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Lecture 1

LING 1 Lecture Notes - Lecture 1: Schuh, Germanic Languages, Peace Corps

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Sample paper for Linguistics 1
Wieder ist ein Schiff untergegangen!
Russell Schuh
This paper compares some features of English and German, and it says some things
about my experiences with these two languages and how my abilities in the two languages
relate to those experiences. I was born and raised in the state of Oregon. From the time I
was about seven years old until I reached adulthood, my family lived in Klamath Falls, in
southeastern Oregon. Klamath Falls is essentially a monolingual English-speaking town,
and all the people I had any contact with there--family, friends, teachers, employers--used
only English. As an undergraduate, I majored in French, and I spent two years in the Peace
Corps in Niger, a francophone African country, where I also began learning the Hausa
language. Thanks to this experience and periodic returns to French and Hausa speaking
areas, I speak both these languages relatively well, though certainly not at a native speaker
level. The focus of this paper is not these languages, however, but rather on German.
My paternal grandparents immigrated to the United States from Germany at the
beginning of the 20th century. German was the language used in my father’s family during
his entire childhood. My father was the youngest of seven siblings, and until I was seven
years old, we lived in the Portland, Oregon area, near most of my paternal aunts and
uncles. They would often speak German when they got together, and though I never
learned to speak or understand it, they enjoyed teaching me how to say things, such as the
numbers, the alphabet, the names of common things, and even phrases. After all these
years, I still remember one of my aunts telling of an illiterate friend or relative who, during
the First World War, was looking at a newspaper, but holding it upside down. On the front
page was a picture of a ship (upside down, of course), and he said, “Wieder ist ein Schiff
untergegangen!” [Another ship has gone down!] I learned this phrase and repeated it over
and over.

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When I was seven, my family moved to Klamath Falls, at the opposite end of the state,
so I saw my aunts and uncles less, and they, too, spoke less and less German, so I had
little contact with the language until I entered graduate school in linguistics and saw the
need for German as a research language. I sat in on a German class for a year, where I
learned about grammar and memorized such useful sentences as, “Ich moechte ein
Wienerschnitsel mit Salat.” [I'd like a veal cutlet with salad.] Since then, I have acquired a
reasonable linguist's knowledge of the grammar, and I have learned to read German rather
painfully, using a dictionary. I have also visited monolingual German-speaking relatives in
Germany, where I tortured them and myself with my “pidgin” German, but I have never
acquired a fluent speaking or writing ability.
Comparison of Sounds
Among the sounds of German that do not exist in English are a voiceless velar
fricative and a voiceless palatal fricative. In the German writing system, both
sounds are spelled “ch”, but they are quite distinct in pronunciation. I will represent the
velar fricative with the symbol [x] and the palatal fricative with the symbol [C].
Bach [bax] ‘brook’ (also the name of the famous composer)
ich [iC] ‘I’
The voiceless velar fricative, [x], is pronounced by putting the tongue near the
velum, as for [k], but instead of completely stopping the air as for [k], the air passes
between the tongue and the velum causing a “grating” fricative sound. The voiceless
palatal fricative, [C], is made by raising the entire middle part of the tongue high in the
mouth toward the hard palate (the “roof of the mouth”), almost like the vowel [i]. The air
passes between the tongue and the palate, again making a fricative sound. Both [x] and [C]
are voiceless, that is, the vocal cords are not vibrating.
For German speakers, these two sounds may, in some sense, be “the same”. As noted
above, the German writing system spells both as “ch”. More important, the sounds occur
in different contexts. The palatal [C] pronunciation comes up when a front vowel ([i] or
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