Occasional musings, Geistesblitze, photos, drawings etc. by a "resident alien", who has landed on American soil from a far-away planet called "Germany".

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Word of the month: Kauderwelsch

The term is used, in the narrower sense, to refer to speech made incomprehensible because it is a mixture of words from different languages, often mispronounced. In the broader sense, it may mean just "gibberish". Welsch is an old-fashioned word for a Romance language or a speaker of such a language. The origin of the Kauder part is not clear. The most convincing explanation, to me, takes into account that in Swiss German, the term is Chuderwälsch and may have originally referred to the speech of the people of Chur in the canton of Graubünden--Martin Luther used the term in this sense.

In any case, this is a favorite word of mine because of the way it sounds--it mimics what it designates (it will never make it into English, though, I think). I was reminded of it when we talked, in a previous post, about Denglish, the mixture of German and English found in the news, in advertising, and in daily speech in present-day Germany--language purists call it, yes, Kauderwelsch, although it's perfectly comprehensible to most.


Anonymous said...

It´s allways interesting to look at your words of the month. I allso like Kauderwelsch. Especially - as you write - because his sound says, what it means. I learnd again a lot from you, when I looked about Kauderwelsch. So I found, that Schiller made a little poem:
Die Elbe:
All´ihr andern, ihr sprecht nur ein Kauderwelsch. Unter den Fluessen
Deutschlands rede nur ich, und auch in Meissen nur, deutsch.
It´s because in his time only the speaking round Meissen valid as good german. Thank you! Your old friend Volker

Ulrich said...

@Volker: Thank you so much for bringing this to my attention. And please forgive me if I put on my professor's hat and add some explanations.

The Schiller poem is a classical distich, a two-line poem where the meter of the first line is a hexameter and that of the second a pentameter (Prof. Google will be happy to explain what these are). Schiller's lines are spoken by the river Elbe, which is one of the 4-letter European rivers well-known to crossword puzzlers in America (Arno, Ebro, Oder, Elbe, Avon, Yser). This is what Schiller's Elbe says:

All you others (i.e. other rivers), you speak only Kauderwelsch. Among the rivers
of Germany only I speak German, and only in Meissen.

The allusion to Meissen must be an inside joke that I don't get.

Ulrich said...

Still wearing my professor's hat: here's what's probably the most famous distich of Western civilization, attributed to the Greek poet Simonides who lived around 500 BCE (the translation--almost--conforms to the classical distich meter):

Traveler, take this word to the men of Lakedaimon
We who lie buried here did what they told us to do.

It's spoken by a Spartan soldier, one of the famous 300, who died defending the pass at Thermopylae against the advancing Persians.

mac said...

Once again, there is a similar word for this in Dutch: koeterwaals! Het is duidelijk afgeleid van het Duitse woord, and Waals (French speaking Belgian) and Chur are also mentioned in my Dutch Wiki source.

This is a word that is alive and well in Holland, we use it when someone speaks gibberish.

Ulrich said...

I'm glad to hear that the word is alive and well not only in Germany--as I said before, it's a favorite of mine.

mac said...

I just noticed I did half of a sentence in Dutch!

Ulrich said...

@mac: I noticed it--I thought you knew the Dutch was so close to German that it didn't need translation--but that leaves English speakers out, of course...

Ulrich said...

For some reason, Kauderwelschseems to attract cute Japanese women. I deleted their 'comments' nevertheless b/c I don't really see the connection and thread drift can be taken too far.