I sat in a German class today, and the topic (sadly) of the German word for 'this' or 'those' (dieser, diesen, diese, dieses, diesem) came up.
The German instructor spent roughly an hour trying to convey this across to the room of twelve-odd students (I was the only American in the group). Things just didn't go well. It's safe to say that maybe three of us got fifty-percent of the 'jest' to this German side of this or those.
Frankly between the masculine and feminine side of this, then figuring if we were messing with a plural situation or just a singular situation....it was a bit too much.
The Syrians and Iraqis? They posed the question.....why make this hard?
They weren't kidding.
Where this came from? My best guess is that some Roman figures figure into this from about 1,600 years ago. Maybe I'm wrong but the whole thing about needing five ways of using 'this' or 'those' makes for an enormous pain. You can imagine four German guys standing around in some field, and they got into a discussion.
Maybe the talk started out about the weather, or lost cows, or maybe some complaint about wife trouble.....then some guy uttered another phrase for 'this'.....maybe instead of the standard diesem.....he uttered dieses. The three guys looked at him for a minute....not wanting to saying anything because they didn't want to seem less educated, and he realized that he got away with some fake new word.
The next week, he added another and eventually got the associates into a field discussion over the five ways of using 'this' or 'those'.
You can imagine them sitting there by a tree.....sipping a jug of wine or a beer or two, and getting into an intellectual farmer-type discussion. They were throwing diese and disem left and right....laughing and carrying on, and then some guy's German wife came up and kicked butt that they weren't working and wanted to get in on the whole thing.
Naturally, the guys made a few jokes....explained their whole diesem conversation, and she blabbed this all over the village, and weeks later.....some Roman guys picked it up.....and then within a year.....across the entire region.....they all had five versions of the word.
The take by the Syrians and Iraqis? I think they'd like to fix this problem, and just eliminate four versions of the word. Maybe in forty years, with all these immigrants and language issues.....maybe the Germans will reach a point where they dump four of the five "this"/"those" words. Maybe there is some good.....to come out of this whole refugee/asylum business.