Category Archives: Articles

Spell it out for me!

More history of more languages you’ll never learn…

A fancy word that’s relatively easy to spell? Masochism. I guess you know what it means. And yet, here you are, ready for a second serving of random facts on language history, politics and orthography. You have (presumably) had a look at, maybe even finished, an article entitled “Playwright, conscience … fish?” in eMAG #34. Amazing details about Korean writing and the evolution of Modern Greek have been revealed to you. What’s next, you ask? More irrelevant facts! And prepare for puns, as well.

Hanoi’ing spelling habits? Thank the French.

Remember how Koreans had to use Chinese characters before they developed their own alphabet? How, just to write down the most basic things, they were forced to learn the writing system of a completely unrelated language (I know they’re geographically close, but no relation between Korean and the Chinese languages has been proven so far)? Vietnamese speakers, whose language is equally unrelated to Chinese, and whose country is equally close to China, had similar problems. Unlike the Koreans, the Vietnamese had some success in adapting Chinese characters to Vietnamese, to a point where they were illegible even for Chinese speakers. This script, Chữ Nôm, was the first real Vietnamese writing system. It was used for administrative purposes at first, but later on, even poetry would be written in Chữ Nôm. But that doesn’t solve the problem that Chinese characters, a very reduced form of writing, can’t illustrate grammatically important changes within a word.

The most modern form of Vietnamese writing came from a complete outsider, the Jesuit monk and missionary Alexandre de Rhodes. De Rhodes, who came from the French-speaking region of Avignon, created an adapted version of the Latin alphabet that could reflect the pronunciation of Vietnamese words better than Chinese characters could. He did take over a few rather inefficient French spelling habits, e.g. <ph> to express the f-sound, so the system still contains some traces of other languages. In general, however, it is a neat writing system that has survived since the 16th century, throughout all kinds of political regimes, occupations and the division of the country. For this reason, despite his colonialist background, the Vietnamese still look somewhat fondly at de Rhodes.

There’s Norway around spelling rules.

Why don’t we have a look at Norwegian next? We’ll see a language whose main writing system, Bokmål (book tongue), is essentially Danish with slight changes. Danish and Norwegian are very closely related and can be intercomprehensible, depending on what dialect speakers use. The language similarities and parallels in writing come in handy today, but they stem from the long Danish domination of Norway. The two states were seen as one country well into the 19th century. For this reason, Bokmål still is the dominant writing system, although Nynorsk (New Norse, ironically the older writing system), fits Norwegian pronunciation patterns better. The further you move west (away from Denmark), the more popular Nynorsk gets.

Both varieties are officially recognised by the Norwegian state, taught in the same schools and used in public to various extents. Members of the administration are expected to reply to mail in the same variety that was used in the request and no province is allowed to use one variety to more than 75% in official areas. Since Danish and Swedish are also allowed in official written correspondence, the system can appear quite chaotic. And we’re not even counting in the more antiquated varieties Riksmål (national language) and Høgnorsk (High Norse). These former writing standards (with  Riksmål being even closer to Danish and  Høgnorsk being even further from it) have thankfully become rare, but there are people and organisations willing to invest a lot of time, just to keep them somewhat alive. Is that a lot to take in? It gets even weirder when you take into account that less than six million people speak Norwegian at all.

In the area of writing, Norway hasn’t distanced itself from Denmark as much as Korea or Vietnam have from China. That’s because Danish rule over Norway ended very late, both languages were related to begin with and the relations between both nations are friendly today. The outcome, however, is kind of problematic: people need to be fluent in both systems and people artificially switch between two idioms just to fulfil a legal quota. However, no one is discriminated against based on how they write, and that’s still a nice thing.

I Afri-can’t spell that!

No list of inefficient writing systems could be complete without the African continent. Most African languages simply weren’t used in writing before European colonisation. When writing systems were created, they were based on European languages, mostly English and French. They also weren’t made up by linguists, but usually by missionaries trying to translate the bible (who would just work with what they were used to). Now, English and French are both kind of inefficient in their writing, since both preserve a spelling that is out of sync with modern pronunciation. Just think of fish = ghoti or the French city of Bordeaux using four letters to express one o-sound. French uses <ou> (two letters) for a simple u-sound, and the more efficient, single letter <u> for the somewhat fancy u-Umlaut (<ü> in German or Turkish) – a sound few languages use at all. English, on the other hand, simply doesn’t have a long e-sound. And of course, these inefficiencies were taken over into new languages by means of their spelling.

