Harry Potter and the German Dissertation

As I believe I’ve mentioned, I’m graduating soon. All I need now is a) my final results and b) a day of wearing a cap and gown, and I will officially be done with my undergraduate degree. Like a lot of people, I had to do a dissertation to get to this point. I really liked my dissertation, so I’m going to nerd out about it here. Warning: much nerdery ahead.

My dissertation began about this time last year in a bar in Bruges. While on holiday with my friends, which you can read about here, I realised that despite my best efforts I would probably have to do a dissertation, and I had no idea what I would write about. A drunken-ish discussion ensued, and the next day I discovered notes on my phone about what I should write about. It turned out I’d been really insistent about wanting to write about Harry Potter.

I think it’s fairly obvious that I am a huge fan of Harry Potter, but trying to come up with a dissertation that included that was difficult. But I eventually made it work. I was going to look at neologisms (made up words) in the Harry Potter series and how they were translated into German. At this juncture, I’d like to point out that my main motivation to write about Harry Potter was so that it would be interesting, rather than necessarily being nerdy enough to write about Harry Potter. Simply put, I desperately didn’t want to write a 4000-7000 word essay on Hitler and the Third Reich.

So I wrote about Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. I also wrote about a book called Die 13½  Lebens des Käpt’n Blaubär by Walter Moers, which in English is The 13½ Lives of Captain Bluebear. (It’s an excellent book. You should go read it.) And somehow I muddled through and handed in a dissertation entitled ‘From Albus Dumbledore to Zamonia: A comparison of the impact of neologisms in fantasy novels and their translations between English and German, focusing on Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K Rowling and Die 13½ Leben des Käpt’n Blaubär by Walter Moers’. Yeah, it’s a mouthful.

Basically, I looked at four different theories of translation and how they could be applied to the translations of made-up words in Harry Potter and Bluebear. And while it took a really long time to do, not least because the first thing I had to do was write out all the made up words in each book (in English and German) and Bluebear is 700 pages long, it was a really enjoyable experience. I mean, as far as writing an essay can be enjoyable.


Undergraduate research posters. Mine’s the one with the Harry Potter writing.

And while I was doing my dissertation, the Department of Cultures, Languages and Area Studies (aka CLAS aka my uni department) had a post graduate symposium which included an undergraduate poster competition. You could submit a poster of any research you’d done and so, as procrastination, I made a poster of my dissertation. And somehow I won. So that was pretty cool. Especially as when I made my poster, I hadn’t actually written my dissertation.

I had to explain my research to a bunch a postgraduates. I basically said I’m looking at made up words.

I’m not sure if there’s a point to this blog post aside from me going ‘I got to write an essay on this thing and that was super cool, because Harry Potter and linguistics and yes’, but if there were to be another point it would be this: try and do your dissertation on something that interests you. I was terrified that I’d have to write mine on something that I didn’t really care about, that I wasn’t really interested in and that I wouldn’t do very well in. Instead, I wrote about two books that I love with regards to a part of language study that I find fascinating (aka translation with a focus on linguistics). And I got my second highest mark of my university career for it, which was so unexpected. So I guess what I’m trying to say is that Harry Potter got me a first, and if that isn’t magic, I’m not sure what is.


Punctuation: Ridiculous and Magic.

My grandma got a new phone this week. Thankfully she’s fairly tech savvy, so don’t worry – I’m not about to regale you with tales of being IT support for older relatives. But she was texting me and every text ended with ?? Which meant I was reading everything as very questioning. Particularly when texts were just ‘ok??’.

It turns out my phone couldn’t cope with the emoticons she was trying to send me. But it got me thinking about punctuation and how ridiculous it is that. I can? Add some symbols! And you’ll read – the sentence completely…differently in your head.

With the rise of internet communication and social media, we are constantly using written (or typed) language, and punctuation is hugely important to that. Whereas when you speak you automatically do the pauses and intonation and whatnot, that’s not how it works in written communication. It’s how I can write:

I’m fine.

I’m fine!


