English language: Thanks, but no thanks


So this is Wikipedia NOT about.

‘English is like a wonderful woman’, a friend told me, ‘you can’t live with her and you can’t live without her’. By the way, he is a teacher of English in Germany.

In the Wikimedia world, English is the central and relay language. Important texts are originally written in English or reach most of the users via an English translation. This gives phrases in English an enormous influence, even where they should be rephrased or reconsidered.

For example, there is that phrase by Richard Stallman: ‘Think of free as in speech, not free as in beer.’By this, he wanted to characterize the essence of free software / free knowledge. I never really understood that phrase until Chuck Smith explained to me that this relates to a speciality of the English language. In English, ‘free’ is understood usually as ‘gratis’. In other languages such as German you can simply say ‘frei’ or ‘gratis, kostenlos’. Referring to freedom of speech and free beer in German is only confusing.

In the recent Editor survey of Wikimedia, the German translation mentions a “lokales Chapter”. This is of course the 1:1 “translation” of local chapter. But in German the English word chapter is hardly known, and the German word “lokal” relates not to countries but to cities.

German Wikipedians tend to talk about “Referenzen”, “reputable Quellen” or “Primärquellen und Sekundärquellen”. These are unreflected take-overs from English, without regard to the traditional German expressions: “Verweise”, “einschlägige Literatur”, “Quellen und Literatur”. Contributing to this is certainly the fact that many Wikipedians have a techie background.

Especially confusing are the take-overs to new people.  Wikipedia jargon in German is terrible enough, English words or pseudo translations make it worse. When I speak English I try to speak English without German influence (I know that I don’t always succeed), when I speak German I try to speak German without English influence.

2 thoughts on “English language: Thanks, but no thanks

  1. I found another while researching pseudoscience. Science in English is more limited than wissenschaft in German, which includes history or literature; thus, fabricated history cannot be characterized as pseudoscience in English, but might be in German.

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