Using the Latin alphabet for African languages can only work out when it is a neutral form where the pronunciation of certain letters is not tied to their pronunciation in one specific Western language. On top of that, additional sounds should be expressed through accents or additional characters, rather than ever-longer combination of letters. For this reason, the German Ethnologist Diedrich Westermann developed the Africa Alphabet and presented it (to colonialists, not Africans) in London in 1928. The alphabet has been adjusted to the linguistic situation in (Western) Africa several times and now has close to sixty letters. That may sound like a lot, but since you wouldn’t need all of these in every language, learning the alphabet wouldn’t even be such a big deal.

The real problem is that Africans aren’t using this alphabet to the extent that linguists have been hoping for. That’s because many native African languages are used in more private, oral settings. And when private communication is in written form, e.g. when people are chatting, most African languages aren’t available (e.g. as auto-correct on cellphones or as spell-checks on a PC). The ones that are available, like isiZulu or Somaali, don’t use the Africa Alphabet as a starting point. And even in handwriting, few people are aware of its existence, since most African states don’t do a lot to promote a standardized use of native languages – there are just too many, and most governments have different priorities. Still, the alphabet is around and offers a good starting point to any attempt of standardisation. Although it was established through colonisation, it can be a means of self-empowerment that makes local African languages and cultures more independent, giving them a stable, written foundation.

So yeah, the struggle with spelling is real, for a lot of people. Languages influence each other, and they don’t always copy each other’s most positive aspects. If we all looked at languages neutrally, leaving aside history, customs and patriotism (like former Yugoslvia did, for instance), we could probably create a couple of pretty logical writing systems and solve a huge lot of problems. But how likely is that?

Author and picture: Niklas Schmid

Words, words, mere words or how the English language took over my life (Part 2)

Now that the sappy part of this essay is for the most part over, apologies for my sentimental outpourings, I would like to move on. From the rather unfortunate circumstances that English found me in, to where we are today.

With not much more to do through my formative years than watching Doctor Who, Sherlock and Downtown Abbey while imitating the oh-so-charming accents I heard in these programmes, I would accumulate a rather large vocabulary, as well as a British accent. These days, when people hear me speak, in a classroom setting or elsewhere, they usually assume that my accent stems from a year abroad. And I won’t hide the fact that it does inflate my ego just a little bit every time I get to correct them and say that I am in truth self-taught (I leave out the traumatic abandonment part of the story most of the time; it simply doesn’t have as nice a ring to it, and, in my experience, tends to drag the mood down quite a bit).

The first time I did visit an English-speaking country was after secondary school. It had been my wish to visit London for years, and so finally at the age of fifteen, I travelled there by myself (a decision that my mother was surprisingly on board with). There had always been something about the city that had drawn me to it, and the night I arrived, it took no more than a single sighting of the city lights reflecting in the pitch-black Thames water for me to completely fall in love. I really believe that on that trip I left a piece of my soul in the night sky over London.

Since then I’ve visited the city three more times and still it never fails to take my breath away. So weirdly familiar, like I had always been there, or maybe meant to be there – it’s a sense of home that doesn’t need a domicile to feel real. All this accompanied by the fact that not standing out as a tourist, at least in my mind, and being able to stroll around and pretend to belong there just gives me the greatest feeling of accomplishment.

While in London with my mum last year, she let me handle all the talking (as well as the navigation on the underground, one of my guilty pleasures when in the city. What a joy it is to know which way you’re going.). She was fascinated by me chatting with a member of staff at the Camden Market tube station, mostly, she told me afterwards, because I kept using ‘slang’ or simply colloquial language (I suspect she meant I had developed a bit of a habit of using the greeting ‘hiya’ ever since I had briefly visited Huddersfield the year before). The pride in my mother’s eyes at seeing, or rather hearing, her daughter confidently communicate in a foreign language was not only the greatest reward for my efforts thus far, but also the best motivation to keep pushing myself to be better and to hopefully one day complete the perfection of my English.

