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Given a statement and a question of nigh identical substance, I'm curious how each might be translated, specifically wondering: would they differ based on whether it is me or you concerned?

For example:

  • I solved the Dirac equation.

  • You solved the Dirac equation?

I could be wrong in the following but in both cases I would expect 'the Dirac equation' to remain in tact as 'die Dirac gleichung'; 'You' and 'I' as 'Ich' and 'Sie', respectively; but, particularly, what about the word 'solved'?

Would this differ based on who the target is (say, you, me, or an individual of specific profession (a doctor, for instance)), or would it alternate solely based on whether it's used within a statement or question?

Lastly, this brings to mind 'we', how might it differ if 'we solved the Dirac equation!'? And then yet another query of differences based on gender, but this is beginning to drift from a clear point I'm trying to determine.

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I agree. Whoever downvoted this apparently doesn't know about all the subtle nuances that are possible in languages, even if they don't apply to German. +1 for the Question – Sean Patrick Floyd May 25 '11 at 11:08
No, this is not a good question. It is taken from Richard Feynmann's autobiography where the author talks about learning Japanese, and how he gives up in frustration when he finds out that it's a completely different word depending on if he is solving the Dirac Equation or whether his Japanese colleague is solving it. It's a charming story about learning Japanese but has nothing to do with German. – Marty Green Feb 6 '12 at 23:32
@MartyGreen That is the best template of an example for this sort of system I already knew of, and, without plagiarizing the book, I gladly revisited to use it for a practical purpose - to determine if it did exist in German. – Grant Thomas Feb 7 '12 at 8:31

5 Answers 5

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Let's start with the translations. In German, you would probably use present perfect instead of simple past:

Ich habe die Dirac-Gleichung gelöst.

Du hast die Dirac-Gleichung gelöst.

Er/sie/es hat die Dirac-Gleichung gelöst.

Wir haben die Dirac-Gleichung gelöst.

Ihr habt die Dirac-Gleichung gelöst.

Sie haben die Dirac-Gleichung gelöst.

You asked:

Would this differ based on who the target is (say, you, me, or an individual of specific profession (a doctor, for instance)), or would it alternate solely based on whether it's used within a statement or question? If so, why? Is it a case of semantics or politeness?

It would not differ at all if a beggar or a doctor would have solved that equation. This is a statement of fact, so there's no special degree of politeness involved.

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Thanks, and very much so for your second point - this is precisely what I was wondering, and personally find it to be an important thing to learn the presence or absence of in a language. – Grant Thomas May 25 '11 at 10:52
Yup - the thing is, people won't know there even is such a thing if they don't know a language that uses it :-) – Jan May 25 '11 at 10:57
But there's a difference in the 2nd person sing./plur. - see my answer:… – splattne May 25 '11 at 14:37
@splattne agreed, but that relates to the more general concept of "duzen" and "siezen" – Jan May 25 '11 at 15:01

I don’t see the problem. In all cases you translate solve to lösen.

  • Ich habe die Dirac-Gleichung gelöst.
  • Du hast die Dirac-Gleichung gelöst.
  • Wir haben die Dirac-Gleichung gelöst.
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Concur. This is a simple construct of Subject-Verb-Object, with the particular word order of the past perfect tense. German does not make a distinction other than adjusting the verb to the respective subject, i.e. Ich habe -- Du hast -- etc. @Mr.Disappointment: can you help us understand the nature of the question? Is there a language you are familiar with that would use a different construct, depending on the subject? E.g. a different form for "I have solved" as compared to "You (singular) have solved"?? – teylyn May 25 '11 at 10:59
@teylyn löste is very unusual in German. If it’s done, we use Perfekt in most cases. – toscho May 25 '11 at 11:09
You don't see the problem because it doesn't exist in German. The Question was whether it exists in the German language! – Sean Patrick Floyd May 25 '11 at 11:12
@Sean Patrick Floyd Oh … yes. :) – toscho May 25 '11 at 11:17
I don't understand your comment. I never even mention "löste". Where did that come from? I'm trying to point out that there is no difference in the sentence structure, regardless of I, you, they, whatever. – teylyn May 25 '11 at 11:25

There is a difference for the 2nd person singular and plural dependent on your relationship to the subject.

To my friend or my brother etc.:

"Du hast die Dirac-Gleichung gelöst."

To my 80 years old professor I have met today:

"Sie haben die Dirac-Gleichung gelöst."

To my kids:

"Ihr habt die Diract-Gleichung gelöst. Take these pieces of sugar."

To some other people I don't know well:

"Sie haben alle die Dirac-Gleichung gelöst."

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The German language strives to be objective, and hence makes no difference (in semantics or politeness) regarding the subject. This seems obvious to German and English native speakers but is far from obvious.

Korean, for example, has a very complex Honorifics System (explained much better in the German Wikipedia article), where it makes a huge difference who you are talking to / about.

So, while the question is very valid, the answer is simple. This applies to some languages, but not to German.

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Thanks for that. Sometimes it's hard to understand what a question is about, when we first need to perform a paradigm shift, before we even have a chance at "getting" it. – teylyn May 25 '11 at 11:27

To add one more aspect that hasn't been touched by the other answers (and that doesn't affect your specific case, but others like it):

Some equations in German are not simply called Name-Gleichung (The Dirac-equation is an example: Dirac-Gleichung), but Namesche Gleichung. For example, the Fredholm alternative is die Fredholmsche Alternative. This is usually the case when you could say Name-ian equation, as in Gaussian algorithm.

This form of attribution is considered old-fashioned in other aspects of German, but is relatively common in mathematics.

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