Adventures In German Language

JohnnyO once discussed his ‘Wheels On The Bus’ iphone app that allows the user (his daughter, in his case) to play back the song in a number of different languages. All is good until you get to the German version, where the singer is breathlessly rushing to keep up with the music— such is the syllabic elephantiasis of the language that ‘Wheels On The Bus’ doesn’t fit into the allotted space.

I think of this story every time I toggle between the English and German versions of Craigslist Berlin. Seriously, the German version has the exact same content and is a third wider:

Just imagine if they started a section for the services of Eisenbahnknotenpunkthinundherschieber (railroad switchmen). That could push the total page width beyond 1200 pixels.

I have yet to actually do any significant design work in German language. But Czech language never failed to foil me with its diacritics (the little hats and angles worn by various letters). First of all, many fonts don’t include the characters; also, you can’t tightly pack lines of text vertically, because the stupid special characters bump into the letters above them. And, to my dismay, I quickly learned that you can’t just kinda sorta maybe get away with leaving out the accent— it would be like substituting in an entirely different letter. I’m sure that German will present its own share of bedeviling lines-that-don’t-wrap-because-one-word-is-too-long and dual English/German language layouts where the two text blocks aren’t remotely the same length. Until my proposal for a glorious Simplified International English language takes hold and renders other languages obsolete, that is. Details to follow…

See also: Mysteries of Czech Language

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