Saturday, February 27, 2021

Falknertag 2021

Back to falconry!

Back in November when M was looking for tips on making our own Geschüh (jesses) for our future birds, he came across and showed me this blog post. He knew I'd love it. I read a few more posts and then went back to the Ronja's first post and started reading from the beginning. It's a delightful blog, written with heart and humor and focusing on falconry from the point-of-view of the falcon. And she's begun translating it into English!

Later that evening I decided I had to write to Ronja's Mensch (human), and I discovered that she is in Baden-Württemberg, not more than an hour's drive from us. She responded and we have continued our corresondence ever since. Skipping ahead to yesterday, I met Ronja and her Mensch personally and spent more than 5 hours with them. What a day, and what a beautiful Sakerfalke Ronja is!

We first went up to a field behind their house for some Federspiel-Training. For this Ronja's Mensch secures a GPS sender to her Geschüh and activates the app on her Smartphone that shows exactly where Ronja is in case she buggers off during the training. Beizvögel might do this for a number of reasons, not the least of which is because they can. When the Falkner sends them off to train or hunt there is nothing forcing the bird to return, and many a Falkner has stood for hours beneath the tree in which his bird is perched trying to entice her to come down while the bird thumbs her beak at him and preens. Without a sender attached to the bird the Falkner might never find her again.

Then Ronja's Mensch ties a piece of meat onto the Federspiel (lure that looks like a bird), which is attached to the end of a telescoping fishing pole. While she is securing the delicacy Ronja has her Haube (hood) on so she doesn't get overly excited. When she's ready, she removes Ronja's Haube and lets her fly off. Ronja knows her work (and knows where the meat is), gets some momentum going, then swoops, dives, turns, and whooshes past her Mensch, who is swinging the Federspiel and pulling it away from Ronja as she shoots past at 127 km/h (79mph). Her Mensch knows her well, and she can see when it's time to stop pulling the Federspiel away at the last moment so Ronja can catch it.

My photo is not tack sharp, but it gives you an idea
what Federspiel-Training looks like. 

After Ronja had her reward we went for a walk among the fields to an alpaca farm about 2 km away. During that walk Ronja sat cooperatively on my Falknerhandschuh (glove). Her Mensch calls this "Baum-to-go" (Baum = tree). Ronja's favorite pastime is "Rumgucken," which means sitting somewhere and looking around. Flying is hard work, so if a silly human is willing to offer her glove as a perch while wandering about, well that's perfectly fine with Ronja. 

Look, Ma! I'm a Baum-to-go!

It's funny to see the looks on people's faces as they walk by and see the falcon on my glove. It's just not something one sees every day! Sometimes they stop and ask questions, sometimes they take a guess at what kind of bird Ronja is (we heard Bussard, Weihe, and Milan), and others just nod and keep walking. It was a beautiful sunny day with a light wind.

We sat on a bench chatting about falconry for a bit while Ronja perched on the back of the bench and did her Rumgucken. At one point she made it clear that she was ready for some noms and pecked at her Tupperware® bowl until her Mensch opened it and offered her the rest of the Taube (pigeon). 

On the way back the wind was still up and Ronja treated me to her Titanic impression. You know the scene at the front of the ship with Jack and Rose? She didn't want to fly off on her own; she had a good steady grip on my glove. But she likes to "lüft" her feathers in the sun and wind. Come on, admit it, you've wanted to do this on a beautiful day, too.

"Jack!! I'm flying!!"

I told Ronja and her Mensch I could do this for hours and hours. It was a really enjoyable day and I appreciate the time Ronja and her Mensch spent with me!

Oh dear...I just found out on a falconry marketplace that the Falkner and breeder Ronja came from has one of her sisters from a later brood for sale. This is me right now...

I didn't see that, I didn't see that, I didn't...

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Changing Language, Part 2

Language changes. This is nothing new. If you doubt me, have a go at reading Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales in the original Middle English from the late 14th Century. Even texts written in the early years of European colonization of the Americas pose a challenge for native speakers of American English.

One change that is going on in German focuses on being inclusive of the LGBTQIA+ community. It’s not as simple as it once was (and my students would argue that it is not and never was simple), with two biological genders, the linguistic neutral, and the corresponding pronouns (he/er, she/sie, it/es). Until recently a person had only two options in German: “I am a male pilot” or “I am a female pilot,” because there was no gender-neutral word for “pilot.” That leaves out the people who do not identify as male or female. This change is less problematic in English, where most of our labels for people have no gender: cousin, pilot, swimmer, teacher, and so on. In German, however, those labels all have two forms, depending on whether the person is male or female: die Cousine/der Cousin, die Pilotin/der Pilot, die Schwimmerin/ der Schwimmer, die Lehrerin/der Lehrer. Female titles typically end with the suffix -in, and the suffix -er usually indicates a male.

