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Back story: A few months ago, my school hosted some German exchange students. I don’t know any German, as I chose French classes, but anyhow an American female friend of mine in my math class was one of the students in the exchange program, so she came to class with two exchange students. The German students (two girls) sat close to me. I made them feel welcome as it was their first day and they seemed a bit nervous to be in the spotlight. So I chatted with them in English and introduced myself, and joked with them that I wish I could speak German, but I only knew Spanish, English and some French … basically I ended up flirting a little with one of them.

I’m a Hispanic/Latino (Colombian-American) olive-skinned male. At some point when they were talking German to each other, I heard one girl distinctly say Mischling in their fast convo.

I have a pretty good ear, especially for foreign languages, so I’m sure I heard right and I think they were referring to me since as I learned from movies and stuff that Mischling means a person of mixed race (which I can pass for).

So that left me wondering do Germans use this word lot? And does it carry negative connotations?

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Please.consider removing unrelated information such as the first paragraph except for its last phrase. It's faster and easier to grasp your question then. –  ComFreek Aug 10 at 7:51
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General advice: if you don't speak the language, don't try to interpret anything you think you get. You'll get a more accurate picture from reading their behaviour. If she's flirting with you, she's probably not talking in a bad way about you. Yes, they may have been guessing what your genetic makeup is (or trying to figure out how to ask you about it) but they might as well have been talking about a dog they saw earlier. –  Raphael Aug 10 at 14:43
    
I would be wary assuming you heard the correct word, especially if you could not use grammar cues. If they said for example "Mischung", this would have been much more neutral. –  rumtscho Aug 10 at 16:34
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I think a large part of the first paragraph is important for the context of the question. This also makes it important to judge the usage of the word in question and thus makes it directly related and useful information –  Vogel612 Aug 10 at 22:03
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@Vogel612 I agree, and I am appalled at how much this question was changed by the 2nd edit. Not only is it now harder to understand some of the older comments and answers, the editor also changed expressions of completely subjective and individual perceptions. It belongs only to the OP to choose between "I'm sure", "I think" or "I believe". No 3rd person should change such wording without the OP's consent. –  Matthias Aug 11 at 20:33

6 Answers 6

up vote 6 down vote accepted

To me, the word sounds extremely sketchy. It is certainly not a form of intentional overt racism, or a slur. It is not amongst the standard repertoire of insults against ethnicities, minorities etc., and it's not the kind of word you'd not say in front of your grandmother. But I have never heard anybody use that term, and I would be very surprised if I heard it. I would expect mostly racist people to use it.

(That and how it is applied to dogs and isn't insulting there I find little comfort in. Neither does it comfort me that they went for "Mischling" with their stereotyping.)

The reason for my discomfort would be that "Mischling" implies some normative standard of purity regarding human races. How extremely problematic every aspect of this idea is I probably need not elaborate on. Moreso as in Germany, classifying people into races is both uncommon even in colloquial discourse, and extremely politically incorrect. (German racism typically follows slightly different patterns.)
So while the word itself may not carry racist connotations, the factual situation it presupposes is a racist worldview.
By that I do not mean you should take that girl to be racist. She probably didn't put any thought into it. It's just one word, uttered in a possibly confusing and stressful situation.

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… by a teenager. (Addition to the last sentence.) –  Wrzlprmft Aug 10 at 9:35
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@hellcode: I doubt that such a word exists at all. Even Mischling is not restricted to different skin colours. I would not even know of an English word for this. Also, there is no big need for such a word, as you are hardly ever talking about such people in general. Thus you can usually use a more specific term. –  Wrzlprmft Aug 10 at 11:36
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Germans, as a rule, are increasingly hesitant to talk about race (in humans) at all, even flat-out denying the concept as such. (An official form asking you to specify your own race would be unthinkable, e.g.) –  Ingmar Aug 10 at 14:47
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@Wrzlprmft: I have read that in the USA the term "mixed-race person" shall be a fairly neutral description (e.g. for Obama). –  hellcode Aug 10 at 21:07
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I wonder whom I owe the two downvotes to. Racists who disagree with my political correctness, or anti-racists who think I'm not going far enough?.. –  jona Aug 11 at 17:02

The Duden, the most influential German dictionary, warns in its entry on Mischling:

"Usage of the word Mischling to denote persons is increasingly regarded as discriminating since it is reducing people to their biological origin."

