Denver Bar Association
December 2003
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A Vord About Forrenn Akzents

by Floy Herta Jeffares

Now that Arnold rules California, and as a native German speaker myself, I find it appropriate to provide an overview of the German-speaking mind. A mind that perceives reality in a slightly different way than the average (acknowledging the possible oversimplification of this statement), contemporary, anglo-speaking American sees the world; the very American who has been born and raised in this country and been living here for most of his or her life.

Why would you, the Docket’s valued reader, even care? Because many foreigners live among us and contribute to our economy. Of those foreigners, many are German, more than one might suspect. German natives move to Colorado in great numbers—lured by wild mountains, unbelievably sunny skies and a refreshingly friendly population. We are not easily detected—we blend well into the general populace, most of us looking, dressing and conducting ourselves like the average European-American from next door. Only when we open our mouths, stubbornly converting "w" into "v" and "yeah" into "yah" do we emit a hint of what might go on behind our otherwise Anglo-appearing facade.

The mind of the person whose mother tongue is German, like Arnold’s (never mind that he hails from Austria—they still speak German over there), is hardwired to a certain way of thinking, no matter how seamlessly and accent-free she has learned to annunciate in the Anglo world.

There is often a challenge with similar sounding words. Many a German have strolled down the cozy little streets of Aspen or Estes Park, wondering what the American obsession is with selling so much "poison" in such beautiful mountain settings. Many quaint little stores announce that they sell beautiful "gifts" for the whole family. In Germany, the word "gift," spelled and pronounced exactly the same, means "poison." This word is notorious for placing the German mind in a bind. I once tried to describe a particular color of green to an English-speaking audience. The entire point I wanted to make hinged on the audience visualizing the offensive, screaming color. I described the color by using lots of expressive gestures and facial twisting as well as calling it "gift green." Needless to say, my audience missed the point, smiled politely, and chalked the uttering off as yet another one of those weird ways in which this lady occasionally speaks.

The confusion does not end. The first time the uninitiated German thinker is confronted with the term "landlord" in everyday business environments, she may experience plain shock. Landlord translates into the German language seemingly easily as "Landesherr." "Landlord" (to the German thinker) is a feudal lord of the land, ruling in his castle with an entourage of knights and servants, commanding the labor, blood, sweat and tears of his indentured peasant farmers. Imagine the stress one experiences when completing a rental application that requests the names of the applicant’s former landlords! The German thinker now feels cheated, having thought that this is a freer country, not a more feudal one.

Let’s turn to the concept of friendship. In Anglo-Saxon usage, my "friend" would be anybody who has not recently stabbed me in the back, either literally or figuratively. This open concept of friendship originates from the frontier days, when getting along with your fellow human beings was a matter of survival. The German mind is a bit more discriminating. My friend, or "Freund" or "Freundin," is someone special, a member of a select few with whom I have lived through decades of trusted acquaintanceship, someone who knows and is accepted by my family and with whom I have shared many a beer, wine, and Schnapps over deep-reaching conversation involving politics, religion, and other treacherous subjects, someone I address in a manner that indicates familiarity, and who would never induce me to buy or sell Tupperware.

These examples merely scratch the surface of the complicated minds behind the German accent. I suspect that other persons with foreign accents may experience similar mind jogs when they converse in English. I call upon my fellow lawyers to truly appreciate the depths and complexity that comes with a foreign accent. An unusual pronunciation signals different world views and different ways of thinking. It is never, ever, a sign of lesser intelligence.

Let’s give Arnold credit for that—-vatefer he may sound like, and vatefer his politikal fiews may be.


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