10

What does noch nicht mean in this present tense example?

Futuristische Wolkenkratzer sind noch nicht Europa

It’s from an article in Spiegel Online.

I would guess the translation is:

Futuristic skyscrapers aren’t only European.

  • Not really sure where the problem is. Pons, Leo and dict.cc all translate noch nicht as not yet. Starting from a literal translation like futuristic skyscrapers are not yet Europe, the meaning should be easily deduceable. – Jan Sep 29 '15 at 17:22
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    @Jan Actually that English sentence is very difficult to comprehend. Maybe it sounds better in German or maybe it's the context that helped me but I doubt I would be able to correctly deduce anything from “futuristic skyscrapers are not yet Europe”. I think that's what led the OP astray. – Relaxed Sep 29 '15 at 19:57
  • In order to clarify the meaning I would translate "Europe is more than futuristic skyscrapers. – rogermue Sep 30 '15 at 16:37
  • @jan - the literal translation, as mentioned by relaxed, doesn't convey a meaning to natural english speakers. For you, the literal translation might be still using a german logic construct. – Ed Sykes Oct 7 '15 at 21:15
  • I agree that I wouldn’t get all of the meaning just by looking at that literal translation but it would have given me a starting point along with the context from the sentences before and afterwards. I shouldn’t be stuck in German logic when looking at translations. In fact, I’m learning Finnish and I often find constructs where I think ‘what the hell is that supposed to mean?’, take a detour via a literal translation, add the context of before and after said sentence and afterwards chuckle at the crazy logic the language has. – Jan Oct 7 '15 at 21:22
13

The phrase “A ist noch nicht B” can mean that A does not necessarily imply B, that it is not enough to have A for to also have B.

Looking at the context, the journalist apparently wanted to say that the mere presence of futuristic skyscrapers [in Moscow] is not sufficient to say that Russia is turning to Europe. He did so in reply to a statement in which Mr. Verheugen claimed that Russia will stay in need for cooperation with EU for economical reasons, and that one could look at Moscow [and it's skyline] to get an impression of Russia's economic rise in the last 15 years.

Although you will find this pattern (IMHO at least) most frequently with present tense, the interpretation is essentially independent of the tense, as chirlu correctly pointed out.

If you are looking for suitable translations for the sentence you might also want to read the answers on my related question on ELL. Note that all participants there agreed that you better shouldn't translate noch nicht with not yet in this case.

  • This is independent of the tense. – chirlu Sep 29 '15 at 9:04
  • @chirlu Maybe in theory. But at least in practice I cannot recall to have seen this pattern with anything but present tense. Do you happen to have counter-examples? – Matthias Sep 29 '15 at 9:08
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    Waaaay too complicated. See WayneEra' answer. "noch nicht" ist hier einfach nur "not yet". – Robert Sep 29 '15 at 14:27
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    @Robert: Schön, daß dir alles ohne Erklärung klar ist. – chirlu Sep 29 '15 at 19:19
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    @Robert: Ich hatte selbst eine Antwort begonnen, als die Frage noch jung war, weil die Antwort so offensichtlich schien; und dabei bin ganz schön ins Schleudern geraten, weil es eben doch nicht so einfach ist und ziemlich weit entfernt von der zeitlichen Grundbedeutung. Was die Frage "einfach nur nach der Bedeutung" angeht: Gerade bei solchen Feinheiten ist eine 1:1-Englisch-Wiedergabe so ziemlich das Nutzloseste, was denkbar ist. ... – chirlu Oct 1 '15 at 15:55
14

noch nicht = not yet

in all cases applicable.

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    I brought this to ELL and got 2 answers and 1 comment which all agree that native speakers wouldn't use not yet for our specific case here. One even said it would be completely wrong. Moreover, they pointed out the subtle difference between "not yet" and "still not", which means that you would change the meaning if you translated a sentence where the focus is on the past (like in "auch nach 20 Jahren noch nicht") with "not yet". So your simple advice is just wrong in its strictness. – Matthias Oct 3 '15 at 6:28
  • @Matthias your examples are not the same case as this one. "Futuristic skyscrapers don't make it Europe yet" sounds very correct to me, not 100% sure though. – WayneEra Oct 5 '15 at 6:06
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    @WayneEra unfortunately I think this answers misses the mark because the literal translation is so unidiomatic in english. SInce it's so unidiomatic it leaves the english speaker wondering if there was another meaning. – Ed Sykes Oct 7 '15 at 21:26
  • @EdSykes Well, if the whole article was translated, you'd understand the exact meaning of it, im sure. But if take the sentance out of context, in german or english it's hard to understand. In addition to that, the meaning gets clear, as soon as someone speaks the sentance out loud and pronounces it right. – WayneEra Oct 8 '15 at 6:33
8