Having received a certain certificate from some supposedly smart people better qualified to judge my abilities than me which says, black ink on white paper, that I am already a level C2 when it comes to English, both written and spoken, also boosts my confidence that my goal is really achievable in my life time.  English is a huge part of my life. From writing my first poetry in sixth grade to unironically reading Shakespeare plays today, it has given me more than could ever fit on two pages. It may be words, words, mere words to some, but for me it’s a matter from the heart.

Author and picture: Lea Meerkamp

Words, words, mere words or how the English language took over my life (part 1)

My first contact with English must have occurred somewhere in kindergarden.  As I was only four or five at the time, my memories are admittedly hazy. But I remember a tiny children’s book, colourful and made of cardboard, telling all the toddlers in attendance that some people refer to a Katze as ‘cat’. Not that we cared much – there were sandcastles to build and a whole world to be discovered.

Growing up in a small village in the south of Germany with both my parents native speakers of German, my overall contact with other languages was limited. The only open restaurant in town was owned by a Turkish family, so I learned the word ‘merhaba’ before even being aware of the existence of ‘hello’. So it wasn’t until primary school that I started learning English formally. At that age – I was seven in first grade – I really had priorities other than acquiring a second language. There were letters to learn, trees to climb and, unfortunately, basic maths to wrestle with.

All of this was about to change, however, at secondary. Having developed a deeply-rooted hatred of mathematics and any sort of natural science, I was already drawn to languages and the humanities, but for the time being, my relationship with English still hadn’t moved past the ‘at-least-I-can-do-this-instead-of-division’ stage. But life was about to hit me, and it was about to hit me hard. And, once again, my priorities shifted. Where before there were friends to meet and fun to be had, there was now fear to be felt and a childhood to be lost.

I won’t go into the details about what happened when I was twelve, as my incredibly dramatic, sad story isn’t the subject of this piece after all. The reason I’m bringing up this stage of the journey at all is its significance for my relationship with English. You see, it was at this moment when change became inevitable and I was forced to suddenly grow up and function. When the outside world became chaotic, I, god-like, chose to create a new world, a world inside my head, a world filled with obsessions and hyper focus, just enough to keep me sane. When I turned down invitations until I was simply not invited any more, when I was alone – that’s when it found me. A language that allowed me to express through writing what I could never say out loud, a language that let me run away with the Doctor, a language that would bring me the songs that, after hours of exhausting translation, would bring me the messages I needed to hear to survive. A language that opened up an online community in which I felt a little less alone, where others felt what I was feeling and where I could once again escape it all, at least for a little while.

English found me in my darkest place and carried me through it.

Author and picture: Lea Meerkamp

Is 3 years enough? – The story of a class reunion

Is three years after graduation too early for a class reunion? Maybe, maybe not, but it certainly was enough for me to spend roughly 12 hours drinking and speaking to my classmates. So, let’s go ahead and try to recap what went into planning it and the night itself.

As former class president, I was the lucky one to be in charge of setting a date for the class reunion and planning everything. So why did I set the date so early? Well, it really boils down to two major points. First of all, our regular yearly meetup, the city festival, fell flat this year, because of renovations in the city center. I got these news around Christmas, which definitely was a bummer, but sparked the idea to move the reunion date up by a few years. After talking to my vice president, we agreed that it makes sense, also because of the second reason, which is that the money we had in our bank was a lot for a student wallet, but not so much for someone with a stable job that worked for a few months.

So now that we had the date fixed, how much prep work did we put into it? Not a whole lot to be perfectly honest. Now that was not just because we were a bit lazy – which admittedly we were – but we also didn’t think that the 3-year celebration really warranted anything special. So, what did we do then? We booked an evening at our favorite bar. It was the one we pretty much spent all of our weekends at during school (yeah, there’s not that many alternatives in rural areas).

