Yesterday was Pentecost. In the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, a strange power was bestowed upon the eleven, and suddenly they developed fluency in foreign languages. Or did they? Some people thought they were just plastered. “What?” said Peter. “At nine o’clock in the morning?” I wouldn’t rule it out. I’ve met plenty of people, plastered, at nine o’clock in the morning.
Pentecost is an obverse to another biblical tale, that of the Tower of Babel, a civic project gone wrong, an enormous skyscraper and a monument to humanity’s pride that collapsed in a heap of rubble. Then everybody began to talk gibberish.
I once imagined I had a Pentecostal moment. Having no German, I heard Mrs Merkel speaking on the telly and thought I could understand her. But when I subsequently attended a German class, I had to conclude that I must have been drunk after all. However I persevere. Maybe Pentecost doesn’t happen in an instant, but takes a lifetime.
Peculiar to the German language is the entity of the separable verb. An example would be aufstehen – to get up. The prefix auf separates from the rest of the verb and goes to the end of the clause or sentence. Er steht um 7.00 Uhr auf. He gets up at seven. On the other hand, verstehen – the verb to understand – doesn’t behave like this. Ich verstehe nicht, said the man in the rubble of the Tower of Babel. I don’t understand. He doesn’t say Ich stehe nicht ver. That would truly be gibberish. Verstehen is therefore an inseparable verb. Tipp – the separable verb has its accent on the first syllable, but the inseparable verb does not.
If there’s another verb in the sentence it usually sends the separable verb to the end where it joins itself up again. Ich muss morgen früh aufstehen. I have to get up early tomorrow. But then if you are going to modify the infinitive aufstehen it is liable to separate again, at least partially. Yesterday I got up early. Gestern bin ich früh aufgestanden. Sorry. Too much information. Zu viel Information.
When I first discovered separable verbs and realised how ubiquitous they were, it crossed my mind that there must be some separable verbs in English. After all, the languages are alike in so many ways. The German for interview is Interview. A ghetto blaster is a Gettoblaster. We may say in our complacent way that these are loan words, words the English have deigned to rent out. But then, the German for brutal is brutal, and who can lay claim to being first to plant the national flag in the realm of brutality?
So I’m on the hunt for a separable verb in English. How about to understand? I stand the meaning of life under. To withdraw. I drew from the conflict with. Construe. I strued the German prose in English con. Not quite. How about uphold? I held these values up. Close, but no cigar.
So I’m thinking of starting a campaign to introduce separable verbs into English. This could have a moral, ethical, political undertone (or perhaps, to borrow another German trait, a Moralethicalpoliticalundertone). I might say that I self-identify as separable, and, incidentally, my preferred pronouns are… (or rather, my ferred pronouns are… pre). I might accrue acolytes. The separable community would get short shrift and, much like the apostles, become objects of scorn and derision. We might deface statues in order to make prefixes migrate. We would be arrested, and then we could insist on speaking separable English, via an interpreter, in court. Parliament, ever sensitive to the rights of minorities, would debate the introduction of bilingual signage on our roads, railway stations, ambulances, and police cars. Ware the gap be. You must in the back upbelt. It is the law. Irate letters would be written to the Herald by Disgruntled of Duntocher: “The separatists, and those of their ilk, should hang their heads in shame.” I would reply, “Gruntled the correspondent from Duntocher may be dis, but he only carps and snipes in order the course of justice pertovert.
I know what you’re thinking. I’ve lost the plot. Incidentally, I’ve had a wonderful musical weekend. Can you believe it – on Saturday Nicola Benedetti, Sheku Kanneh-Mason, and Benjamin Grosvenor played, to a packed Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, Beethoven’s Triple Concerto. What a coup for the impresario. And on Sunday I played my viola in a concert with the Dunblane Chamber Orchestra. Mozart and Mendelssohn. Beautiful music.
Why didn’t I write a blog about it all? I suppose it’s human nature, or at least my nature. Even when we have nothing to moan about, we are always liable something uptodream.