Daily Archives: 4 February 2008

Vun Hochditsch nooch Elsässisch

Lang StrossMy first introduction to Elsässisch (Alsatian German) came in the form of bilingual street signs in Strasbourg, where the main street through Grand Île in the heart of the old city is named both Grand’Rue and Lang Stross. (A street of the same name in Pfalzgrafenweiler on the German side of the border was labeled only in High German, Lange Strasse, even though the locals speak an Alemannic dialect similar to Alsatian.)

Later I found a useful little Werterbüechel Elsässisch–Hochditsch / Wörterbüchlein Hochdeutsch–Elsässisch, by Serge Kornmann (Yoran Embanner, 2005). So I thought I’d share a few gleanings from that tiny source, focusing on how to get from High German to Alsatian, since the former is likely to be more familiar to most readers. For people who want to go in the other direction, there is already a very comprehensive online dictionary of Alsatian in High German, based on the 2-volume Wörterbuch der elsässischen Mundarten by Ernst Martin und Hans Lienhart (Straßburg, 1899-1907).

Hoorgaessel street nameThe little dictionary spelling of Alsatian is based on that of High German, but uses a grave à, as in Nàme ‘name’ or Wàsser ‘water’, to mark the very back Alsatian a, which Kornmann renders phonetically as [ɔ] and Martin and Lienhart render as [ɒ]. (In Strasbourg, the unmarked a is apparently fronted to [æ].) The Alsatian spelling of Strasbourg’s Grand’Rue would be Làng Stroos. French street signs do not use the same spellings.

French vocabulary

Since Alsatians live in France and are bilingual in French, they also use French equivalents of many German expressions. Here is a sample:

  • Auf Wiedersehen = Àdje, Orwoar
  • Badeanzug = Maillo [majo] (‘swimsuit’)
  • Brieftasche = Portföj (‘billfold’)
  • Computer = Ordi
  • entschuldigen = entschuldige, exküsiere (‘excuse’)
  • Fahrrad = Velo (‘bicycle’)
  • Flieger = Aviatör
  • Frau = Frau, Màdàm
  • Fräulein = Màmsel
  • Gute Nacht = Güetnààcht, Busuar
  • Guten Tag = Buschur, Güdedàà
  • Herr = Herr, Mussje
  • Konditorei = Patisserie
  • Nachspeise = Dessär (‘dessert’)
  • Rathaus = Mairie (‘city hall’)
  • Reisegepäck = Bagaasch (‘luggage’)
  • Strassenbahn = Tram
  • Vielen Dank = Merci vielmools

Some vowel correspondences

  • Haar = Hoor ‘hair’, Nase = Nààs ‘nose’, Paar = Pààr ‘pair’
  • Haus = Hüüs ‘house’, Maus~Mäuse = Müs~Miis ‘mouse~mice’, Sauerkraut = Sürkrüt
  • Eule = Ill ‘owl’, heute = hitt ‘today’, Leute = Litt ‘people’, neun = nin ‘nine’
  • Eis = Is ‘ice’, Rhein = Rhin ‘Rhine’, Seite = Sitt ‘side’, Wein = Win ‘wine’, Zweifel = Zwiefel ‘doubt’
  • Höhe = Heh ‘height’, Hölle = Hell ‘hell’, hören = heere ‘hear’, schön = scheen ‘beautiful’
  • Glück = Glick ‘luck’, Lügner = Liejer ‘liar’, Mühle = Mihl ‘mill’, Übel = Iwwel [ivl] ‘evil’

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Some consonant correspondences

  • Arbeit = Àrweit ‘work’, Knoblauch = Gnowli ‘garlic’, Grab~Graben = Grààb~Grààwe ‘grave(s), Nabel = Nàwwel ‘navel’, Weib~Weiber = Wieb~Wiewer ‘wife~wives’
  • Leder = Ledder ‘leather’, Nadel = Noodl ‘needle’, Ruder = Rüeder ‘rudder’
  • Auge(n) = Au(e) ‘eye’, Regenbogen = Räjeböje ‘rainbow’, Straßburg = Stroosburi ‘Strasbourg’, Tag = Dàà ‘day’, Vogel = Vöjel ‘bird’
  • ängstlich = ängschtlisch ‘anxious’, künstlerisch = kinschtlerisch ‘artistic’, lustig = luschtisch ‘merry’, richtig = rischtisch ‘right’
  • essen = esse ‘eat’, leben = läwe ‘live’, lieben = liewe ‘love’, schlafen = schloofe ‘sleep’, raten = roode ‘advise’

As a bonus, here are two final Hochditsch = Elsässisch terms for musical instruments: Mundharmonika = Schnuffelrutsch (lit. ‘sniff-slide’) ‘mouth organ’, Schifferklavier (‘sailor-piano’) = Knetsch ‘concertina, accordion’. These two are especially for Dumneazu.

