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

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The German Suffix -schaft

The suffix –schaft has a wide range of uses in German that overlaps to a large extent with the way in which the etymologically related suffix –ship is used in English. It may indicate, for instance, a state of affairs or a relationship between the type of persons indicated by the noun it is attached to. For example, Freund means "friend" and Freundschaft "friendship": It's the relationship that exists between friends.

It may also refer to a group whose members have something in common. For example, Leser mean "reader" and Leserschaft "readership": It's the community of people identified by the preceding noun. In German, this type of use may have negative connotations. For example, a Sippe is a clan or an extended family, while a Sippschaft is bad company.

The suffix can also refer to an event or action or their result. The word Erbe means "heir" and Erbschaft "inheritance": If you become an Erbe, you receive an Erbschaft. Analoguous examples for the use of -ship in English are "courtship" and "censorship".

The suffix can also be attached to an adjective. An English example is "hardship". But this use is rare in English. It's more common in German. A well-known and often commented-on example is Gemeinschaft, which is formed by adding -schaft to the adjective gemein in the now almost obsolete meaning of "relating to the larger community". It's often translated into English as "community", but this translation does not capture the connotations of the German term, the sense of belonging, on the one hand, and the rejection of outsiders, on the other hand, that are often implied when we speak of a Gemeinschaft.

There are also instances in German where -schaft is added to a verb. For example, wandern can mean "to hike" or "to roam", and Wanderschaft refers to an extended period of being on the move without having a fixed residence. I cannot think of an analoguous use of English -ship, unless one considers the "court-" and "censor-" parts in "courtship" and "censorship" verbs instead of nouns. In fact, I would consider this a more plausible explanation, but no online source I consulted supports this point of view.

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