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Old 04.04.2012, 09:59
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Swiss and figurative language

So, does anyone else find that the Swiss in general (yeah, sorry for the generalization, but that's what we all do, isn't it?) seem to have difficulty with figurative language, metaphors, and analogies?

I find that they always take what you say extremely literally. They will actually spend many minutes arguing semantics with you without understanding the idea behind the words.

There are several examples, but the most recent one I had at work was when I asked a coworker something like:

How do you perform action x in software y? And I described "action x" in terms of software tool z.

The answer was: you can't perform action x in software y because action x is only performed in software tool z.

This, of course, I already knew, and what I was asking was how you performed an analogous action (even if it were called "action w" instead of action x" in tool y) with a different tool.

Instead, what I got is a diatribe about how I wasn't expressing myself correctly and what I should've asked was how to perform action w in tool y. Which of course was ridiculous, because if I had known what action w was, I would've simply performed it, and not had to ask the question.

Anyone else get experiences like this?

Like you have to *very precisely* define each word you use because they also take odd meanings of words as well.

Like, on other occasions I've come across them calling power supplies "generators" (a generator is a completely different thing from a power supply, in the English I learned), or they refuse to think of microcontrollers or control sofware as "brains" because "brains don't work like computers therefore you should never refer to the microcontroller as the brain of the machine, because the machine doesn't have limbs which the brain commands". Huh?? WTF? Really? Like it isn't evident a machine doesn't have hands and feet and the idea of "brain" was not because I honestly thought this machine had a corpus callosum, hipothalamus, and nervous system in it to control actual muscles, but because I was describing the function of the "brain" as "that thing which controls everything that happens in the machine"?

I find this semantics-based communication very difficult and it seems to really destroy the poetry, expressiveness, and creativity of any language. Do the Swiss write poetry at all? With metaphors and things? Is it part of their education system that doesn't teach them about the power of metaphors, similes, comparative thinking (i.e. analogies), and figurative language? Or what can explain this unusual phenomenon, I wonder...

Do you have any similar anecdotes to share?
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Old 04.04.2012, 10:07
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Re: Swiss and figurative language

Were you talking English or German/Swiss-German?
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Old 04.04.2012, 10:23
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Re: Swiss and figurative language

Either/both (English and Hochdeutsch). It is the concept of figurative language that they seem to have difficulty with. It is not the language itself. The Swiss who I was speaking in such detail in English with have spent several months in the US and the UK and speak English quite fluently. And they seem to have the same difficulty when I speak to them in German also.
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Old 04.04.2012, 10:23
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Re: Swiss and figurative language

Yep, agree totally. Swiss have no imagination, no sense of humour, take everything literally and at face value. Also they are not much endowed with looks or brains hence needing so many EU citizens to come here and do the jobs properly that they cannot do. Switzerland is a pretty country, but its indigenous population leave much to be desired, especially where driving safety and general day to day courtesy is concerned. For all their neutrality, they are actually very zenophobic, afraid of everything, yet probably 8 out of 10 smoke. Bizarre.
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Old 04.04.2012, 10:25
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Re: Swiss and figurative language

Now you've really lost me!! Computer jargon aside, I think sometimes it is more a cultural rather than a linguistic issue. I tried to explain the word "subtle" to a German speaking colleague, and even though the word does exist in German, he just could not grasp the concept!
The word "empathy" and the expression "to put oneself into someone else's shoes" just left blank stares! The English language, it must be said, is very rich in nuances, inuendos and subtleties that can be lost on many people, including native speakers.
Another situation was the use of irony or sarcasm...do tread very cautiously! I remember once being invited by some friends to watch the "Eurovision song contest". Now, we all know it's all sub quality singing and very corny, so after one particularly bad song I said "Well, that was so grand it should become a world's national anthem!" (meaning "what a loadacrap!"), but my hosts took it very seriously, going into a discussion as to what would be happening to national anthems and wouldn't it be too controversial...?"....I just helped myself with another beer and smiled!
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So, does anyone else find that the Swiss in general (yeah, sorry for the generalization, but that's what we all do, isn't it?) seem to have difficulty with figurative language, metaphors, and analogies?

