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Bath German Society on the web

Bath German Society now has a Facebook page!

Please "like" it (who decided that the word "like" would be a good way of showing one's approval? It is so inelegant....) and keep up to date with the Society's programme.  Announcements of events concerning German/Austrian/Swiss culture taking place in Bath will also be posted there.

Click here for the link.

The Society's website is here.

Bath German Society's first meeting of the season takes place tomorrow, 20 September. Film licensing laws do not permit advertising so I'm not allowed to divulge the name of the film - but it is in German by a German director with German actors and deals with facing the end of life. I think it is more upbeat than I have made it sound!

The minefield that is language

Anyone who has attempted to learn a foreign language will be at once fascinated and daunted. Fascinated - by the new vistas, culture and ways of thinking that open up and daunted by the cultural pitfalls, faux pas and general misunderstandings that can ensue.

Even those who have a solid grip on a foreign language or two can be tripped up by unspoken cultural norms lurking in the background of the simplest of greetings.  I have been reminded of this by this article recently published by the BBC.

Most European languages - English of course being the exception - have an informal and formal version of the word 'you'. Informal usage is restricted to family, children, animals and very close friends. The formal usage is for everyone else - neighbours, colleagues, strangers, and so on. For example, informal versions are "tu" (French) "Du" (German), "tu" (Spanish) and formal versions are "vous", "Sie" and "usted".

At one time, the conventions were very clear and there was not any confusion about when to use the different versions. Nowadays, society has become more relaxed and the lines have become blurred. Some people do not mind a bit of informality and others do - so quite a lot of second-guessing is required.

Some years ago, when I worked for a German company, we simply followed the adage "when in Rome...". In Germany, I would address my colleagues as Herr X and Frau Y and use the 'Sie' form of the verb. When they visited the British office, the same people would be addressed by their first names and addressed as "you". All very clear. Some people may think it odd that we would start a conversation off in one language and end up speaking in the other. We would move from informality to formality (and perhaps back again) in the space of five minutes but it felt entirely natural.

If in doubt, I tend to err on the side of caution and use the formal version which in German is the same as the infinitive so there is the added advantage of less conjugating being required.

In English, the conventions can be more difficult to navigate as a foreign speaker may think that if he is addressing a colleague by his first name, then the tone and register can be relaxed as well. For colleagues who know each other well and are friends outside of work, this is often the case. But for those who interact solely in a work environment there may be a level of formality that is conveyed in other ways. This is where one has to be culturally aware as well as linguistically aware. Even native speakers can sometimes misread a situation and misinterpret it. The topic of the BBC article discusses the issues of people communicating using Twitter where informality is perhaps expected in such short messages but even so offence can easily be caused if these unwritten conventions are contravened.

Language is wonderful but it can also be a minefield!

Switzerland and the Olympics

Today is Switzerland's National Day.  The UK does not have a national day although we seem to be having a national year this year, 2012, with all the celebrations for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee and holding the 30th Olympic Games.

So what do Switzerland and the UK have in common? According to Diccon Bewes' blog's Swiss fact of the week, only two countries have competed at every single one of the modern Summer and Winter Olympic Games: Great Britain and Switzerland.

At the time of writing, Team GB has won 4 medals - 2 bronze and 2 silver. Switzerland has yet to win one - but the whole spirit of the Games is not the winning, but the taking part.

And it is not only athletes taking part in the Olympic Games. My friend, Gabriel, commentated on the Opening Ceremony for the Latin American Spanish-speaking audience and he's also commentating on his beloved football too! What a fabulous assignment. Congratulations, Gabriel!


TrànslationWörks would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Her Majesty the Queen on the occasion of her Diamond Jubilee.

Here, we (is that the Royal we?)  have been busy translating over the Jubilee Holiday but took some time off to perform in the village production of the Mechanicals' Play from a Midsummer Night's Dream. The part? Hippolyta - the queen....

Rosa Luxemburg in Bath

It's always important for translators to keep up to date with the culture of the countries whose languages they translate. And not just with contemporary culture. History is also important because one never knows when some otherwise obscure reference to something or someone is going to be made in a text.  If one has at least an inkling of an idea as to where to start researching, this can save hours.

On May 4th, BRSLI is holding a lecture on the life of Rosa Luxemburg. This lady, who is widely known in Germany (lots of streets are named for her, for example) crosses the boundaries of a few cultures as she was born in Russian-controlled Poland in 1871 and eventually became a naturalised German citizen and was a political activist, feminist and writer.

More information about the lecture is available from BRSLI website.

Further information about her can be found on Wikipedia in English here or in German here.
Tickets to the talk are available from the Bath Box Office