An observation inspired by the British Parliament’s soul searching after Theresa May’s historic Brexit-vote defeat on Jan 15, 2019
Nun hats Preußen den Leuten in der Provinz nicht leicht gemacht. Dieser berliner Überlegenheitston, der die andern wie verständlich so maßlos reizt, diese törichte Attitüde, die sich aus Herrschergelüste, Überlegenheitsfimmel und Postenjägerei zusammensetzt, hat unendlich geschadet. Die Vormachtstellung Preußens muß fallen ….
Ignaz Wrobel (aka Kurt Tucholsky) : Berlin, Berlin; Die Weltbühne, 29.03.1927, Nr. 13, S. 499, https://tucholsky-gesellschaft.de/1927/03/29/ignaz-wrobel-berlin-berlin/
My dear native English speakers, we are terribly sorry to yet again have to clumsily hijack your fabulously versatile language here. But the post-Brexit-vote deliberations in the lobby of the British Parliament (which we happened to see on Sky News the other day) reminded us too much of the self-esteem travails our own “mother tongue” imposes on to us not to take the opportunity to express our expatriate feelings to that effect one more time.
Obviously, it is quite remarkable that even in the moment of unprecedented national uncertainty British MPs still manage to express their thoughts on live TV without showing signs of distress, anguish or even panic. Watching their stellar performance we couldn’t help but ask ourselves if German MPs had kept a similar calm in the presence of international cameras, had it not been Britain’s fate that would be at stake here but Germany’s destiny instead. No doubt the mere fact that such interviews with German MPs would have had to be hesitantly translated into English by a faraway interpreter to make them intelligible for an international audience would have given the entire spectacle the flavor of a broadcast from Mongolia. In the British case, however, the coverage unfolded in a smooth and collected first-world manner. In fact, even the Right Honorable MP from East Antrim who laboriously pronounced his views in a heavy, tongue-tied Northern Irish accent still oozed so much natural confidence while speaking that we were quite sure that similar thoughts could never have been expressed with the same aplomb even in the most carefully crafted, subtly vocalized “Hochdeutsch” (High German).
Of course, we recognize that it may not be clear to your average native English speaker from Kent or Sussex that language can have an impact on the self-esteem of any culturally sensitive debate participant. The towering importance which Britannia used to exude over the High Seas may stand in the way of that. For citizens from Clackmannanshire or Dumfries, though, the complicated psychological side effects of language are already somewhat tangible. For people from Noah denkt™’s neck of the woods, however, linguistic soul-searching, if not even dialect-due deference have become a full-blown way of life.
To understand how we got to that point of meekness you need to understand history and we are, obviously, not going to bore you with that. Suffice it to say, that High German to this day is severely impregnated by Prussia’s earlier need to overcompensate for its own late-comer inferiority complex. To this day, High German, consequently lends itself all too willingly for top-down posing, intimidation and exclusion. In our own native region, for example, the devastating effects exerted by the Prussian Hochdeutsch mentality have been so dramatic that people from our region usually try to avoid acknowledging their geographic origin in order to not be ridiculed for that.
Needless to say that the patronizing and grandstanding need which the High German mentality carries with it can only fail miserably when being transplanted onto an international stage. This is the reason why culturally sensitive, native Hochdeutsch speakers tend to fumble nervously in their presentation when suddenly realizing that their performance is also being transmitted live by British and US broadcasters.. After all, our fellow German Hochdeutsch actors are now not only pitching their game to bunch of irrelevant hickey underlings but are throwing themselves at the mercy of WWII victor nation audiences instead. Inevitably such exposure will rekindle in them the old Prussian inferiority complex. And inevitably that inferiority complex will then demonstrate yet again that High German is perennially unsuited to be a tool for calm and collected first-world stewardship.
But let us not get lost here in trivial reflections about second-class insecurities. After all, we will never really know for sure whether the Right Honorable Member from Northern Ireland was in fact aware that day that his pronouncements were being watched outside the Brexit perimeter as well. So it is futile to speculate on the resilience of an individual aplomb. What the British post-Brexit-vote-debate, nevertheless, demonstrates is that inferiority complexes aren’t for everybody. Prof. Alfred Adler and his School of Individual Psychology may well have gotten this wrong. And, perhaps, it was his own Austrian Hochdeutsch conundrum that has played a treacherous trick on him here.