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I heard this sentence a few times now and just don't get it. Maybe ein Muttersprachler can help me?

Hip Hop braucht kein Mensch, aber Mensch braucht Hip Hop.

Does it make sense gramatically? Who does/doesn't need who in the two parts? What does it actually mean?

  • 2
    That's indeed a bit tricky for non-natives. It's grammatically correct, but as it stands, it's a contradiction. With reference to the meaning it should convey, however, it's grammatically wrong. And that's what makes it tricky to understand. – Em1 Jul 25 '15 at 1:59
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    @Em1 It's grammatically incorrect, because it should say, "keinen Menschen". And then "der Mensch...". – Ludi Jul 25 '15 at 9:00
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    @Ludi I'm afraid that's not true. You can reorder the sentence and it is "Kein Mensch braucht Hip Hop, aber Mensch braucht Hip Hop". There it's obvious that it is correct. So, it's not accusative but nominative and hence not "keinen". The article is not missing here, but this is because of stylistics reason. As mentioned, this statement is a contradiction, though, and the "real meaning" needs the accusative and then it becomes ungrammatical. But that's all I already said in my first comment. – Em1 Jul 25 '15 at 11:22
  • Oh, sorry. Indeed, if you don't want the intended meaning to be passed, then there's no problem with the accusative. The missing article still seems wrong to me, but I may be wrong, because I use my feeling rather than grammar books. – Ludi Jul 25 '15 at 12:52
  • You dont need Humans to do Hip Hop - But wvery human needs Hip Hop // Hip Hop can be produced without humans but every human needs Hip Hop to finction correctly. Thats at least what i understand – BlueWizard Jul 26 '15 at 8:15
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This sentence is grammatically correct and incorrect at the same time. Furthermore, it conveys two different ideas.

The second part of the sentence is the easy one. That part ("aber Mensch braucht Hip Hop") simply means: "Humans need Hip Hop."

The tricky part is the first one. This is the part where you can opt for and against grammatically correct.

As it stands, it makes use of the nominative case. You can reorder the words to "Kein Mensch braucht Hip Hop" and then it becomes obvious that this is correct. However, the full sentence is then a contradiction as it reads "Humans do not need Hip Hop, but humans do need Hip Hop."

The actual statement is "Hip Hip doesn't need humans, but humans need Hip Hop." But in respect to this meaning, the sentence is grammatically incorrect, because it should be in accusative, i.e. "Hip Hop braucht keinen Menschen".

That being said, it should be mentioned, though, that the mistake of dropping the accusative ending -en creeps into the language. I'm not sure how widespread it really is, but sometimes you'll hear that mistake in colloquial.

So, that sentence is kind of a pun which makes use of the German feature of reordering sentence's parts, which is not possible in languages without cases. Here's an example that shows how effective grammatical cases are:

Der Hund beißt den Mann. == Den Mann beißt der Hund.
The dog bites the man. != The man bites the dog.

As your sentence doesn't contain articles, it's hard to see. The only indicator is the indefinite pronoun kein, which, as said, is the key to the pun.

  • I'm not sure if the accusative -en really is being dropped in general. In the pronunciation of keinen, there is an n followed by another, syllabic n; simplification to a single n seems natural. (Ideally, it would be indicated by an apostrophe in writing.) – chirlu Jul 25 '15 at 12:19
  • Very thorough explanation for one sentence, thank you! – iLikeHipHop Jul 25 '15 at 12:22
  • For what it's worth.... I think the more accurate translation for "Mensch bruacht Hip Hop would be "Man needs Hip Hop". Mainly because it's singular like the German version but also because "man" sounds a bit more epic than "Humans" – Emanuel Jul 26 '15 at 21:15
  • @Emanuel Agreed. But it doesn't really improve my answer, so I'll leave it for now. – Em1 Jul 26 '15 at 21:26
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ENGLISH

Hip Hop braucht kein Mensch

It's a joke. "braucht kein Mensch" means "it's redudant". But this time it's meant literally "Hip Hip don't need a human".

aber Mensch braucht Hip Hop

This part just tell us, that humans need Hip Hop.

So it actually says:

Hip Hop doesn't need a human, but humans need Hip Hop.

DEUTSCH

"braucht kein Mensch" wird meist mit "unnötig" übersetzt. Doch es muss nicht im übertragenem Sinne genutzt werden. Hier bedeutet es, dass Hip Hop keinen Menschen braucht um zu bestehen, aber Menschen Hip Hop benötigt. Der Witz ist dabei, dass "braucht kein Mensch" im übertragenem Sinne genutzt werden kann.

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    Es müsste dann aber doch wohl "HH braucht keinen Menschen, aber Menschen brauchen HH" heißen. – user unknown Jul 25 '15 at 3:51
  • Didn't know about "braucht kein Mensch", thank you! – iLikeHipHop Jul 25 '15 at 12:21
1

In my opinion the sentence is grammatically correct, yet

[...], aber Mensch braucht [...]

(observe the lack of a definite or indefinite article) really means

[...], aber die Menschheit braucht [...]

thus the correct meaning would be something like

No human needs Hip-Hop, but humankind needs Hip-Hop.

The reason for not using

die Menschheit

is stylistic (related to an anadiplosis). At the same time, the ordering of the first half of the sentence is reversed with respect to both the natural ordering of a sentence (which is a stylistic device called anastophe) as to the second half of the sentence (which is a stylistic device called chiasmus).

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An extension to all the other answers, something that hasn't been mentioned yet: "mensch" sometimes is used as a substitute for (german) "man", while strongly stressing gender-neutrality (or pointedly avoiding the 'masculine' "man"), so the second part could be a milieu-specific version of "man braucht Hip Hop." That said, the meaning might be "Mankind doesn't need Hip Hop, but someone needs it." with "someone" being as neutral/open as can be.

  • It's nitpicking but I think "someone" goes against the general nature of the statement. The line describes Hip Hop as essential to man, not just some people. "someone" tones it down too much, – Emanuel Jul 26 '15 at 21:17
  • Well, yes. And no. I think the line allows for two interpretations and it's not clear w/o context which half of the statement refers to mankind and which refers to some individual(s). Placing the individual in the second half makes more sense to me intuitively because I can imagine Hip Hop to be very important to individuals while I don't see how it would be vital to mankind per se. Yes, that is debatable on a cultural level, but semantically it's as valid as the other way around. – hiergiltdiestfu Jul 27 '15 at 22:09

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