View Full Version : German in the novelization

12-16-2004, 07:26 AM
Some of you must have read The Dig novelization by Alan Dean Foster, right? Well, then you know that he used some German in his book. Am I the only one who is bothered by the way he used the language? I have heard no one complaining, and yet I find the whole matter really ridiculous. I have studied German for only three years, and yet even I could spot many mistakes!

"Ludger Brink, Commander Low. It is a true pleasure. Wie gehts? (...) But then, it is not their approval that we seek, nicht wahr? (...) Warum? Why?" (p. 29 - 30)

Firstly, it's supposed to be "wie geht's". Secondly, why is Brink speaking German? He never did that in the game and he definitely knows enough English to say those things in it. He's a scientist, for crying out loud! He's making a fool of himself this way. Think about it. Would you go to Germany and say "Excuse me, wo kann ich Frau Steiner finden?" or "Es ist sehr gut, right?" Didn't think so. It would be a different matter if Brink couldn't say those things in English, but he can. Therefore he should use English. Sadly there are many times when he switches to German for the most common words (I suspect that Mr. Foster can't actually speak German and wrote the novelization with a dictionary in his right hand).

"Spirits, Maggie? Ghosts? Ubermenschen?" (p. 109)

It's "Übermenschen"! Just because the umlaut doesn't exist in English doesn't excuse you from writing it. Also, according to my dictionary it's not a word for ghosts. I asked (http://www.godawful.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=7976&start=50) several native Germans about it and they confirmed it. "Übermenschen" is a word for super humans.

Maggie replies to this by saying that she doesn't know any German. There is another reason to why it's so illogical that Brink switches to it from time to time. Why bother when no one will understand him? Also, isn't Maggie supposed to be an expert in foreign languages? That's one of the reasons they took her on the mission! German is a very known language, millions and millions of people speak it in Europe. I find it very difficult to believe that Maggie can't speak even a word of it. Don't you?

"Verdampt! I was sure I saw something." (p. 184)

According to my loyal dictionary, "verdampt" is not a word. I think Foster is aiming for "verdammt" which means pretty much the same as cursed. Therefore I give up the theory about him and a dictionary.

"We are trapped here and... vas ist mit ihnen los? What's the matter with you?" (p. 187)

It's actually "was". How is it possible to misspell such a common word? I can't say whether the actual sentence is right or not, the grammar goes beyond my skills. Something inside me tells me that it should me "ihnem", but I am not sure at all.

"Ya!" Brink's befuddlement turned to defiance. (p. 193)

I... don't... believe... it. Everyone, I repeat, everyone who uses German in any form should be able to spell "ja" correctly. Come on! It's one of the most common basic words, the first one I learned when I started studying. This is an insult to the German language and everyone who speaks it.

"Ich... verstehen. I understand, Commander. Do what you have to do." (p. 271)

Big news! German doesn't work like English. You can't just pick a verb in your dictionary and put it in a sentence. You have to make sure you are using the right form of it. Therefore, this should actually be "Ich verstehe".

"I am not surprised. These crystals are allgegenvartig. They can do anything." (p. 289)

I was informed (http://www.godawful.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=9393) that it should be "allgegenwärtig". Is it that difficult to check it?

I have absolutely no idea why these mistakes were left in the book. Where are the editors? Why do they get paid? Doesn't anyone check these things? Did they think the public is too stupid to realize these?

Now, I am not saying that making mistakes with grammar is bad. Not at all. Everyone makes them, even when using their first language. However, when I pay for a professionally published book written by a professional author, I expect it to be as good as possible. These ridiculous mistakes disturbed my reading and I actually had to stop after the "Ya!" exclamation. It stood in the text like a cow with three heads and threw me off the story. Not good.

If I made any mistakes correcting the fanboy!German or if I missed something important, feel free to correct me.

*Edited for some spelling errors*

12-16-2004, 08:57 AM
Very astutely recognized, for someone who doesn't use the language. I've read the book, too, and have found these sentences very interesting as well. I have over twenty years of experience with the German language.

I think some of the incorrectly spelled words may be intended for the reader to be read in a manner that makes them sound right and at the same time alienate them from similar English words. "Ja" may be read as dsha like in jar. It reminds me of this sign (http://www.mac-archive.com/wolfenstein/facts.html) in the game Wolfenstein 3-D that tells you to phone Apogee and say Aardwolf. That's how you pronounce the first name of Hitler in German as opposed to the English pronounciation eydolf.

You are right on most of the right spellings except that it's not "ihnem". The word in the book wasn't a hundred percent right, though, since it should have featured a capital i when addressing a person in a formal way.

Sadly such things are quite common in American media. I don't recall a specific movie, but it seems pretty normal to put little effort in checking those foreign words. It seems odd that no one bothers to ask an immigrant or tourist if he can lend a hand.

12-16-2004, 09:54 PM
Originally posted by Alien426

You are right on most of the right spellings except that it's not "ihnem". The word in the book wasn't a hundred percent right, though, since it should have featured a capital i when addressing a person in a formal way.

Thanks! I learn something new every day. :)

I find it ridiculous that the way a language is written is changed so that the audience knows how to pronounce the words. I would understand if we were talking about Russian or Japanese because they have their own alphabet.

But German?

12-17-2004, 02:59 AM
Being a German myself I have (almost) stopped bothering about stuff like this. It happens A LOT in movies as well, and I think it's just ridiculous.

How hard can it be to get someone who KNOWS German? I mean, there are a lot of Germans in America, so why don't they get them as "language coaches"? It's not as if you have to be specifically trained to tell the actors how to pronounce certain words (or how to write them, for a start).

A very good (actually BAD) example is the "Die Hard" series (part 1 and 3 to be exact). German terrorists, some of them are even played by German actors, and the other ones (played by American actors) use "German" that sounds like rubbish to someone capable of the language. I mean, there are Germans on the set, and yet they don't ask them for advice... I could do it!

A positive example of this "situation" is Bryan Singer's "X-Men 2", where actor Alan Cumming plays Nightcrawler, a "circus freak" from Munich. And he obviously trained a lot getting the pronounciation right... very cool.

The answer to this "situation" is basically very easy: Most movie-makers (or authors, for this matter) don't care about an international reception of their work... it's an American movie/book, the majority of Americans don't know German, go figure the rest.

OK, "Die Hard" stays an awesome series, so obviously it doesn't bother me THAT much :D

12-17-2004, 06:02 AM
Foster makes mistakes in both English and German, sadly enough.

For example: I can't remember where in the novel it is, but there was a place where he used the word "Irregardless" - which technically isn't an English word at all! He should have written "Regardless" or "Irrespective".

Granted, a lot of people use the "word" mistakenly in speech, but it should not be tolerated in writing. It is universally regarded as incorrect, and its presence in the novel is a sign either of bad writing or bad proofreading...or both.

12-17-2004, 08:22 AM
It's habit that crops up with using foreign languages in stories, unfortunately. My guess is that Foster thought that playing up Brink's ethnicity by having him slip into German would better establish and distinguish his character. (Which makes no sense, really--I'm okay with characters slipping into their native languages, but generally only if they have a good reason for it. They're not comfortable speaking English, deliberately want to hide something they're saying from another character not familiar with the language, tend to slip into their first language when they're angry, etc. But with a character like Brink it just doesn't make sense.)

Unfortunately, Foster forgot the cardinal rule of foreign language in fanfic writing--only use a language you're familiar with, or you'll end up with fanboyisms. And then people will point and laugh. And it's just embarrassing.