Concerning the question »Is it more common to write longer sentences in German than in English?«, I wonder why some well-known English philosophers bothered to learn German.

A lot of important philosophy was written in German in the last centuries (Kant, Hegel). There are translations. But do these philosophers prefer to read it in original language? And why? Are there advantages in writing complex differentiated thoughts in German? Or are there only bad translations available for these old texts (I doubt this as they are ground-setting for many philosophical disciplines)?

A big advantage for me is the convention to capitalise the first letter of every noun as it makes it easier to read a very sophisticated philosophical text. Also heavy subordinate clauses arguably help expressing, how a single thought is related to another one in a hierarchy of thoughts/proposals. German language just seems to be very exact from this point of view and to have more options expressing complex thoughts in an easy manner.

Any scientific links on this topic would be highly appreciated. As you might know, the right programming language can save a lot of time formulating a distinct problem as a computable algorithm. Is the above an analogy from spoken languages?

  • My chinese teacher studied philosophy in Germany. She says, that at least the Chinese translations of philosophical books (in her case of Nietzsche) are often translated very poor, so that it is sometimes impossible to understand the original meaning from the translation.
    – FUZxxl
    Commented Jul 15, 2011 at 14:16
  • Can you reduce Haskell to C without loosing a lot of semantical informations (like the types)? IMHO it is not always possible to express the exact same meaning in another language, although you can get very close.
    – FUZxxl
    Commented Jul 15, 2011 at 14:18
  • What do you mean by "translated hardly". We don't use the word "hardly" this way in English where it would normally come before a verb and means "barely" which doesn't seem to fit your question. Do you mean "translated literally" perhaps? Commented Jul 16, 2011 at 8:42
  • @hippie look at FUZxxl comment - keeping the original meaning, there are many neologisms made in german philosophy, long sentences with subordinate clauses. I heard to, there are no good translations of e.g. Hegel's Phänomenologie des Geistes. So why there are no good rough translations after centuries? Translating literally is not the point for a philosophical text, you have to keep the meaning.
    – Hauser
    Commented Jul 16, 2011 at 9:50
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    @hippietrail I think "translated hardly" in the title was intended to mean "translated only with difficulty", i.e., it's hard to translate these texts. I've seen this misuse of "hardly" in other contexts, and it's a rather natural one, thinking that "hardly" is the adverb form of "hard". Commented Jul 27, 2014 at 23:44

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As I cannot give a definitive answer, but this is my take:

Philosophers in Germany need to get a degree in Latin (and formerly in Greek as well) to be able to read the Roman and Greek philosophers in the original, because with translations you lose some subtleties which are important for understanding the text in the way the original author intended it.

E.g take the German word Wissenschaft. In most cases, Science would be an acceptable translation, but in a text about epistimology, this translation may not suffice. For another example see Difference between Erfahrung and Erlebnis?

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    Indeed, this is the reason as I've heard it from academic philosophers. Any inherent superiority of German for philosophy (as suggested in the question) is all very well, but it's not the primary concern of the English philosopher, especially if they aren't planning to write in German. Reading the original is a primary concern, since studying Kant or Hegel's own words is a pretty important source of understanding (albeit not the only source). Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 2:38

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