5

I am trying to figure out the meaning of the compound nouns in the German language. I don't know what is expressed by combining words that way. I don't understand it. Here are few examples and questions:

1) die Deutschschülerin vs. die deutsche Schülerin

My current hypothesis:

  • die Deutschschülerin - the female pupil learning German, she can have any nationality
  • die deutsche Schülerin - the German female pupil

2) der Mathelehrer vs. der Tschechischlehrer vs. der Hauslehrer

My current hypothesis:

  • der Mathelehrer - the math tutor
  • der Tschechischlehrer - the Czech tutor, i.e. a tutor teaching Czech, no matter what is their nationality
  • der Hauslehrer - the house tutor? This is really weird, because "Haus" is not a field of study. So in this example the word "Haus" actually refers to the place of the lesson?

3) die amerikanische Deutschschülerin = the female American pupil learning German?

4) Can the word "der Tschechischlehrer" be used to refer to a Czech teacher of Japanese nationality?

5) Can the word "die Deutschschülerin" be used to refer to a German lady?

  • 4
    As a general rule, German compound words behave very much like chained words in English: olive oil is Olivenöl, your math teacher is the Mathelehrer. Sometimes the German compound actually resolves ambiguities in English, like with the Deutschlehrer who is not necessarily a deutscher Lehrer. But as a computer engineer I see again and again that natural language is underspecified in a way we would never tolerate with programming languages. ;-) There are some puns which work also in English: olive oil, sunflower oil, baby oil!? Fire protection, noise protection, privacy protection? – Peter - Reinstate Monica Mar 10 at 7:54
  • Related classical joke: "Komisch, in deinem Erdbeerkuchen sind ja gar keine Erdbeeren" - "Na und? Im Hundekuchen ist ja auch kein Hund" – Hagen von Eitzen Mar 10 at 13:54
  • The descriptor part of an endocentric compound can describe the head through different relations. This happens in English as well, cf. (theoretically) street seller (selling streets vs. selling on the street). Some of these relations are conventionalized (language + teacher always describes a subject teacher in German). – phipsgabler Mar 10 at 14:37
  • 1
    Hauslehrer is not derived from the subject he teaches but from where and how he does it. [Remember, the compounding of nouns can come from multiple angles]. A "Hauslehrer" is a teacher that comes to your house (as opposed to teaching at school), so like a tutor (but more often used historically, when there were few schools and rich people hired "home teachers" for their kids. – Hobbamok Mar 10 at 14:42
  • @HagenvonEitzen mir fällt da spontan Wednesday Addams ein und ihre Frage bezüglich der angebotenen Pfadfinderinnenkekse... – Volker Landgraf Mar 11 at 19:24
5

1) die Deutschschülerin vs die deutsche Schülerin My current hypothesis: die Deutschschülerin - the female pupil learning German, she can have any nationality die deutsche Schülerin - the German female pupil

That is correct. In die deutsche Schülerin, deutsch is an adjective describing a property of the student (i.e. she's German).

2) der Mathelehrer vs der Tschechischlehrer vs der Hauslehrer My current hypothesis: der Mathelehrer - the math tutor der Tschechischlehrer - the Czech tutor, ie a tutor teaching Czech, no matter what is their nationality der Hauslehrer - the house tutor? , this is really weird, because "Haus" is not a field of study. So in this example the word "Haus" actually refers to the place of the lesson?

Correct. There's also the word Nachhilfelehrer (engl. private tutor). This also does not refer to a field of study put to a person, that provides additional insight, if a student is struggling to keep up. A Nachhilfelehrer might also be a Hauslehrer. There's also the Hauswirtschaftslehrer which now refers to Hauswirtschaft as a school subject.

3) die amerikanische Deutschschülerin = the American pupil learning German ??

Correct. Again, amerikanisch is the adjective describing the nationality of the student. Just as der amerikanische Präsident, das amerikanische Auto, die amerikanische Flagge

4) Can the word "der Tschechischlehrer" be used to refer to a Czech teacher of Japanese nationality?

Sure, no nationality is implied in Tschechischlehrer.

5) Can the word "die Deutschschülerin" be used to refer to a German lady?

In the sense of the question: No. It solely means it's a female student who takes a German class. As with Tschechischlehrer, no nationality is implied. You'd have to say die deutsche Deutschschülerin.

| improve this answer | |
4

First of all, there are a lot of links out there that explain how compound nouns are formed in German. It is actually pretty straight forward.

For example this lady explains some basics.

Let's go through the points: 1.) Your hypothesis is correct. Most Deutschschüler (plural) in basic school are actually deutsche Deutschschüler.

2.) Equally correct assumption. Hauslehrer is insofar somebody special as they teach the pupil(s) at home. I believe they came a bit out of style in the course of general compulsory education. May be in some strange places with a strict social stratification ...

3.) Yes.

4.) Yes. Though they are rare.

5.) See 1.) Of course, it is grammatically correct. Though it will be a rare case, but for example a lady who lost her memory in an accident and who has to learn her language again.

In principle "Schüler" can be of any age and have no "best used before" stamp. A guy learning guitar at age 40 would be a "Guitarrenschüler". But at "Hochschulen" (don't confuse with the English high school) and "Universitäten" the students would be named "Studenten".

Hope that helps a bit.

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    Your answer to 5 is confusing. "Die Deutschschülerin" (a female who is learning German) means something completely different from "die deutsche Schülerin" (a female German who is learning something). The two are orthogonal, so there is an overlap (a subset of people learning German also happen to be German), but it's coincidence. I think the OP asked whether it could mean the same. – Peter - Reinstate Monica Mar 10 at 7:46
  • The question is a bit unclear. We have two interpretations, @infinitezero and mine. "Die Deutschschülerin" can be used for a German lady like for any other nationality, as we have all said. But if one explains that she is German student of German to somebody who is not aware, one should mention that explicitly. – a_donda Mar 10 at 9:06
  • 1
    The point is, the term says nothing at all about her nationality. It's the same as math student, just another subject. – Peter - Reinstate Monica Mar 10 at 9:26
2

Unfortunately there is no general rule, but good news is, that dictionaries are often providing entries, such as DWDS for Hauslehrer.

I especially recommend DWDS, section Wortbildung, mit Lehrer als Letztglied (another composite), which gives lots of examples linking to separate explanations.

_something_Lehrer may mean:

  • A teacher with the subject something (Deutschlehrer, Tanzlehrer, Fahrlehrer)
  • A teacher on the something institution type (Grundschullehrer)
  • The main teacher for something (Klass[en]lehrer, without en in Southern Germany/Austria, see Duden)
  • A teacher supporting something (Nachhilfelehrer)
  • A teacher with something property (Junglehrer)
  • A teacher for something group of people (Taubstummenlehrer)
| improve this answer | |
  • your third "Lehrer" term provokes goose bumps under my feet ... Klassenlehrer - everything else feels like you omitted a necessary syllable – eagle275 Mar 10 at 10:42
  • I had to look up the Klasslehrer is not a typo. Which region uses this term? – infinitezero Mar 10 at 10:47
  • I have lived >30 years in southern Germany and never heard Klasslehrer. But who am i to question the Duden ... – a_donda Mar 10 at 11:05
  • 1
    Klasslehrer is rare even in the south. Bavaria seems to be a "hotbed" with at most 20% Klass- instead of Klassen- Variantengrammatik. – David Vogt Mar 10 at 11:35

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.