I find that they always take what you say extremely literally. They will actually spend many minutes arguing semantics with you without understanding the idea behind the words.

There are several examples, but the most recent one I had at work was when I asked a coworker something like:

How do you perform action x in software y? And I described "action x" in terms of software tool z.

The answer was: you can't perform action x in software y because action x is only performed in software tool z.

This, of course, I already knew, and what I was asking was how you performed an analogous action (even if it were called "action w" instead of action x" in tool y) with a different tool.

Instead, what I got is a diatribe about how I wasn't expressing myself correctly and what I should've asked was how to perform action w in tool y. Which of course was ridiculous, because if I had known what action w was, I would've simply performed it, and not had to ask the question.

Anyone else get experiences like this?

Like you have to *very precisely* define each word you use because they also take odd meanings of words as well.

Like, on other occasions I've come across them calling power supplies "generators" (a generator is a completely different thing from a power supply, in the English I learned), or they refuse to think of microcontrollers or control sofware as "brains" because "brains don't work like computers therefore you should never refer to the microcontroller as the brain of the machine, because the machine doesn't have limbs which the brain commands". Huh?? WTF? Really? Like it isn't evident a machine doesn't have hands and feet and the idea of "brain" was not because I honestly thought this machine had a corpus callosum, hipothalamus, and nervous system in it to control actual muscles, but because I was describing the function of the "brain" as "that thing which controls everything that happens in the machine"?

I find this semantics-based communication very difficult and it seems to really destroy the poetry, expressiveness, and creativity of any language. Do the Swiss write poetry at all? With metaphors and things? Is it part of their education system that doesn't teach them about the power of metaphors, similes, comparative thinking (i.e. analogies), and figurative language? Or what can explain this unusual phenomenon, I wonder...

Do you have any similar anecdotes to share?
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Old 04.04.2012, 10:27
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Re: Swiss and figurative language

"GC und Bern spielten 2 zu 2, unentschieden".

Well, if it's 2:2, anyone with an IQ higher than a ladybug will now know that it's a draw, rather having to be told that 2:2 is in fact, a draw.
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Old 04.04.2012, 10:34
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Re: Swiss and figurative language

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Yep, agree totally. Swiss have no imagination, no sense of humour, take everything literally and at face value. Also they are not much endowed with looks or brains hence needing so many EU citizens to come here and do the jobs properly that they cannot do. Switzerland is a pretty country, but its indigenous population leave much to be desired, especially where driving safety and general day to day courtesy is concerned. For all their neutrality, they are actually very zenophobic, afraid of everything, yet probably 8 out of 10 smoke. Bizarre.
Luckily, Lonay Lady, a beautiful intelligent EU citizen with wit and charm, has decided to live in Switzerland to make it a better place. Her job skills have put all Swiss employees to shame and her outlook on life has made her a role model for all EU citizens. The Swiss are only a dim shadow in her presence.
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Old 04.04.2012, 10:50
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Re: Swiss and figurative language

Yes but anyone have any idea why there is such difficulty?

It is not a matter of language. Even German is highly poetic (and very much so, even more than English)...one just has to look for a Goethe poem to see that it can be interpreted with 4 or 5 different meanings...which makes such poetry so sublime...

When I was in elementary and secondary school (i.e. when I was 7-12 years old or so), my literature and language classes explicitly taught us about various figurative language techniques: irony (all kinds of irony--situational, dramatic, sarcasm, etc), stereotypes, metaphors, similes, analogies, etc. You have to have a grasp of this before you can ever even understand let alone enjoy poetry. And most literature courses teach poetry, don't they?