In English we’ve handled changes like this, though on a smaller scale. Instead of “waitress” we should say “server.” Instead of “stewardess” we should say “flight attendant.” “Parent” and “spouse” have long been used instead of “mother or father” and “husband or wife.” This type of change is not difficult for native speakers, or at least it shouldn’t be.

In German nowadays there are several options to officially address people and be inclusive of the LGBTQIA+ community as well as cisgender men and women, none of which are perfect. There’s the Genderstern (Lehrer*innen), the Gendergap (Lehrer_innen), the Binnen-I (LehrerInnen), the Genderdoppelpunkt (Lehrer:innen) and other options fully explored in this pamphlet, which also explains the pros and cons of each approach.

Another method is to find gender-neutral words or phrases for labels and occupations. Instead of using “Studenten” for college students, people have started to use “Studierende,” which translates to “studiers” or “people who are studying.” A teacher, instead of “Lehrer” can be called a “Lehrperson” or “Lehrkraft.” The plural form is “Lehrende.” I received an invitation to an online course the other day from Baden-Württemberg’s Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport, and the target group is “Lehrende and Kursleitende” (persons who teach and leaders of courses).

Some of these newish terms are no problem for language learners. “Lehrperson” is perhaps a bit cumbersome, but combining “lehr[en]” (to teach) with “Person” is no big deal. Both “Lehrperson” and “Lehrkraft” are feminine based on the final part of the compound word, so neither is really gender-neutral. The word “Person” certainly is, but since German requires an article for every noun which then does clearly indicate a gender, I don’t necessarily understand what is gained.

In case I need to say this again, the concept of inclusion and not linguistically ostracizing a group of people is good! I am looking at this from the point-of-view of my students, who are already struggling to learn German. I do my best to make the language as painless as possible for them. 

One of the issues in teaching occupations and titles that adhere to the more inclusive language (faire Sprache) is the sequence in which German learners learn the language, following the books used in the A1 – B1 course. Traditionally, in order for a student to be able to answer the question “What is your job?” with “I am a pilot,” the student must learn:

  • Verb conjugation of "to be"  (Ich bin)   [level A1.1, chapter 1]
  • The occupation title (Pilot)   [level A1.2, chapter 9]

By chapter 9, which is approximately 105 hours or 5 weeks into the Integrationskurse taught here in Germany, the student can easily say, “Ich bin Pilot” (I am [a] pilot.) Since these are adults, they usually already know their occupation title by the time class starts, so most can already say this in week one.


In this Genderwörterbuch (gender dictionary) the title “flugzeugführende Belegschaft“ is suggested for “Pilot,” which translates to “airplane-guiding personnel.” In order to understand and produce this job title, the student would have to nearly finish the 600-hour course. Why?

  1. Starting at level A1 students learn about  compound nouns and work on developing their vocabulary. Flugzeug is an A1 word, führen is expected in level B1. I don't know which level Belegschaft is, but I don't recall ever coming across it until today and I've been learning German since 1983.

  2. Adjective endings, the bane of existence for most learners of German because these involve gender and case, are taught in level A2.2, in chapters 9, 10, and 12.

  3. In order to construct "führende," the student needs to learn about participles [verb+d+adjective ending], which are taught in B1.2, chapter 38 (if the chapters for the 6 books of the entire course were numbered 1-42),


This same problem applies to the gender-neutral term for a person who is learning German: Deutschlernende. Deutsch and lernen are both A1-level words. But to understand the ending (-de), which looks much simpler than it is, the student needs to understand participles and adjective endings (levels A2.2 and B1.2). Well, for heaven’s sake just teach them in the first weeks to add -de to infinitive verbs to create titles! Ok, so "kochen" means "to cook," therefore "Kochende" would be cooks or chefs, right? But "kochend/e" is already a word, which means "boiling." And what is a notice to all “Fahrende? One uses “fahren” (to drive) for driving a car, train, bus, etc. but also when one travels with a car, bus, train, etc. So is a "Fahrende" the driver of the bus or a passenger? Who needs to pay attention to that notice?  My point here is that if you think the issue is easy to solve, I promise you it is not.

Each of the options suggested by faire Sprache creates a difficulty for a group of people. Most companies seem to be using the Genderstern (Lehrer*innen) because the Stern includes all gender identities. But it’s problematic for visually impaired people, because the electronic devices that read texts aloud tend to ignore the symbol and the person hears simply “Lehrerinnen” or “female teachers,” which is not inclusive. For people (at least for native speakers) who are blind, the better option is using gender-neutral terms such as “Lehrende” (people who teach). But then non-native speakers may be at a disadvantage because of the complicated phrasing (flugzeugführende Belegschaft). In the 56-page pamphlet I referenced above, non-native speakers were only mentioned once as an aside – so they were mostly ignored as a group who will struggle with this issue.

