Thinking about Muttersprache – Tag der Muttersprache
Deutschland.de reached out to me to do a piece for the Tag der Muttersprache (Day of Native Language) which falls on February 21. So I was thinking about Muttersprache, and it’s LITERAL meaning… Mother Speech. Although I grew up in California, German was my first language. The language of my mother. And after THIS MANY years of living in California (imagine a lot of fingers and toes being held up), it’s still a language I hear in the back of my brain.
It’s the language of my deep emotions, and the language I sometimes hear in dreams. German screams out when I stub my toe or get cut off in traffic. It’s also the language of my childhood memories, and was the language of my childhood prayers:
“Lieber Gott, mach mich fromm, dass ich mit ins Himmel komm”
Meine Mama und ich
So, What is Muttersprache to me?
Muttersprache is all those words and phrases my mother said to me while growing up. The stuff every kid hears….
Guten Morgen, gut geschlafen? (good morning did you sleep well?)
Da bist du (there you are)
Was sollen wir Heute machen? (what should we do today?)
Zie dir mal ENDLICH deine Schuhe an! (Will you finally put your shoes on!)
Komm aus den Baum raus!! (Get out of that tree!!))
Bist du schon wieder am zappeln? (Are you fidgeting again?)
Hast du dein Zimmer aufgeraumt? (Did you clean your room?)
Lass die Katze sein! (leave the cat alone!)
Komm, ich wir machen ein Heftpflaster drauf… (come on, we will put a bandage on it)
Sollen wir eine Geschichte lesen? (Should we read a story?)
Du warst Heute ein sehr braves Mädchen (You were a very good girl today)
Ich liebe dich (I love you)
Gute Nacht, Schlaf mal schön (Good night, sleep well)
Mama and I deep in conversation
Speaking German at home was as natural as breathing. My parents used it with each other and with us daily. Outside the house it became a secret language. The language we could use when we didn’t want anyone to understand our business. And it was also a way to spy on unsuspecting Germans nearby (although the only intel we ever got was “I think I’ll order the hamburger“)
In my teen years, I spoke less German at home. My parents meant well, but like most German-American kids, the corrections made it all so peinlich! (I know I’m not alone here… many of my German friends are quite well versed in Denglish at home). But it was still the language I used for Family in Germany. My Oma, my cousins… for trips to Germany.
Because I learned most of my German “at home” and Saturday German School, (and because of stubbornness) my fluency never hit full adult levels. I can speak at length about any number of topics… especially after a glass of wine…. and then stop DEAD searching for the words about Politics. (although, to be fair, explaining the California Proposition system is confusing in any language). It’s only now, with this blog, research, and my travels that my vocabulary is finally catching up. In fact, in a fun new twist, sometimes I know the GERMAN word for something, and can’t for the life of me remember it in English.
German may not be my Native Language, but it is the language of my mother, of my father, of my family. It’s my first language, and the language I associate with home. German is the first language I spoke to my children. It may not be perfect… but it is my Muttersprache.
My son and I