use it alonside 'sled'; and likewise, some British people might use 'sled' while it strikes others as being more distinctly American. Furthermore, some find a difference in meaning between the two words, finding 'sled' more appropriate for a lighter and 'sledge' for a heavier vehicle. I felt this myself when wondering what to call the Samoyed vehicles, 'sled' seemed positively inappropriate for reindeer-drawn vehicles which could be used for transporting quite heavy loads. Why this should be, I find hard to work out, since the words are basically the same. Is it something in the sound of the two different words? So: 'sledge' it must be, not only because I am writing in English English but also because it sounds more fitting for me for the heavier vehicle. To be sure, because these are reindeer-drawn, perhaps I should say 'sleigh', but that conjures up associations of jingle-bells and all that, which would be out of place.
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  • tisoi

Vietnamese questions

During lunch I went to the local Chinese restaurant, owned by a Vietnamese couple, to get some teriyaki (did I lose you there?).

The owner, a Chinese (with Canton roots) man born and raised in Ho Chi Minh, had mentioned that he attends a Vietnamese Catholic church. This prompted me to ask him how to say Merry Christmas. He said what sounded like "noen yu ye." I asked him to write it down. He struggled, and then finally asked his wife to come out and write it down. They were discussing the proper spelling as she wrote it. In the end, she came up with:

"Noen vui vẻ."

I was surprised to see "v"'s since I heard [j] or the "y" sound. I Googled the words and they appear to be correct. Could this be because of a Chinese accent? But since he was born there, he shouldn't have one. I didn't pay attention to his Vietnamese wife's pronunciation of it.

On another note, what is the usual Christmas greeting in Vietnamese? Because I got low hits for it on Google.
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  • kasak

Counting in Slavic languages

Hello, fellow linguaphiles!

I've been kicking this question around in my head for a while: Why exactly do Slavic languages make nouns that follow numerals typically take the Genitive, depending on the situation? I understand that this is simply what is done, but that still leaves me curious. Is there an actual reason for this, or is this something that is as easy to answer as why the word for "sun" is masculine in Spanish, feminine in German, and neuter in Russian? (I.e., no one knows)

EDIT: I should be more specific. I know that nouns do change, specifically in Russian that after 2-4, it takes the Genitive singular, whereas 5-21 & etc, it would be Genitive plural. My question is why is it that it becomes Genitive when it is no longer singular? Is there any reason, or has it merely become a convention of Slavic languages? Do other case-heavy Indo-European languages do this, specifically Satem branch languages?

Translating poetry/song lyrics?

So sometimes I like to translate songs from Hindi movies just for fun and to practice, but I keep running into something I'm not sure about, and I was wondering what all of your thoughts were. When something is supposed to be "poetic," how do you find a balance between the actual meaning and trying to keep it sounding poetic/beautiful? I'm having a really hard time being happy with my translations because even though the words and meanings sound really nice in Hindi (and in other languages when I've tried it with songs in other languages, but Hindi's the only one I really translate with these days) but they just sound really stupid in English. I'm not getting paid or graded for these translations so it doesn't really matter, I guess, but I'm just wondering if anyone else does this, and if you do then what steps you take to try to make the translation both sound nice in the target language and be as close to the original as possible.
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