So there is a large and growing number of people that would see this word carrying a negative connotation, but also another group that wouldn't. (I'd question their mindset, though.)

The Duden also says about the suffix '-ling':

"In conjunction with adjectives it [i.e. the nouns constructed this way] often denotes people that are characterized by a certain quality. ... These constructions frequently have a strong deprecative character."

'-ling' is capable of turning "schön" (beautiful) into "Schönling" (pansy / pretty boy). This doesn't happen for all words with '-ling', e.g. "Lehrling" (apprentice) or "Zwilling" (twin) are perfectly neutral, but in general these constructions aren't something nice to say about people. I think it depends on your sprachgefühl whether you see "Mischling" affected by this.

As for the frequency of use I haven't profound statistics, but 9 of my top ten Google hits for the word concern dogs (and the tenth is the Wikipedia article on Mischling). That seconds somehow my experience that dog races is the context where this word survives in contemporary German.

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That first quote from Duden sounds like PC-bullshit to me. I don't think I've ever heard "Mischling" applied to humans, that is in particular not in a derogatory way. –  Raphael Aug 10 at 14:39
    
@Raphael: Note that the Duden is just describing here and its description is certainly correct. Anyway, this statement (»Mischling is regarded as discriminating, since …«) could be applied to any other word with the same or similar meaning and is in a certain way correct, since there are very few situations, where you would need such a word for non-discriminating purposes (even more so than words describing the skin color, which serve a purpose for describing what somebody looks like). –  Wrzlprmft Aug 10 at 15:24
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@Raphael well, for the reason you have given (seldomly used for humans) this is no PC bullshit. It is - independend of the language - increasingly uncommon to treat humans based on their ethnics. This is one reason you hear "Mischling" mostly for dogs. And the fact you have a word used for animals also means you are carefully to apply it to humans (same is true for "Stallion", "Full-Blood", etc). So I would say it is at least a sign for insensitiveness (caused by having no exposure to other ethnics). –  eckes Aug 10 at 17:49
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@Raphael: It isn't. I heard the generation of my grandmother talking about mixed races with darker skin in that way. She dind't even mean it in any bad way, it was just the words she grew up with. –  PlasmaHH Aug 10 at 21:20
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Während der Duden das politisch korrekte sagen will ist die Weise, in der er es tut, blamabel, wiederholt er doch die affige Pharse von der Reduktion auf etwas. Als Dudenredaktion sollte man sich die Reflektion leisten können, dass jedes Substantiv, das eigene Eigenschaft beschreibt, als solche Reduktion aufgefasst werden könnte, ob Deutscher, Teenager, Mann, Schreiner, Herthafan, Fußgänger oder was immer. Es kann also nicht die Reduktion auf eine Eigenschaft sein, die hier problematisch ist. Vielleicht arbeiten da aber auch nur noch Praktikanten und Hochstapler. –  user unknown Aug 11 at 0:59

In my opinion the word itself is neutral. It is just a word for people with ancestors of different skin color, but as often it depends in which context it is used.

I would have expected that they use "Latino" instead. Latino has more the touch of being hot and sexy, because some latino singers are very popular here. But maybe they thought that you would understand that. So I cannot say what they exactly meant with it.

The word has further meanings. For example we use "Mischling" often for dogs to say that it is a crossbreed.

To answer your questions: the word is used quite often (but more in context with dogs, just because there are so many...) and normally (and I think especially in your case) it carries no negative connotation. Some people may feel that it is pejorative (maybe because the word is also used for dogs, maybe because it's reducing the group of people to their skin colour), but we don't have another word in german to describe shortly these people unless you know the exact origin.