And while all three have the same two words in them, you know (mostly) exactly how they’re being “said” and thus the meaning behind them. What makes this even more ridiculous is that some of you reading this blog have never heard me speak. Not even once. And yet, you can still infer meaning and tone from the words I use, in part due to the punctuation I use.

What’s the most ridiculous thing about punctuation is that sometimes we use it to make pictures to represent out emotions/attitude/facial features to make up for the lack of face to face contact inherent in written communication. Yes, I’m talking about emoticons.

Emoticons are nothing new. People have drawn pictures in letters since the first time someone put writing instrument to durable surface. But now that we use computers (and yes, I’m including phones in this) we have a key board and our options are more limited. So we make pictures out of punctuation – or at least we did before the makers of our methods-of-communication clocked this and gave us pictures to choose from. The first emoticons, as I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you, were 🙂 and 😦 and the variations thereupon. [EDIT: So WordPress automatically changed colon end bracket and colon open bracket to pictures. I told you they’re onto the emoticon use :P]

What is so fascinating about emoticons is that you can use them to mean a ridiculous amount of things. And these uses aren’t necessarily universal. Take the winky face for example  😉

I have a friend who uses it to denote sarcasm, my cousin uses it when she’s teasing me, I’ve met people who use it to indicate flirting… And then in Germany, it’s just the standard smiley face. Which was very weird when I first moved out there. I thought everyone was either being sarcastic or flirting which was just….so confusing.

What I’m trying to say in this blog post, is that punctuation and the way that it influences how we read written communication is ridiculous and amazing. Punctuation has always been used to indicate tone, and while that in itself is interesting, the way we can use it to reflect emotions and attitudes as well is just…It makes my head spin. Ain’t linguistics great?  😀


Why I cared about Star Wars for an Hour

4th February 2015 marked the beginning of the popular culture lectures at the University of Nottingham and I went because what else am I gonna do with my spare time other than go to non-compulsory lectures?


Look how pretty the poster is

Open to the public, the physics lecture hall was full, even with some people sitting on the stairs. I’m gonna hazard a guess that the vast majority of people there were students at the university, but one should never underestimate the pull of Star Wars. I feel like I should take a moment to explain that, personally, I am ambivalent towards Star Wars. I’ve seen Episodes I-IV (feel free to rage about how I’ve missed out the best two in the comments) and of course it’s a part of popular culture, so I know a fair bit. Let’s be honest, to not know anything about Star Wars would be impressive. So why did I go? Well, the lecture was entitled “It’s a trope!”: ‘Star Wars’ and/in translation and I’m a sucker for translation, especially when applied to fiction. If anyone wants to link me to articles about how Dothraki and Elvish are constructed, I’d be a very happy Kat. So yes. There I was, in a lecture theatre about to be lectured on the importance of translation in a fictional world I don’t care that much about.

Thankfully, Dr Pierre-Alexis Mével is very engaging and knows his stuff. With an introduction video that was an homage to the opening of A New Hope, the lecture started well and when it became a more standard lecture it was still interesting. Leastways I thought it was. But as previously stated, I am a translation nerd.

Starting with the translation of the films into foreign languages, the problems of translating anything into a foreign language were quickly raised, with Han Solo becoming Yan Solo in French so that it wasn’t pronounced ‘An and thus a girl’s name. Chinese bootleg subtitles were covered, where it was well and truly proven that machines shouldn’t be completely trusted with translation. Then there was a brief discussion on how alien languages are tackled in TV and films, which boils down to either 1) everyone speaks the same language (usually English), 2) there are different languages and it’s subtitled, or 3) there are different language and there is no translation. Fairly standard stuff. Still interesting.

Moving on from general issues of translation, we turned to the topic of translation within the Star Wars films and looked at the various languages spoken within the films, like Galatic Basic, Huttese and Shyriiwook. Which human languages these were based on was covered, including the fact that Shyriiwook is a combination of various animal noises. Then there was discussion on C-3PO’s role as a translator, and whether he is a machine performing what he’s coded for or if he is a self-aware translator. Spoilers: he’s at least semi aware.

All in all it was a good lecture on translation applied to fiction, and I really enjoyed it. Still not racing home to watch Episodes V & VI though. If lectures on popular culture sound like something you’d be interested in and you’re in Notts, the schedule can be found here. There’s vegan ethics in Doctor Who, zombie genomics and even more Star Wars. Happy geeking.