The evening itself, though, went amazingly. As class president I had to be the first one there, but I also had the honor of setting up the tap with 1500€. It didn’t take long for the first people to arrive as the allure of free beer is just too big. Most classmates arrived with their old friends, but they actually all dispersed quite quickly and everyone started talking to everyone, which was amazing to see. Admittedly, we’ve always been a tightly knit class, but some of the classmates I saw talking to each other had barely anything to do with each other during school times. For those of you wondering how long the tap lasted: It took our class of 80 people (20+ or so were designated drivers) 5 hours to kill the tap, which was longer than I expected. But the end of the tap also ushered in the end of the night. The majority of people left within the next hour, except for a small group of maybe 10 people, myself included, that stayed until the sun dawned, before we all trotted home just as we did all those years ago.

Author/Photo: Johannes Banzhaf

Underrated University Events: The Elections

It took around two terms at Augsburg University until I realised that there are elections – and four more to wake my interest. Credit to a coursemate of mine, who ran as a candidate for the Young Socialists (Jusos). This term I wanted to vote. This term I wanted to use the right we all have and barely ever think of. And there’s more: I even planned to write an article about my experience and the electoral system.

The Plan

The first thing I did was visit my coursemate. Solid as a rock he stood, promoting the elections, waves of his fellow students passing him by with very indifferent looks on their faces. Most of them didn’t even glance at the small booth in front of Alte Cafete where info material and small giveaways were neatly arranged on the table, waiting for interested people to come. I was greeted with a smile as I advanced with determination. In a few moments, I thought, I would finally understand the electoral system and the possibilities of participation we all have. I thought of this to be the easiest research I’d ever done.

How my plan failed

The guy standing in front of me answered my question on the electoral system with a slightly uneasy smile and led me to an enormous chart. Really, it was huge. After two minutes I lost my confidence and after five my focus. Most countries have easier electoral systems. Even the American system is easier to understand. How should I ever write an article about that? I had to change my plans, so I decided to write about how I experienced voting in general. Polling day advanced.

How my second plan failed

As always, I waited until the very last moment. Only 15 minutes were left before the polling stations would close. Stressed out I was looking for the small slip of paper with the room number given to me by my coursemate. I couldn’t find it. Running around I asked people where the polling station was. Nobody knew! I couldn’t see a damn sign anywhere. Not even an arrow! How was I supposed to write an article about an election I never took part in? I could’ve written about how the university should inform the students about the elections from their first day on. Or how they could put up a big banner with information as they do for the exam enrolment. Finally, it came to my mind that there is something more important to say.

The last straw

I decided to say thank you. Thanks to all fellow students who ran as candidates in these elections. Thanks to everybody who voted in the election or took part in its organisation. And finally, thanks to my coursemate and all the other students who make an effort to represent us, even if we don’t know. Without them, we would hardly be represented at all. If we don’t take part in the elections for ourselves, we should take part as a small gesture of respect and appreciation towards our representatives. It would have the positive side-effect of shaping the university’s politics as we want them to be. How is there supposed to be any change, if we don’t vote on it? Next time I will vote. We should all vote. It just takes a few minutes and doesn’t hurt. Or so I’ve been told.

Author: Nicolas Pols

Summer Games Done Quick

Watch your childhood memories get destroyed

Seeing how our issue this term is nearing its final production steps, there has been a lot of discussion on stereotypes within our team. And what better stereotypes are there than the ones revolving around gaming and gamers? Well, let me destroy the misconception of sweaty and unsocial gamers in the next few minutes as they destroy your favourite games in the meantime!

Gotta go fast!

First of all, you might ask what I’m talking about. The “Games Done Quick“ event takes place twice a year in America and is livestreamed for free on a platform called „twitch.tv“. Gamers from around the world met up this past week in Bloomington, Minnesota, to showcase their skills in some of the most classic video games out there but also a bunch of new releases. I already hear you say “Pff, video games don’t take any skill. It’s just pressing a bunch of buttons.“. I’ll have to pull a Trump on this one and tell you you’re wrong. Remember that time you got stuck on that one dungeon in “The Legend of Zelda“ as a child and you just couldn’t figure out the solution? How about just entering a series of button presses in the exact right amount of time to launch yourself over the entire thing, maneuver skilfully to the desired spot on the map in the dark – because obviously the developers had not intended for you to take that route – and just slay the boss of the level without having any of the tools available you’d have access to if you took the normal way around. This is what’s called a “speedrun“ in the community: the abuse of ingame mechanics to beat a game within a fraction of the time needed, compared to playing normally. Months of preparation go into every single one of these runs that have been featured during this past week. Even more impressing that the players don’t only show off incredible tricks but also entertain the audience at the same time and try to explain what they’re doing. So if you were worried you wouldn’t understand what’s even happening on your screen, fear not!

