Monday, August 16, 2010

Texas and Taxes and that Awful Language


Texas Slogan for a Litter Free Texas
I was told that Northern Europeans have difficultly hearing the distinction between the words "Texas" and "Taxes."  I decided to conduct a non-scientific experiment to see if this was correct.  I did this, in part, because Americans have difficulty pronouncing the letters "S" and "Z" in German.  For example, the words "Seit" (since) and "Zeit" (time).  The "Z" in German is pronounced "ts."  Pronouncing the "Z" sound is particularly difficult for me. I always need to make a special effort when using a word with "Z" in it. 

In any case, I asked two Germans, one Pole and one Finn to tell me the difference between "Texas" and "Taxes." They all had difficulty.  It wasn't until I wrote the words out that they could understand the difference.  I can sympathize.  For example, how does one differentiate between words the "plane" and "plain," or the words, "meet" and "meat."  On the other hand, "Texas" and "Taxes" are pronounced quite differently, especially if you're a native speaker.

People always tell me that German is easy to pronounce.  They say it isn't like French, which is next to impossible to master.  I have to disagree.  I have studied both French and German over the years, and even become quite proficient in French (at least, I was until I took up German).  From my experience, learning German is an almost insurmountable challenge.  I quote from Mark Twain, no intellectual dummy:

"My philological studies have satisfied me that a gifted person ought to learn English (barring spelling and pronouncing) in thirty hours, French in thirty days, and German in thirty years. It seems manifest, then, that the latter tongue ought to be trimmed down and repaired. If it is to remain as it is, it ought to be gently and reverently set aside among the dead languages, for only the dead have time to learn it."

- Appendix D of A Tramp Abroad, "That Awful German Language"

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