Cockadoodledoo vs Üüürüü

At tutoring we’ve been doing about languages and countries, and today we coloured in maps to represent which countries we’ve been to and where we’d like to go. Because I was well aware this was going to result in questions along the lines of “where’s this country?” and because my geography is appalling, I raided the library for atlases. One book I borrowed is called ‘Ich lebe in Europa’ (I live in Europe) which I thought would be perfect seeing as the kids I tutor have never left the continent. What I didn’t bank on was the fact that the book was published in 1998, and a lot has changed since then. For one thing Yugoslavia doesn’t exist anymore.

But non-existent countries aside, it’s a pretty awesome book. It tells you how big the countries are in km2, the main language of each country, the currency, the main religion, the population and the capital city. There’s also other information but I’m not gonna go into that right now. What this book does tell you though, is what a cockerel says in each language. As in cockadoodledoo in different languages*. Which, personally, I am very excited about. So behold, a list for you to peruse, arranged by language groups, because I am a huge geek.

Germanic Languages

English – Cockadoodledoo

Flemish – Cocoricoo

German  – Kikeriki

Danish –  Kykeliky

Swedish – Kykeliky

Norwegian – Kykeliky

Dutch – Kukeluku

Icelandic – Gagaglagu

Romance Languages

Moldavian (Romanian) – Kukareku

Romanian – Kakareku

French – Cocorico

Spanish – Cocoroco

Portuguese – Cocorocâ

Italian – Chicchirichi

Slavic Languages

Slovakian – Kikiriki

Slovenian – Kikiriki

Serbian – Kukuriku

Croatian – Kukuriku

Polish – Kukuriku

Bulgarian – Kukurigu

Russian – Kukareku

Czech – Kykyryky

Finnic Languages

Finnish – Kukkokiekuu

Estonian – Kukeleegu

Baltic Languages

Latvian – Kikeregu

Lithuaian – Kakarieku

Ugric Languages

Hungarian – Kukuriku

Hellenic Languages

Greek – Kikiriku

Albanian Languages

Albanian – Kikikiii

Turkic Languages

Turkish – Üüürüü

Arabic Languages

Maltese – Iquaqui


* These are taken from a German book (‘Ich lebe in Europa’ by H. Brosche, A. Rösel and C. Ruoß [1998: Ravensburger Verlag, Germany]) so all spellings are German phonetics.


Accent-ally sounding Thüringenese

I have a lot of feelings about my accent, especially since someone in my home town laughed at it. (A jerk genuinely called across a pub to ask a friend what my accent was and then laughed. Ruined the end of the story I was telling.) Essentially, my accent is a huge mash up, featuring Geordie, Yam-yam and the southern influences of my university friends. This mean I get the mick taken by my home friends and university friends. Phrases like “you sounded so southern then!” and “I’m sorry, try that word again?” regularly make an appearance in my life.

Sadly this heightened awareness of my accent only happens in English. I have no idea how I sound when I speak German. Actually, that’s not true. I made the mistake of asking a German if I sounded English when I spoke German. Yes. Yes I do, is the answer. So rather than get bogged down in how my accent is, I’d like to point out three Thuringien dialect features. Or possibly just three Ilmenauese features. (Either way, the title of this blog is misleading because I’m gonna look at dialect. But I couldn’t pass up the terrible terrible pun.)

1. ‘Ge?’

Ge or geh or however it’s spelt is the Ilmenau equivalent of ‘oder?’, which when added at the end of a sentence with a questioning tone is the German version of ‘right?’. Can be used for seeking clarification or affirmation.

Personally, I can’t stop saying it. I keep nearly saying it in English. I say it more than native Ilmenauers. It’s a compulsion, like talking about the weather with the only other person at the bus top at 7.20 and telling the kids to sit properly on their chairs otherwise they’ll crack their heads open.