Are Swiss literature curriculums simply that weak? Swiss people on the forum, can you elaborate what do you study in your language classes? When you study French or German, do you read poetry in these languages? Do you do so when you study English? It would be interesting to know...perhaps language classes here only teach grammar rules and semantics....which would explain a lot. Do you guys get assignments in composition? Do your teachers make you write short stories, descriptions, dialogue, essays and poems when you're a kid? All of these assignments exercise the use of figurative language...perhaps the creative/expressive aspects of language are not emphasized in favor of the grammar rules...after all if the goal is to simply "get by" in the language to talk to the people on the other side of the roestigraben, you don't really need to learn French or German poetry.

Swiss people, your views?
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Old 04.04.2012, 10:51
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Re: Swiss and figurative language

There is a chance that cross cultural communication is on some level impossible. I really worry about international treaties sometimes, because, who know what the other side understood, about what is being agreed upon.
It is also possible that interpersonal communication might only be possible because of some subtle chemistry between the two communicating parties. After about 10 years in German speaking Switzerland, I am still not able to communicate deep nuance in a conversation.
As for the englich speaking Swiss, it is also not certain how good they are at communicating. I have met Swiss whom at first I judged as speaking super english, but after repeated contact realized that they were good in only one sense, or subject in that language.
After having lived 25 yrs in the US, I think I only managed to accept certain communication tendencies, but never adopted them myself. I don't think I will manage any better here.
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Old 04.04.2012, 11:00
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Re: Swiss and figurative language

Thanks for the compliments. Sadly, I did not "choose" to live here; am a so called trailing spouse, husband loves his job in Geneva so had no choice in the matter. Am merely stating my experiences with neighbours, fellow shoppers, road users etc and miss the UK tremendously. It may be not what it was, but the UK will always be home. If everyone who lives in Switzerland loves it and its people so much, why is this forum always so full of complaints, moans, critcisms etc?
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Old 04.04.2012, 11:05
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Re: Swiss and figurative language

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Thanks for the compliments. Sadly, I did not "choose" to live here; am a so called trailing spouse, husband loves his job in Geneva so had no choice in the matter. Am merely stating my experiences with neighbours, fellow shoppers, road users etc and miss the UK tremendously. It may be not what it was, but the UK will always be home. If everyone who lives in Switzerland loves it and its people so much, why is this forum always so full of complaints, moans, critcisms etc?
I think you'll find, as with most things, people only complain when they actually have something to complain about. Which, considering how many members EF and similar sites have, are actually very few. I therefore assume that most foreigners here are completely happy and have learnt to understnd the way the Swiss act and take it in their stride.
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Old 04.04.2012, 11:06
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Re: Swiss and figurative language

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Thanks for the compliments. Sadly, I did not "choose" to live here; am a so called trailing spouse, husband loves his job in Geneva so had no choice in the matter. Am merely stating my experiences with neighbours, fellow shoppers, road users etc and miss the UK tremendously. It may be not what it was, but the UK will always be home. If everyone who lives in Switzerland loves it and its people so much, why is this forum always so full of complaints, moans, critcisms etc?
One always has a choice. You chose the lesser of two evils. Have you ever thought that the problem does not lie with the Swiss, but with you? It's not Switzerland's fault that you're unhappy. Find a way to make yourself happy again otherwise you're going to become a miserable beach. I realize this sounds harsh but sometimes the truth is exactly that. Good luck and I hope you will find happiness again.
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Old 04.04.2012, 11:10
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Re: Swiss and figurative language

Can we get back on track please?

I want to know if the Swiss formally learn about figurative language in school or not. What LonayLady said is perfectly valid as it is just someone's opinion and experience and I for one think it added to the original discussion.

Jumping on her to criticize her opinion doesn't add to the original discussion.

So let's get back on track, cuz I'm really interested in a possible answer here. Anyone else have difficulty communicating nuances with the Swiss?