German companies and publications are faced today with deciding how to handle this change. Ignore it? Adopt one of the more-inclusive methods of gendering? Mix them up and use several different ones? In one journal for Deutschlernende I subscribe to, I noticed they use the gender-neutral term in the plural when there is a fitting one (Lernende), and where there isn't they go new-traditional (Bewerberinnen und Bewerber = female and male applicants). They also used the old traditional, which is the plural form that looks the same as the male form (Arbeitgeber = employers) - all three forms within the same article. 

The German language is in the process of a Sprachwandel – a language change. It’s not an abrupt change, like the Great Spelling Reform of 1996, when teachers had to stop teaching daß in favor of dass, words with three identical consonants in a row became a reality (Schifffahrt) and whether words were written as two or one became more standardized (formerly radfahren/Auto fahren are now both Rad fahren/Auto fahren). 

It will be interesting to see how we are speaking 20 years from now. 

Changing Language, Part 1

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Changing Language, Part 1

I’ve been teaching German for 22 years (since 1999), and although I have also taught English (American Literature in the US, informal conversational English in Germany), I far prefer teaching German. One of the things I love about living in Germany is that I am challenged by the language every single day: Listening, speaking, reading, writing, lately crossword puzzles… Although M and I speak mainly English peppered with German words at home, and although I sometimes get quite frustrated when I don’t understand something, I truly do prefer German because it’s a delicious challenge.

I have taught German I-IV in Wisconsin (that is first year to fourth year high school German) and levels A1 through B1 in Germany. Ultimately those equate to the same grammatical topics and levels, but in Germany I’ve been teaching adults, so therefore some of the vocabulary topics have a different focus, such as parenting, day-to-day life in Germany, dealing with government agencies, etc.

Anyone who has started learning German knows it is a challenging language, especially compared to English. Just as one example, where English has one definite article (the), German has 16, and some of those are the same word but have different functions. For example “der” could be any of these: Masculine nominative, feminine dative, feminine genitive or plural genitive. I realize I have already lost my American readers, in part because cases (nominative, dative, etc.) don’t play much of a role* and very few words in English are assigned a gender.

*Case in point, do you know confidently whether you need “I” or “me” in a sentence involving a second personal pronoun? ("This letter is for ____ and ____.")


In German every noun is assigned a gender, and although there are some hard-and-fast rules, for learners of German the assigned gender seems absolutely random. Sometimes it is. Read Mark Twain’s The Awful German Language for a more amusing essay than I could write on the topic. A spoon is masculine (der Löffel), a fork is feminine (die Gabel), and a knife is neutral (das Messer). Just for fun let me say here that when a spoon is accusative it is den Löffel, when the spoon is dative it’s dem Löffel, and when it’s genitive it’s des Löffels. Yes, every single one of those examples means “the spoon” (in genitive it’s “of the spoon”).

The gender of a noun depends on the word, not the thing. For instance, that thing I lie on while napping reading is both die Couch and das Sofa. Same thing, two different words, two different genders/articles. Some items have a different gender depending on region and dialect. Butter is feminine (die Butter), but in some regions I’ve heard people use masculine (der Butter). Lastly, sometimes the same word is used for two different things and has two different genders. “Der See” is the lake, “die See” is the sea. Die Paprika is the pepper vegetable and der Paprika is the dried red spice. Oh, and if you want to be specific and say paprika powder, then it’s neutral: Das Paprikapulver.

die Paprika    der Paprika    das Paprikapulver

Ok, that’s my basic intro to the confusing nature of gender in the German language. Here's an earlier one. If you are learning German, do not despair. Some of it will click if you stick with it long enough and really want to learn it, but also we foreigners will never be able to learn all the genders of all the nouns in German and keep up with the new words being added every year. The good news is that when you’re just speaking casually as a non-native speaker, screwing up the gender of a word is just not a big deal.

The creators of the German language did, at least, do us one favor and made job titles and names for people pretty logical and easy. Females are feminine (die Mutter, die Tante) and males are masculine (der Vater, der Onkel).* A male pilot is der Pilot, and a female pilot is die Pilotin. The female version of the job title often has a slightly different form (der Arzt/die Ärztin), and my students haven’t had much trouble learning those.

But the German language is changing in an effort to be more inclusive and to move with our changing society and embrace the trans community and gender fluidity. The concept is good, though it poses a significant challenge to learners of German (Deutschlernende). More on that in the next post.

*Yes, das Mädchen (the girl) is genderless or neutral, but that’s because all words ending with the suffix “-chen,” meaning “small,” take the neutral.

das Pferd and das Mädchen - both genderless or neutral
Never mind that the horse, Cyrano, is male and my daughter is female.