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Language Reference Guide For German
Posted on Monday, October 15 @ 05:25:01 EDT
Topic: Lingustics

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1. Grammar and Spelling
2. Punctuation
3. Measurements and Abbreviations
4. Hyphenation
5. Miscellaneous Peculiarities
6. Geographic Distribution
7. Character Set

General note on German language reform:

This relates to spelling and grammar and aims to standardise the German, Austrian German and Swiss German forms as well as systematise the whole German language, making it less complicated.

Since 1 August 1998, the 'new' rules have been being taught in schools across Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Lichtenstein. Since 1 January 1999, the 'new' rules have been in use by all of the official authorities and since 1 August 1999, German-speaking news and media agents have been subscribing to the 'new' rules, although they have slightly modified them.

The transition is expected to be complete by 31 July 2005, at which time the 'old' form of the language will be regarded as incorrect. Until that time, the 'old' form is to be regarded not as incorrect, but as obsolete. However, minor changes to the reform are expected to be implemented before then.

http://www.ids-mannheim.de/reform/ (in German)

http://www.goethe.de/kug/prj/dds/en137878.htm (in English)

Section One - Grammar and Spelling

1. Gender: Three genders to be aware of - masculine (der), feminine (die) and neuter (das). Articles, pronouns and some word endings (mostly only when in the plural) have to be declined according to the case they are in. The definite article is der, die, das (see above), the indefinite article ein (m + n) and eine (f).

2. Cases: Four cases exist - nominative, accusative, genitive and dative.

3. Spelling: All nouns in German begin with a capital letter. The polite form of address (including possessive pronoun) also begins with a capital letter, i.e. Sie, Ihr.

The 'new' German rules can be most easily recognised by the diminished use of the ß in words where it used to be preceded by a short vowel i.e. daß becoming dass etc. (In Switzerland, the ß is not used at all, however, as before). Other reforms include the use of commas; the tolerance of the same 3 letters appearing in a row (i.e. Schifffahrt is correct); the germanisation of 'ph, th, rh' into 'f, t, r' (i.e. foto instead of photo etc.) and the spelling of compound verbs and participles as one word or two separate words (e.g. ‘so genannt’ instead of ‘sogenannt’).

In upper case, ß is never used, but always written SS, even following the 'old' rules.

Plural: there is no foolproof way of identifying the plural form of nouns, as it is dependent on the gender and case of the word. However, the most common plural endings are '-e' or '-en'.

Section Two - Punctuation

1. Commas: Punctuation is very important to German grammar, particularly where commas are concerned. As a general rule, there is a comma before (and after) every subordinate clause introduced by a conjunction or a relative pronoun. Though the rules for commas have become somewhat more relaxed with the grammar reform, they should still be treated with caution.

2. Full stops: No full stops after headings/sub-heads/bullet points.

3. Speech marks: German uses mostly „...“ or «...» (in printed texts), although it is not now uncommon to see the same speech marks in use as in English.

When the sentence within speech marks ends with a full stop, the speech marks are written after the full stop: Sie sagte: „Ich komme morgen.” But if the main verb is after the cited phrase, the comma separating it is after the speech mark: „Ich komme morgen”, sagte sie.

When the phrase within the speech marks ends with a ! or ?, the speech marks are set as follows:

1. „Geben Sie mir mehr Arbeit!”, schrie Chloe. (“Give me more work!”, shouted Chloe.)

2. „Will noch jemand Tee?”, fragte George. (“Would anyone like some tea?” asked George.)

3. „Mir ist langweilig - kann ich jetzt heimgehen?”, sagte Michala. (“I’m bored – can I go home now?”, Michala said.)

4. Apostrophes: The apostrophe is used when a letter is left out (i.e. mostly in reported speech – e.g. ‘mir reicht’s’ instead of ‘mir reicht es’) or to define the genitive case in words that end in s, ? or z. Hannes’ Geburtstag, Karl Marx’ Philosophie.

5. Colons, semi-colons and ellipsis: Basically used the same way as in English, with the first two not being as frequently used as in English sentences.

6. Capitalisation: This is a wide field and should be handled in accordance with Duden. In headings etc. capitalisation does not differ from the rules for other sentences.

Section Three - Measurements and Abbreviations

1. Measurement: It is now a legal requirement that all measurements be written only in metric in German texts, although there are some exceptions: pipes/tubes, threads, computer monitors and computer disks which are given in Zoll (= inch).

Paper sizes: The form A0/E is American. In German, the letter following the initial size (i.e. 'E' in this case) is omitted, and DIN inserted before: DIN A0

Use a decimal comma.

Numbers above 999: Use either a space or a dot to separate groups of thousands.

SWISS GERMAN uses apostrophes (instead of commas) to separate groups of thousands.

