Good slide into the New Year

sliding into the New Year

In 2021, just like in 2020, I will have three language learning priorities. The first two were easy to set: improving my English, a never-ending task, and learning Estonian, which I started chaotically in 2019 and continued systematically in 2020.

It took me a while to decide on the third language priority.

Finally, it is going to be German.

I spoke decent German in the late 1990s and read German books occasionally afterwards, but I did not put any deliberate efforts to improve it. My grammar is rusty, my vocabulary is primitive, and my listening skills are poor.

My interest for German language spiked with the corona crisis, as Germany was handling the crisis better compared to its European neighbors. I consulted German epidemiologists’ articles as a source of reliable information about the virus, and much admired the corona speeches of Angela Merkel for their clarity, pragmatism, and scientific approach.

Given that we are not out of the woods yet, I thought it would be useful to have better, finer understanding of spoken and written German.

It would be useful for me professionally as well: at work, Germany is one of the countries we collaborate most.

But the moment I really said to myself ‘yes, German’, was in early December, when I read the beginning of this poem.

Das Jahr ward alt. Hat dünnes Haar.
Ist gar nicht sehr gesund.
Kennt seinen letzten Tag, das Jahr.
Kennt gar die letzte Stund.

Ist viel geschehn. Ward viel versäumt.
Ruht beides unterm Schnee.
Weiß liegt die Welt, wie hingeträumt.
Und Wehmut tut halt weh.

Noch wächst der Mond. Noch schmilzt er hin.
Nichts bleibt. Und nichts vergeht.
Ist alles Wahn. Hat alles Sinn.
Nützt nichts, dass man’s versteht.

It is called Dezember (‘December’), is by Erich Kästner, and you can read it fully in German and in English translation here.

The comparison of the old year to an elderly gentleman with thinning hair, in poor health, who knows his last day and even his last hour, resonated with me. I found this image endearing and apt for the moment, and on the spot decided that I had to improve my German.

I will take stock of my German level after the celebrations and will set up a learning plan, but off the cuff, I need to learn the grammar properly, to enrich my vocabulary, and to work on my audio comprehension.

Meanwhile, happy new year! Guten Rutsch ins neue Jahr!

Blue prince

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blue princes

Twenty years ago, my first Spanish teacher, to teach us the subjunctive, used to play this silly song:

Si una lámpara mágica tuviera  / y me diera un príncipe azul
no podría desear jamás / a un hombre mejor que tú.”

(If I had a magic lamp / and it would give me the prince charming
I would never want / a better man than you.)

The method worked. I still remember the lines and know the words for  ‘magic lamp’ and ‘prince charming’, although these are not the words I use daily!

The ideal man, whether you mean it seriously or ironically, is called in English ‘prince charming’;

in French prince charmant

in German Traumprinz (‘dream prince’) and Märchenprinz (‘fairytale prince’)

in Latvian sapņu princis (‘dream prince’)

in Modern Greek πρίγκιπας του παραμυθιού (‘fairytale prince’)

in Czech pohádkový princ (‘fairytale prince’) and princ na bílém koni (‘prince on a white horse’)

in Russian прекрасный принц (‘beautiful prince’) and also принц на белом коне (‘prince on a white horse’). (The appearance of a white horse in two Slavic languages needs to be investigated further.)

A popular Russian songs goes:

Так чего же ты ждёшь? Ты ждёшь чтоб я извинился.
Прямо здесь чтобы я, чтобы я вдруг стал прекрасным принцем.

(So what are you waiting for? Are you waiting for me to change?
For me to become a prince charming right here right now.)

But in Spanish the ideal man is  príncipe azul, that is, ‘blue prince’ (as in the song I remember from 20 years ago), and also in Italian, principe azzurro.

Although the colour blue is associated with aristocratic origin, as the expression ‘blue blood’, which exists in many languages, attests, today only in Italian and Spanish (of the languages I know), the prince is blue. Where does this expression come from?

I have searched various sources, but did not find a clearcut answer.

The most comprehensive explanation comes from the Accademia della Crusca, the research academy for Italian language.  An article entitled Da dove arriva il Principe Azzurro? (‘Where does the Blue Prince come from?’) traces the first appearance of the expression, in both Italian and Spanish, to the late 19th – early 20th century, and the existence of an equivalent French expression, prince azure or prince bleu (which is not used today) even earlier, to the mid 19th century.

There is also a German tale, Himmelblau und Lupine (‘Prince Skyblue and Fairy Lupine’), by  Christoph Martin Wieland, a German man of letters of the 18th century, published in his collection Dschinnistan (1786 – 1789).  Can it be that this Prinz Himmelblau, portrayed as the ideal man, is the ancestor of our Spanish and Italian blue princes?