Attempt for a (somewhat wordier) translation, which may be easier to grasp than that from Matthias:

From the presence of futuristic skyscrapers alone, you should not deduce to be in Europe or find the liberal mindset (Europeans claim to have).

  • i like this translation, but @mathius had a better explanation and clarification of the general rule – Ed Sykes Oct 7 '15 at 21:37
4

Noch nicht just means not yet, in this case in the sense of not being quite sufficient: not quite. (Normally one would translate not quite by nicht ganz. But the demarcation between the two phrases is slightly different in German, so that in this case noch nicht is a better fit in German and not quite is a better fit in English.) The real difficulty in this sentence lies elsewhere. Out of context I couldn't figure out what it means.

The context of this sentence is that Verheugen praises the economic boom in Russia. The interviewer then rhetorically reduces this boom to futuristic skyscrapers and posits that these alone don't suffice to make the country European. He or she uses a special colloquial and relatively rare idiomatic meaning of be that is better translated to English using a more specific verb. Some possible translations, ranging from overly literal to totally free and catching the meaning precisely by adding bits of the context:

Futuristische Wolkenkratzer sind noch nicht Europa.

Futuristic skyscrapers aren't Europe yet.
Futuristic skyscrapers don't make Europe yet.
Futuristic skyscrapers don't quite make Europe.
Futuristic skyscrapers don't quite make a country European.
Futuristic skyscrapers don't quite make a country part of Europe.

4

There are several difficulties in this sentence, like the use of the word “Europa” to mean “European [country]”, which make a word-for-word translation including “not yet” difficult, even if that’s basically what “noch nicht” means. But you cannot easily use the word “Europe” that way in English so any attempt at translating the “noch nicht” part without significantly altering the structure of the sentence is likely to fail.

From the context, you can gather that the idea is that Russia is on a convergence course with the rest of Europe but the interviewer wants to stress that the country is not there yet, in spite of the changes pointed out by Verheugen (which include new skyscrapers popping up in major cities).

Some clumsy but faithful translations could therefore be:

Futuristic skyscrapers do not make a country European yet.

Futuristic skyscrapers are not enough to make a country European (just) yet.

Somewhat jokingly (and ironically referring back to the German word order, even if this construction is occasionally used in English nowadays) you could also say:

Futuristic skyscrapers do not a European country make.

The sentence does incidentally imply that skyscrapers are found in countries that are not European (geographically and otherwise) but that’s a trivial point and not its main intent so

Futuristic skyscrapers aren’t only European.

isn’t a good translation.

If anything,

Europe isn’t merely skyscrapers.

would be more like it but the idea of ongoing change and the possibility that Russia really will be fully European at some point in the future, possibly conveyed by “noch”, is lost (but see the comments for a discussion of that nuance).

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    To me the "noch" is meant less temporal than qualitative. It falls short, doesn't make it. "Merely" captures that well. It's not necessarily implied that it will eventually suffice or get there. (Of course the interjection plays with the different shades of meaning.) A comparable sentence could be "hitting the drum doesn't mean you are making music" (building fancy scyscrapers doesn't mean you are European). It's almost like performing a cargo cult. You go through the motions but you are not even grasping what it's all about. It's just facade, literally. – Peter - Reinstate Monica Sep 30 '15 at 9:56
  • @PeterSchneider Interesting, I didn't read it that way but that's possible. – Relaxed Sep 30 '15 at 10:45
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    @Relaxed this, "Futuristic skyscrapers do not a European country make." actually conjures up the right idea in my head, that the german, with some consensus, seems to represent – Ed Sykes Oct 7 '15 at 21:24
0

In this case I think the most suitable translation is "still un-European".

But it's a rather sarcastic reminder, jokingly delivered as news, which is of course language-independent.

I wouldn't over-analyse this.

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