Sunday, March 23, 2014

The ä ö ü of it (or: Come here Umlaut)

a facebook conversation + a translation by Ron Kostar, Rose Hunter, Jeffrey Brautigam, Dorothee Lang

It all started with a note on facebook in German, typed by Ron Kostar, which picked up on some extra alphabet letters in German: the "Umlaute". Derived from a, o and u, the Umlaute add 3 more vocals to the german alphabet: ä, ö and ü, which also are included in german keyboards, but not in other keyboards. So the question was: how to create an "Umlaut"? And: what does Umlaut mean exactly? All this lead to finding an "Umlaut"-poem and translating it.

Enjoy the ä ö ü of it!


The ä ö ü of it 

Ron: Wir mussen in dem Ozean gehen aber mit nicht ein Umlaut! (ich vergesse alles!)

Ron: Der Umlaut must in dem Haus mit die Kinder hinter der Tur und die troublesome Articles und Preopositions bleiben. Lol!!

Rose: Und gleich mit dem Subjunctive usw

Ron: Eine greosse Problem und ein Problem und einander!

Jeffrey: I do not know how to make facebook do an umlaut, but I can produce one in both Word and Wordperfect

Ron: mit ein Wort (wart) more preceisely eine Brief herunter?

Dorothee @ BluePrintReview: Here come the Umlaute: Mögen die Häuser ihre Türen öffnen, und die Umlaute die Worte aufhübschen. Viele Grüße

Ron: Come here Umlaut, I would like the door of your house open and the Umlaut of the word (aufhubschen?). Many greetings ???

Ron: Very moldy to the point of decaying my German become has.

Rose: See I would have thought the plural would have been Umläuter.... But that just sounds like some around people I guess. OPTION + u and then the letter on a Mac. Here umlaut, good umlaut benimm sich gut....

Dorothee: more Umlaute: green: "grün", nice="schön" or "hübsch". and derived from that: to make nicer: aufhübschen. And this one: Many Greetings - Viele Grüße

Rose: Grüss Gott!

Ron: Dorothee, has anyone ever written a poem in German about an or The Umlaut? From our perspective it is very interesting, even intriguing. I know of nothing like it in English.

Dorothee: An Umlaut-Poem - i don't know about any. the thing is, in German, it's just the way the language is, so the Umlaute are just normal letters, like the "ß"-s, too. will look, see if i find something. cool that you know German. Grüße!

Ron: Nicht so gut, sehr schlecht, ja, sehr sehr schlecht.
I always did like many of the words, though, especially for some obscure reason the word "auswendig."

And here the conversation ended, but lead to an Umlaut-poem search:

Dorothee: I found an Umlaut-Gedicht! Here's the start of it:

Laut mit Umlaut
Brigitta Firmenich

Haha, du verunstaltetes Um, sagt der Laut angriffslustig zum Umlaut.

Du kleines anämisches Würstchen,
brüllt der Umlaut aufheulend zurück....

the complete poem is up here: Laut mit Umlaut

(much later)

Ron: I tried a translation. I know it's very, how you say, un-literal, and I took great liberties and, my German not being very good, at times translated more from sound and image than from any sense of literal meaning.

Dorothee, what does "Um" mean lterally? If Laut means loud, which I knew, what, literally does Umlaut mean? (Not with that would be mit, no?)

Dorothee: „um“ is a german prefix to add to verbs and nouns, like this:

- to build / a building
- bauen / ein Bau

- to renovate / the process of renovation:
- umbauen / ein Umbau

apart from that, “um” exists in many variations
- at 3 o’clock: um 3 Uhr
- to walk around the tree: um den Baum herumgehen

Umlaut literally has no real meaning, it just points at the fact that the „Umlaut“ (like ä ö ü) is derived from the relating Laut (sound) “a o u”

ah, languages!

Ron: Dorothee, heres' another shot at it, another version. i made up a word, behatted (hatted is actually the word), and i adopted some of your changes but also tried to do something with the sound of the poem, since you said a lot of this poem depends on sound and playing with words and sounds.

i like the two liver spots on the forehead, even though they are hardly literal, and the light and lithesome manner of Missy Laut ... but i wonder if i could do more with Laut and Umlaut? Sound and UnSound? Loud and UnLoud? Or Sound and UmSound (like a drum)? i'm also playing up, though less so, the slender young nature of Laut and the thick and maternally nature of Umlaut - is that accurate? i the original poem? the sounds of the verbs in the early part of the poem sound aggressive, which is why i used "shot" and "howled"). and .. i played off the contrast of thin slender Laut and thick Umlaut in the the penultimate stanza, though that is the stanza i'm least happy with:


Laut and Umlaut

Ahh!! You try to spoil everything,
shot slim slightly clad Laut to Umlaut.

Why you anemic little sausage!
behatted Mother Umlaut howled back.

Oh you have gotten so fat! hissed Laut,
and what's with those two liver spots on your forehead?

Dignified well-known people like me dress well,
Mother Umlaut shot back proudly.

Perhaps, but I carry myself in a light and lithesome manner,
slender Laut eased back.

Yes, Missy Laut, but perhaps you need to check your mirror more often.
said Umlaut. Then you'll see that you are just part of me

original poem "Laut mit Umlaut" written in German by Brigitta Fermenich translated very liberally into English by Ron Kostar


i'm thinking that if the point is that Laut is contained within Umlaut maybe i can say something about that in the last stanza, something more explicit but shrewd like: "when you look in the mirror you see that we genetically overlap"

also, i think Laut may be naive, nicht wahr, in thinking that she has nothing in common with Umlaut, so maybe i need to bring that out with a "she naively replied" or something similar.

Dorothee: so interesting, the theme of translation and Umlaut. i think your revised version works well – and i like the idea of your ending line: "when you look in the mirror you see that we genetically overlap"

maybe, to spin that towards language, it could even be: "when you look in the mirror you see that we phonetically overlap"


This conversation was originally published in the blueprint blog, in December 2011. A bit later, it became part of the language/place series, issue #16, the "translation issue". Talking about Umlaute with a friend, i was reminded of it, revisited it, and now added it here.

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