Why German (sometimes) makes me cry

You’ll all have heard the semi-truth that German has really really long sentences where all the verbs come at the end. The period of German I am looking at (the language of the eighteenth century) is well-known for having ‘imprecise constructions in complex sentences’ (Admoni, 1990:197). The below is an excellent lesson in hypotaxis (can you spot a main clause?) I challenge any German speaker to be able to parse it without wanting to cry by the end (yes, it really is only one sentence). Have fun!

“Kaeyserl. Decretum, daß der Chur-Coellnische Gesandte/ Baron von Zeller/ sich vom Reichs-Tage zu Regenspurg weg/ und aus dem Reich begeben solle/ de Anno 1704.

VOn der Roemischen Kaeyserlichen Majestaet/ unsers allergnaedigsten Herrn wegen dem N. Zellner hiemit anzudeuten; Weilen derselbe nicht nur gegen die ergangene Kaeyserl. Avocatoria von dem Herrn Churfuersten von Coelln zu einem Gesandten sich bestellen lassen/ und ohgeachtet er dafuer niemahlen angenommen oder erkant worden/ nichts destoweniger offenbare Missethaten hin und wieder zu rechtfertigen bemuehet gewesen/ mithin deren sich theilhafftig gemachet/ sondern auch/ seit derselbe mit seinem Leib zu dem erklaerten Reichs-Feind ausser Teutschland uebergangen/ Ihm und anderen Feinden allerhand nachtheilige Dinge zu wissen gethan/ auch anders Ubel anzurichten sich befliessen/ und samt seinen Gehuelffen/ dem Chur-Coellnischen Cantzellisten/ noch nicht nachlaesset/ mit Nachrichten/ Rath und That beyzutragen/was zu Ausuebung feindlicher Unternehmung gereichen mag/ und ihnen moeglich ist/ wie ihnen solches am besten bekant/ und zum Theil stracks fuer Augen geleget werden koente/ einfolglich sie wohl verdienet haetten/ gegen ihre Personen und Gut mit denen verordneten Straffen ohnaufschieblich zu verfahren/ daß gleichwohl Ihre Kaeyserliche Majestaet aus angebohrner Milde ihnen noch zur Zeit allein ernstlich befehlen wollen/ inmassen sie hiemit befehlen/ daß er mit besagtem Chur-Coellnischen Cantzellisten und allen ihrigen innerhalb drey Tagen aus der Stadt Regensburg/ und unter beyliegendem Kaeyserlichen Geleit in vierzehen Tagen ausser Teutschland sich begeben/ wiedrigenfalls dieselbe im Reich nirgendswo einige Sicherheit haben/ sondern auf dem Betretungs-Fall erwehnte Straffen an ihnen ohnfehlbar vollzogen werden sollen. Signatum zu Wien unter mehr allerhoechstgedachten Ihrer Kaeyserlichen Majestaet hervorgedrucktem Secret-Insiegel den 9. September Anno 1704.”

This is what I am spending my life wading through at the moment!! (In case you’re interested, this is an extract from a legal document, Das Teutsche Reichs-Archiv, by Johann Christian Lünig from 1710, freely available from the GerManC corpus …)

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Reference:

Admoni, W. 1990. Historische Syntax des Deutschen, Tübingen: Max Niemeyer Verlag.

Suddenly

Many of you will have seen the 2012 film adaptation of Les Misérables. I originally saw the stage show about ten years ago in the West End and it’s definitely one of my all time favourite musicals (back in the day I was a bit of a musical theatre connaiseuse…)

When watching the film at the cinema last month, I noticed a song, ‘Suddenly’, which seemed unfamiliar to me. Given that it sounds so much like it belongs to the rest of the Les Mis score, I assumed it was just one of those songs that I had somehow forgotten in the years since I used to sing ‘I dreamed a dream’ practically every day, accompanying myself at the piano (it must be a stage all 15-year-olds go through…) A little bit of research has shown me that actually, ‘Suddenly’ does not feature in the original production, but was written specially for the film by composer Claude Michel Schönberg and lyricist Alain Boublil, who had penned the original. Since the film is two and a half hours long, you’d be forgiven for wondering why an extra song was written for the big screen: Tom Hooper, the director, explains here how he wanted to show how central falling in love with little Cosette was to Jean Valjean’s life, something which is difficult to capture in theatre. The writers clearly agreed with him, because in the same extract Schönberg says ‘There is a chapter in the book I think that only a camera can catch’.

For those unaware of the plot or who haven’t seen the musical, Jean Valjean is an escaped convict who has never been shown love before, and he takes in Cosette, the daughter of a disgraced prostitute who has died, and brings her up as his own daughter. There is much I could write about this story and this film, given its strong Christian overtones, as although much of the plot is harrowing, it is ultimately a tale of grace. However, I draw your attention to this song because it is rare, I think, that intimate but non-sexual relationships of this type get explored in popular film. Jean Valjean is a single grown man, Cosette is an abused little girl. It seems an unlikely friendship, but it is a beautiful one. Have you ever had an unlikely friendship, where you have learnt to see the world in a new way because of someone else, someone who you would never have thought would touch you in the way they did, because they are so different from you in terms of background, age and so on? I know I have. I love the fact that the unlikeliest of relationships are often the ones that stay with us long after our paths have crossed. This song beautifully sums up this sentiment. Have a listen.