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Also das Kind eines Nordiren mit einer Griechin ist kein Mischling, oder eines Chinesen mit einer Vietnamesin oder eines Vaters aus Benin mit einer Mutter aus Mocambique? Nur beim Kreuzen von Hautfarben, von denen aber nur 4 unterschieden werden? Und das soll neutral sein? –  user unknown Aug 11 at 1:07
    
Der Witz ist, dass es die vier klischeehaften Hautfarben gar nicht so gibt. Weder sind Asiaten herausragend gelbhäutig, noch sind Indianer rothäutig. Und zwischen »schwarz« und »weiß« (die natürlich auch nicht genau ihrem beschreibenden Wort entsprechen) gibt es beliebig viele Abstufungen. –  Wrzlprmft Aug 11 at 9:23
    
Die ursprüngliche Fragestellung hatte nichts mit dem hier mittlerweile hineininterpretierten Rassismus zu tun. Es ging um eine Situation mit zwei Schülerinnen im Schüleraustausch, mit denen der Fragesteller geflirtet hat und meint, dabei den Begriff "Mischling" aufgeschnappt zu haben. Meint Ihr wirklich, dem Fragenden mit Euren Kommentaren weiterzuhelfen? –  hellcode Aug 11 at 21:00

I haven't heard the word "Mischling" being used to denote people for a really long time, and if then only rarely and by somewhat older people. I would even go so far as to say that the common teenager (ok, I mostly overhear conversations in public transport to get their "style" of talking, but nevertheless) would feel the word being rather wrong when used for people. Most likely because when used for people -- while not being distinctly negative -- it somehow feels like word out of times where it was meant to have a negative connotation.

More likely when talking about people of mixed descent, Germans use terms fitting to the prevailing phenotype. Depending on their social background, these terms are meant in a derogatory way, or not.

Where I hear this word really often is when talking about dogs. Every dog that isn't purebred is called "Mischling" in one or another way. A good way to figure out how people use words in German is in my experience to do a search for this word on the German google. Unless it is some kind of word explanation site (wikipedia, dictionary etc.) I think you have to scroll very far in the results to see it being used in any other context than dogs.

Unless you understood anything else from their conversation that would indicate this direction, I would deem it highly unlikely that she was talking in that way about any human. I would probably bet good money on that she saw a dog earlier that day or something like that.

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@Carlster: I am not sure if I parse your sentence correctly, but the question was based on the (imho) false presumtion that the word was used to refer to a human. Also the question included if this word was used "a lot"; so this answer focuses on that and the most common usage that I know around me. –  PlasmaHH Aug 11 at 15:11

The only context in which I have heard this word is for pets, and more specifically, dogs. Of course people are proud when they can say that their dog is a purebred but they'll also happily enumerate the races that make their dog a Mischling. Sometimes I even felt that it's used a little to compensate (for their dog not being a purebred) - this is not to say that Mischling has a negative connotation.

Promenadenmischung may have a slightly negative connotation (used when you don't know the races of your dog).

This is all about common language, not scientific terms.

(I am German)

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I personally think "Mischling" does not have a negative connotation.

Basically, it depends mostly on how you say it. I wasn't there and can't judge the intonation but If they were really talking about you (and not a dog or a mule), I wouldn't worry. German girls often like the "southern type" as we call it here.

"Bastard", which is sometimes used in colloquial language, is way more negative (Bastard is most used for dogs and other animals. for Humans it actually means "child born outside marriage").

A german word that describes your origin best would be "Mestize" (Child of a white person and of an indigenous person, mostly from middle- and south-america) but no one knows this word. The word "Latino" would have too easy for you to understand...

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thanks, forgot to add some information about it! –  Barthy B. Aug 10 at 8:56
    
I don't get it, what does "bastard" have to do with all of this? –  Grantwalzer Aug 10 at 10:19
    
@Carlster when you refer to for example a dog when you say "Bastard" it means the same as "Mischling". This use is not correct when you refer to humans because of the formerly named definition. But people still use the incorrect term "bastard" to describe people who are in fact "Mischlinge". I just wanted to point out that there would have been worse words to describe you if they would have wanted to give a negative connotation. –  Barthy B. Aug 10 at 10:24
    
I never heard people use it "colloquially" in that way. Maybe racists. Additionally I think "Bastard" was originally a positive term. –  Grantwalzer Aug 10 at 10:49
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@Vogel612 Duden and The Grimm Brothers disagree, where does your information come from? –  Grantwalzer Aug 10 at 11:57

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