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Dec 20, 2005
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with Anu Garg


(SHPRAKH-guh-fyool) Pronunciation RealAudio

noun: A feeling for language or a sensitivity for what is correct language.

From German Sprachgefühl, from Sprache (language) and Gefühl (feeling).

If you have Sprachgefuhl, you have an ear for idiomatically appropriate language. The best illustration of Sprachgefuhl, or the lack of it, was an 1855 Portuguese-English phrase book intended to help Portuguese speakers master the English language.

Titled "English As She Is Spoke", it was authored by one Pedro Carolino. The only problem was that Pedro didn't know any English. On the plus side, he did have a Portuguese-French phrase book. Pedro simply picked up a French-English dictionary and tried the circuitous route: Portuguese to French to English. The result was such gems as:

Names for body parts:
"Of the Man: The inferior lip; The superior lip; The fat of the leg."

"Eatings: Some black pudding; A little mine; Hog fat; Some wigs; Vegetables boiled to a pap."

Swimming instructions:
"For to swim: I row upon the belly on the back and between two waters."

"Idiotism: Cat scalded fear the cold water."

This book was even used as a textbook in the Portuguese colony of Macao. I regret to say they eventually stopped using it. Imagine, in just a few years, we could have witnessed a lovely new strain of the English language take root.

Pedro was simply ahead of his time. Today anyone can achieve the same results with computer translation.

"Despite this fecundity (perhaps because of it) Avallone had major problems with his raw material: words, and the uses to which they can be put. He was not, in short, a man with an innate Sprachgefuhl."
Jack Adrian; Obituary: Michael Avallone; The Independent (London, UK); Mar 20, 1999.

See more usage examples of sprachgefuhl in Vocabulary.com's dictionary.


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