2. Drei viertel…

Bear with me, because I can’t quite get my head round this one without serious thought. Drei viertel zehn (three quarter ten) means quarter to ten. Not quarter to eleven. It’s like an extension of the whole German ‘yes, when we mean 8.30 we’ll say half 9’. Whatever the reasoning or twisted logic behind it, it’s one feature I am not going to use. I’m paranoid enough about messing up times in German thanks to the aforementioned cack-handed way of dealing with 30 minutes past the hour – there’s no way I’m going to attempt drei viertel…

3. Pfannkuchen

As anyone who was my friend on Facebook during second year of uni will know, I am insanely proud of being able to order pancakes in Arabic. Seriously, that was the highlight of learning Arabic for me. Managed to get it into every oral exam. So my claim was that I could order pancakes in three languages – Arabic, English and German. Yeah, about that…

So here in Ilmenau, Pfannkuchen does not mean pancakes. It means doughnuts. Everywhere else in Germany* Pfannkuchen means pancakes and Berliner means doughnut. Berliner was one of the first pieces of German I learnt outside of class, thanks to this video. (Yes, it’s more Eddie Izzard, yes, there’s some swearing.) And this crucial piece of vocab is now redundant. I think I might have to go eat a Pfannkuchen or three to cheer myself up.

* possibly a slight exaggeration. Or just plain wrong. I did not fact check.


Don’t Mark My Words

Marked language, according to Wikipedia, is language that has been altered (aka ‘marked’) as being different from the norm. So with ‘honest’ and ‘dishonest’, ‘dishonest’ is marked by the prefix ‘dis’ as being an irregular form of ‘honest’. I’d like to talk about marked language with regards to gender. Waiter vs waitress. Manager vs Manageress. Actor vs actress.

In all of the above examples the feminine form of the English word is marked as other using the suffix ‘-ess’. Other examples include changing ‘man’ to ‘woman’, like in ‘policeman’ and ‘police woman’ or ‘fireman’ and ‘firewoman’. These words are gender specific despite people doing the same job. Other than the gender, there is no difference between a waiter and a waitress. So why are there different words?

There are a few issues with gendering words like this. One, what about those who don’t fall into the binary gender system that is accepted as the norm by the majority? Anyone who is agender, bigender, genderqueer – where do they fall in this black and white gendering of jobs? Two, if a man and a woman are doing exactly the same job, why does their job title have to specify their gender? I’ll give you a clue: it doesn’t. Three, it’s a linguistic inequality. As much as people hate to admit it, there is still gender inequality, and this differentiation of words, while not the most important battle to fight, is a battle that needs to be fought nonetheless.

So the solution is simple. Use one word for the same job. Yes, great. Except…when we start to remove the marked term in favour of the unmarked term, we leave many jobs now only being described with the male term for that profession. How many times have you heard of people asking to see the manager, demanding to speak to him, when it turns out the manager is woman? And I’m not saying that using the unmarked term is a bad thing – I just wish that language change were fast enough that everyone would take it as read that a manager could be female or male or maybe not identify as either.

And I know I’m not perfect either. Despite having these objections to marked language, I still find myself using it. Instead of the gender neutral ‘server’, I still say ‘waiter’ or ‘waitress’. I find it difficult to say police person, though police officer (another gender neutral term) rolls off the tongue more easily. However, the thing that makes it really difficult for me is learning German.

German is one of those languages who decided everything has to have a gender. ‘The chair’ is masculine, ‘the door’ is feminine and ‘the window’ is neuter. English, in its wisdom, got rid of the genders, though we too used to arbitrarily gender everything around us. But this emphasis on gender spreads to jobs as well. ‘Teacher’ is no longer simply teacher but ‘der Lehrer’ or ‘die Lehrerin’. ‘Lawyer’ is either ‘der Rechtsanwalt’ or ‘die Rechtsanwältin’. Even your nationality isn’t safe. When I say I’m from England, I say ‘Ich bin Engländerin’, announcing my gender as well as my homeland.

This constant highlighting of gender grates on me. It really does. It’s possible that native German speakers don’t even notice it. I never noticed the number of jobs English has two names for until it was pointed out to me. But it is 2013. Almost 2014, in fact. Why do Germans and some English people have to declare their gender along with their job? And why aren’t more people concerned about it?