For much more on Elsässisch, see Nathanael’s language resource page on Europe Endless.

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Calculating the Cigarette Value of Books

From The Unfree French: Life Under the Occupation, by Richard Vinen (Yale U. Press, 2006), pp. 224-225:

The black market epitomized everything that Vichy disapproved of. It went with selfishness, materialism and indifference to the authority of the state. Denunciations under Vichy often concerned black-market matters, and were couched in interesting terms. Someone describing himself as ‘an average Frenchman who suffers from restrictions’ blamed the black market on Jews. In the south-east, black markets were often blamed on the Italians.

In practice, most Petainists used the black market. Sometimes Petainist officials were blatant practitioners: the Graeve family in Chinon trafficked wine at a time when both the son and daughter of the family held positions in the Vichy administration. Vichy bodies and local authorities often used unofficial channels in order to get food for their own employees. The Vichy government itself came to recognize that suppressing the black market entirely was not possible or desirable. A law of March 1942 regulating the black market specifically excluded transactions to cover personal needs, and a circular to prefects in the summer of 1942 talked of ‘struggle against all traffickers of the black market but complete freedom left for family supply’. Policemen turned a blind eye to small quantities of illicit goods. Even the Church, normally marked by intense moralism and asceticism, did not wholly condemn the black market. In December 1941 Cardinal Suhard stressed the need to obey the law but then distinguished disobedience from ‘the modest extra-legal transactions by which the extras judged necessary are procured and which are justified both by their small scale and the necessities of life’.

Black markets were not, in any case, wholly black. Transactions did not always involve strangers selling goods in a completely free market for cash, and they did not always involve people who thought of themselves as criminals. Money did not necessarily mean much during the occupation. At a time of rapid inflation, everyone preferred goods with a more tangible value. The coupons that gave particular companies the right to buy certain raw materials were traded, illegally. The barter that might normally have operated at village level became institutionalized. One firm advertised a swap of typewriters for bicycles. Cigarettes acquired particular importance, both because nicotine-starved smokers wanted them and because they provided a convenient unit of exchange. Both Micheline Bood, the Parisian schoolgirl, and Charles Rist took a touching interest in the cigarette value of books. A peasant boy in the Corrèze bought an hour of violin lessons for a pound of butter.

Sounds a bit like Romania during the 1980s, where the black market Cigarette Standard was Kents, for some reason I have never discovered. An unopened package of Kents was a serious offer, although some medical procedures might require a whole carton—or a bottle of imported Scotch.

UPDATE: During our year in Romania in 1983-84, I always kept a carton or two on hand in case the need arose. I only dispensed a full package on four occasions: two to the embassy driver who dealt with the customs officials when we first arrived (with lots of luggage); one to help friends book a room in a big, empty hotel in Brasov, where we attended a wedding; and one to a band of gypsies who serenaded my wife and me with naughty lyrics that I made an effort to translate in an otherwise empty venison restaurant in snowbound Poiana Brasov.

My wife also gave a carton of Kents to a neighbor lady who needed a medical procedure. (It may have been an illegal tubal ligation, or even an abortion, but we didn’t dare to ask. In a totalitarian society, it’s best not to.) Her obsessive homeopathic health-nut of a husband later brought the carton back and scolded us for encouraging the evil habit of smoking. So my wife later gave his wife a bottle of Scotch instead. I assume it went to a doctor without the husband finding out about it.

I kept one carton in reserve in case we had any trouble crossing the Bulgarian border by train on our final departure. After we had crossed without incident, I shocked a team of Romanian boys and their coaches who were on their way to a football match in Sofia by donating my carton of Kents to them. After they recovered, the coaches came back to our compartment to tell me they had never been so surprised in their lives. I told them that Romania had given me a surprise or two as well, and wished them luck in their match. They just nodded knowingly, thanked us again, and returned to their team.

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