Mark Twain Does German

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Mark_Twain_by_Abdullah_Frères,_1867

Among the famous who recount their language learning adventures, we find Mark Twain. It sounds like German was something of a challenge for him. Here’s a literal translation of a speech he gave to a Press Club in Vienna, filled with liberal commentary on the problematic nuances of German grammar for English speakers:

I am indeed the truest friend of the German language – and not only now, but from long since – yes, before twenty years already. . . . I would only some changes effect. I would only the language method – the luxurious, elaborate construction compress, the eternal parenthesis suppress, do away with, annihilate; the introduction of more than thirteen subjects in one sentence forbid; the verb so far to the front pull that one it without a telescope discover can. With one word, my gentlemen, when you her for prayer need, One her yonder-up understands. . . .

I might gladly the separable verb also a little bit reform. I might none do let what Schiller did: he as the whole history of the Thirty Years’ War between the two members of a separate verb inpushed. That has even Germany itself aroused, and one has Schiller the permission refused the History of the Hundred Years’ War to compose – God be it thanked! After all these reforms established be will, will the German language the noblest and the prettiest on the world be.


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  • carin chapin

    what fun!