And any theories of why this may be so?
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Old 04.04.2012, 11:11
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Re: Swiss and figurative language

Olygirl, from your patronising comments you must be young. I am older and wiser, and honest. The Swiss tolerate foreigners working here and do not really want them to integrate. They know that without foreigners, their country is no more than a farming, watch making, chocolate producing agricultural country. Thanks for the advice, though. I choose not to integrate with those who are false, bossy and egotistical, but who detest it when the tables are turned.
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Old 04.04.2012, 11:23
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Re: Swiss and figurative language

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Olygirl, from your patronising comments you must be young. I am older and wiser, and honest.
And having no brighter prospects in life than waiting for your husband to come back from work. Oh joy.
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Old 04.04.2012, 11:28
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Re: Swiss and figurative language

I ask the question the other way:
Why do English speakers never use the words in their actual meaning and always have to express themselves in metonymic mode?
We, German speakers, know how to do the one and the others, but we control it and don't mix up word definitions. Why do English speakers have such difficulties to learn their language correctly?



Of course, the answer above is just a little rhetoric game, but as a French-German bilingual, I can assure you that the way people express themselves is related to the language but not as a question of competence/incompetence of anything but rather a learned pattern of expression. The jokes are different, but also the way of explaining things: in English, one explains a lot through analogy and exemplification; in German, one explains rather with the right process description and spacial-procesual detail.
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Old 04.04.2012, 11:28
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Re: Swiss and figurative language

Actually one step ahead. Amusing myself winding everyone up on here as it is just so so easy as you are all so defensive of your Swiss lives. Who is deluded now?
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Old 04.04.2012, 11:30
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Re: Swiss and figurative language

Yes Faltrad, spot on. French is a very specific language, where everything has its own word whereas in English we do use more words to say the same thing.
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Old 04.04.2012, 11:34
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Re: Swiss and figurative language

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Yes but anyone have any idea why there is such difficulty?

It is not a matter of language.

Even German is highly poetic (and very much so, even more than English)...one just has to look for a Goethe poem to see that it can be interpreted with 4 or 5 different meanings...which makes such poetry so sublime...

When I was in elementary and secondary school (i.e. when I was 7-12 years old or so), my literature and language classes explicitly taught us about various figurative language techniques: irony (all kinds of irony--situational, dramatic, sarcasm, etc), stereotypes, metaphors, similes, analogies, etc. You have to have a grasp of this before you can ever even understand let alone enjoy poetry. And most literature courses teach poetry, don't they?
Boy, you must have been quite advanced in your curriculum to learn figurative language techniques at age 10. What curriculum was that?

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Swiss people on the forum, can you elaborate what do you study in your language classes? When you study French or German, do you read poetry in these languages?
Yes, we do.

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Do you do so when you study English?
Yes, we do though to a lesser extent - it also depends whether you go through a litterary curriculum or a scientific curriculum.

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It would be interesting to know...perhaps language classes here only teach grammar rules and semantics....
They don't.

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Do you guys get assignments in composition? Do your teachers make you write short stories, descriptions, dialogue, essays and poems when you're a kid?
Yes.

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All of these assignments exercise the use of figurative language...perhaps the creative/expressive aspects of language are not emphasized in favor of the grammar rules...after all if the goal is to simply "get by" in the language to talk to the people on the other side of the roestigraben, you don't really need to learn French or German poetry.

Swiss people, your views?
You don't learn French / German because you want to talk to people on the other side of the roestigraben - you learn it because it is your mother tongue - and once you've figured "figurative language techniques" in your mother tongue it's no big deal figuring them out in other languages.
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Old 04.04.2012, 11:38
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Re: Swiss and figurative language

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Yes Faltrad, spot on. French is a very specific language, where everything has its own word whereas in English we do use more words to say the same thing.
Correct! Except Faltrad was speaking about German. German <> French. French is a lot less specific than English - which is also why it used to be the diplomatic language of choice (a lot open to interpretation).

Of course you wouldn't know that.
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