The good cause: Médecins Sans Frontières

There’s a massive production team behind these events every year. Most of them coming straight from the community themselves. And – to my knowledge – all of them organising this on a voluntary basis, though there are known sponsors and brands to help out. During the stream, the audience can donate money which entirely goes to a good cause. The winter production forwards it to cancer research and the summer production to “Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)“; a non- profitable international medical humanitarian organization created by doctors and journalists in France in 1971. MSF gives emergency aid to people affected by wars, epidemics, famine, natural disasters and man-made disasters, or areas where there is no health care available. It provides this help to all people, regardless of their race, religion or political beliefs. (definition taken from wikipedia.org). Noteworthy as well that MSF have won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999. They act on a set of 5 fundamental medical rules: Impartiality, Independence, Neutrality, Bearing witness, as well as being transparent and accountable. An overall great cause to donate money for, right? Something a few hundred thousand other people have thought, too, and they’ve raised a whooping $3,003,839. So not only have there been new time records set for some of these memorable games, but also a new record in the charity’s history that started in 2011.


With all that being said, I can only implore you to go check out this great exhibition if you’re interested in video games. There’s over 100 games being showcased so there should be something available for all tastes and ages. The livestream itself has ended yesterday, but all the runs have been recorded and uploaded to the „Awesome Games Done Quick“ YouTube channel. For legal reasons, I can’t link you directly. Go check it out and enjoy! Same goes for Doctors without Borders. Their homepage is incredibly informative. Go check that out, too!

Author: Tobias Lorenz

Disclaimer: Neither the author nor anyone on the eMAG team is involved in “Awesome Games Done Quick“. This is the author’s own opinion and he has not been paid to promote the event.

Fridays for OUR future

“We’re on a planet. That has a problem. We’ve got to solve it, get involved. And do it now, now, now. We need to build a better future. And we need to start right now.” – Read that part again, with the melody of “Bella Ciao” in mind and imagine being surrounded by hundreds: then you’ll catch a glimpse of how a Fridays for Future protest looks and feels.


May 24: In more than 2000 cities (about 200 of them in Germany), young people once more took to the streets, to fight for climate justice. But I’m not writing this article to tell you to stop wasting food, go vegan, quit flying or whatsoever – not again! You’re old enough to know that you should change your lifestyle to help our environment. Instead, I’ll try to share the feeling of being surrounded by hundreds of people that fight for the same goal.

The demonstration

One of the demonstrations started on Friday at 11:30 in Kempten. Pupils from a range of about 50 km had come to protest. First, everything was quiet as we gathered. As you looked around, you tried to read the other signs. Those beautiful, sarcastic but also terrifying signs: One said: “This planet is getting hotter than young Leonardo DiCaprio!”, another one read: “Wake up Humans! You’re endangered, too!“. They’d have been funny, but as the topic is so relevant, they were simply sad and scary. You could already hear strident whistling everywhere. A lot of pupils had brought whistles and started to sing: “Wir sind hier! Wir sind laut, weil ihr uns die Zukunft klaut!” (We are here! We are loud! Because you’re stealing our future!) Everyone else joined. And it was getting louder. We wanted to make (fucking) noise. We wanted to be (fucking) heard. So we screamed our heads off.

As we started to walk, the one big chant developed into more smaller chants in smaller groups. We were followed by disapproving glances of people. But we didn’t care. I mean, why should we? They apparently don’t care about our future, so I don’t give a fuck if I jar on their nerves. After an hour of walking, we topped at a little square. And the speaker started to sing the recasted “Bella Ciao” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zemK3S79tpU). Then, he talked about the European Elections. And I would like to do the same thing now.

There’s no excuse for today!


I know as a student it might be hard to participate in those projects because of work or other obligations. But there is no possibly accepted excuse for not voting today. You can change the world. You can make a difference. You can make the difference this world needs so desperately. I plead you: Don’t let your vote be wasted because you are too lazy after a boozy night.

Author: Leyla Bayraktar

Picture: Ela Bayraktar