March 15, 2019

Dissecting German compounds

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Translate this into English: “Dieses Jahr erhielt die Presse vier Berichte von Leichenfunden.”

German writers use compounds as abbreviations for noun + verb combinations. Instead of saying “Dieses Jahr erhielt die Presse vier Berichte von Leichen, die gefunden wurden.” or “…Berichte von gefundenden Leichen” (which both sound like the corpses were the ones reporting), they pack the whole info into one word.

This doesn’t work in English: “This year, the press received four reports of corpse findings (or corpse discoveries).” Ok, you could guess the meaning, but it sounds weird. It sounds more natural, if you “unpack” the expression: “…the press received four reports of corpses being found.” In the English, “being found” is optional, while in the German it would sound like the corpses were sending the reports to the media: “Dieses Jahr erhielt die Presse vier Berichte von Leichen.”

In the English, the preposition “of” signalizes that the reports were about, not by the corpses.

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