Communication Through The Ages: Snail Mail or Email?
I'll write you
Sentence best taken with a pinch of salt. And a handful of sympathy. It seems to be one of the most common language mistakes made by native German speakers. With thanks to the delightful German dative case, this simple sentence is translated incorrectly over and over again.
You could be waiting longer than you do for the Ringbahn in winter if you reckon you’re receiving any crisp, white envelopes filled with handwritten swirls and curls where pen has collided with paper. Nope. Snail mail is not creeping to a post box near you. The closest you’re getting to any pigeon post will be another catalogue collection of the ‘best of the best’ from supermarket Real. The last thing to expect, when a native German says they'll 'write you,' is actual post.
What should you expect? Instead, an electronic device near you will soon be jittering, flashing or beeping as either a text or email arrives in your virtual inbox.
The common English translation of the German ‘Ich schreibe dir’ has been deprived of its preposition. A teeny tiny two letters is all it comes down to. That pesky dative case means the English version should literally read, ‘I’ll write to you.’ After all, no one is actually going back to their desk to write the word you.
I must make one thing clear; this is not a horrendously unsubtle, big fat red marker pen of a cross aimed at non-natives regarding one small error. Quite the opposite, really. It has only come to my attention as the level of spoken English from non-natives is so astoundingly high, when something is not quite right, my native ear pricks up immediately. What’s more, it seems to have infiltrated my own brain so much so, that the familiar and friendly, ‘I’ll text you’ is fast being replaced!
All this speaking, talking and writing about communication brings flashes of yellow to mind. Should you ever find yourself at a loss and near the Museum of Communication in Stadtmitte, you too will be seeing yellow. There you can find the lifetime of the letter box throughout Germany and across Europe. From majestic maroon, to the blue with its brass and then the unmissable bright bumble bee yellow and black of today in Germany. Unexpectedly impressive, the collection makes for an interesting and educational display of postal resources over the years.
Each and every medium of communication is accounted for, including the early days of the Egyptian hieroglyphics when the ‘touch screen’ required something a little harder and a little sharper to get the message across than just a feeble finger. Of course the Gutenberg press was there in all its glory, as well as the pneumatic process which you could put to the test yourself. If interaction is what you look for in a museum visit, this one is for you. Especially great for kids, audience participation is invited from the off. As soon as you enter there are multiple objects of all curious shapes and sizes which simply await your nosy investigation. One way or another, you are forced into communication with either the object itself or with your fellow museum goer as you work out how the hell it operates.
Keen to drop by? Definitely one for a rainy day, it’s open Tuesday-Sunday and costs 4 EUR for adults. If truth be told, just the incredible architecture alone warrants a visit.
By Alice Higgins