Currency: There are various correct ways of writing German currency: 5,00 €; 5,- €; € 5 (the latter is used mostly in financial documents or presentations where the focus is on figures).

The same with other symbols: US$ 50; £ 23,50 but 3 Millionen Dollar, 300.000 Pfund. The international 3-letter code, e.g. GBP is only used by banks and similar institutions.

Time: Tends towards the 24hr system, and should use the format either 6.30 [Uhr] or 6:30 [Uhr].

Date: Two formats - either 20. Februar 2005 or 20.02.2005

A space is generally left between numbers and their measurement abbreviations, i.e. 21,5 kg (but see the two points below).
% symbol: As in English, preceded by a space unless it is being used in an adjectival position, i.e. eine 10%ige Erhöhung [a 10% increase].
°C: A space, i.e. 3 °C (technical use) or 3° C (general use)
It is not uncommon to see figures adjacent to letters: 4teilig (4-part); 10fach (tenfold); ½-, ¼-und ¾zöllig (a half, a quarter and three-quarters of an inch).

2. Abbreviations:

N/a = na (nicht anwendbar)
No. = Nr.
e.g. = z.B. i.e. = d.h.
Q&A = F&A
WxLxHxD = B x L x H x T
1. / 2. / 3. / 4.
Herr (Hr.) / Frau (Fr.)
Sehr geehrter Herr (name) / Sehr geehrte Frau (name)
Sehr geehrte Damen und Herren (only way of salutation without using a name)
m (for metre)
cm (for centimetre)
g (for gram)
km (for kilometre)

Days of the week: Mo., Di., Mi., Do., Fr., Sa., So.

Months: Jan., Febr., März, Apr., Mai, Juni, Juli, Aug., Sept., Okt., Nov., Dez.

Seasons: Frühling, Sommer, Herbst, Winter (not normally abbreviated in German)

Section Four – Hyphenation

German hyphenation follows strict rules - please consult the latest "Duden" for correct hyphenation. The general rule is that compound nouns are spelt without a hyphen unless it consists of more than two or three nouns or one of the nouns is of foreign origin.

German sometimes uses a hyphen to connect one or two nouns to a compound noun in a list of words which have the second part of the final compound noun as a common element i.e. Groß- und Kleinschreibung [where Groß- represents Großschreibung]. The use of the hyphen is the equivalent of writing 'upper and lower case writing' instead of 'upper case writing and lower case writing'.

Short (N) dashes are used in sentences.

Section Five – Miscellaneous Peculiarities

There is often considerable language expansion when going from English to German.

The need for hyphenation is, by and large, unavoidable in German, due to the frequency of long, compound words.

Section Six – Geographic Distribution

German is one of the main cultural languages of the Western world, spoken by approximately 100 million people. It is the national language of both Germany and Austria, and is one of the four official languages of Switzerland.

Additionally it is spoken in eastern France, in the region formerly known as Alsace-Lorraine, in northern Italy in the region of Alto Adige, and also in eastern Belgium, Luxembourg, and the principality of Liechtenstein. There are about one and a half million speakers of German in the United States, 500,000 in Canada and sizable colonies as well in South America and such far-flung countries as Namibia and Kazakhstan. Like the other Germanic languages, German is a member of the Indo-European family. Written German is quite uniform but spoken dialects vary considerably, sometimes to the point where communication becomes a problem.

German is spoken/used in the following countries: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, Estonia, Finland, France, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Moldova, Namibia, Paraguay, Philippines, Poland, Puerto Rico, Romania, Russia (Europe), Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, Uruguay, USA, Uzbekistan.

Language Family
Family: Indo-European
Subgroup: Germanic
Branch: Western

Dialects vary in Austria as well. Its written German (High German) differs slightly from the variety used in Germany (mainly in vocabulary and in its preference for the south German variants of the language). In Switzerland,the spoken German language (Swiss German) is rarely used in written communication, where High German is used (again with some changes). This is why print media and books are distributed in all three countries. When targeting only one of them in a marketing campaign, texts should be localised to their specific variety of German.

Source: http://www.worldlanguage.com/Languages/German - Copyright © Kenneth Katzner, The Languages of the World, Published by Routledge. http://www.ethnologue.com/show_language.asp?code=deu (accessed July 2005)

Section Seven – Character Set

[ ] = Alt key codes

a ä [0228]A, Ä [0196]
c C
e E
l L
n N
o ö [0246]O, Ö [0214]
r R
s S
ß (only Germany and Austria, NOT Switzerland) 
t T
u ü [0252] U, Ü [0220]

By Wordbank Ltd,
TEL: +44 (0) 20 7903 8800, FAX: +44 (0) 20 7903 8888,


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