You Don't Know This?

Living abroad widens one's perspective and opens one's mind to new thoughts. It also destroys one's ability to speak his or her native tongue. Since moving to Germany, I have learned two new languages: German and Pigeon English. Aside from trying to apply German grammar to English sentences (For example, "You absolutely must to visit come!"), I have picked up some phrases that no native speaker would use. One of the most insidious involves misusing the word "know."

In German, there are two words, wissen and kennen, which usually get translated as to know. The difference is that wissen means "to know," in the academic sense, and kennen is more accurately translated as "to know of." A very common mistake is to say "I don't know that," instead of "I've never heard of that before," or "I'm not familiar with that." Since I speak German, though, I understand what the speaker means and don't make a fuss about it.

Let me tell you, it's a short trip from understanding to accepting to adopting. I often find myself saying things now that are obviously not English, but against which I can no longer make a good argument. Sometimes my wife will correct me, and sometimes she doesn't even notice, because she suffers from the same malady.

Comments:

When I was learning German at school, the difference was explained as wissen = to know a fact, kennen = to know someone (ich weiss das / ich kenne ihn). <p /> I can sympathise with your English predicament; after living in Austria for a few years and speaking Deitsch most/all of the time, my English became corrupted. You say something you think is English but other native speakers " back home" look at you as if you're insane. When you're no longer bombarded daily by a language/culture, you come adrift from it...

Posted by Tony Curtis on July 09, 2005 at 08:12 AM PDT #

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