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In the "Das Signal" TV series, the husband and the wife of two astrounauts are waiting for them in an airport, right after they came back from a space mission to Earth. The flight is late and the wife says the following about the airline company:

Jetzt können sie langsam auch mal was sagen

I think that "auch" and "mal" are particles and, as always, I'm not sure how to translate them. I'd translate the rest of the sentence as: "Now they could say something slowly", which doesn't make any sense.

The English translation in the subtitles makes much more sense: "At least they could make an announcement", but I don't understand how the German sentence meant that. Could someone help?

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  • It is likely the translation not being performed literally, but a reinterpretation to explain what it confers in German. For example: "Im Westen nichts neues" is translated to "All Quiet on the Western Front" in english. Even though the literal German translation is "In the West nothing new". This is very common in all translations of everything because languages do not have a 1:1 translation of everything. May 13 at 0:57
  • I'm not asking why the German sentence was not literally translated, but rather why the sentence (especifically the word "langsam") means approximately what's in the English subtitle. May 13 at 19:42
  • As @bakunin described, it's using an idiom used in German. That is why it doesn't make sense based off trying to translate it into something coherent. "That was a piece of cake" does not mean "This specific 'thing' I'm talking about is similar to a cake", it means "that was easy." In German, you would not say "Das war ein Stück des Kuchens" because they don't have that idiom like we do. So when translating idioms, translators reinterpret the Second languages meaning into something the First language people will understand. May 14 at 1:48

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The English translation in the subtitles makes much more sense: "At least they could make an announcement", but I don't understand how the German sentence meant that.

This is not easy as the sentence makes heavy use of idioms. Let us work through it step by step, but keep in mind that synchronisations (and subtitles) are often quite losely based on the original:

Jetzt können sie langsam auch mal was sagen.

First, who is "sie"? Here it is the "impersonal 3rd person plural". "Sie" means "the organisation [I am dealing with]", for instance:

Sie haben meine Steuern erhöht.

The "sie" here could mean the IRS, who found out you have to pay more taxes or maybe the government, which increased the tax rate, etc.. It doesn't mean a certain group of people in particular but rather the organisation (whichever it may be) as a whole.

Here, by "sie" the speaker means the airport and its administration, whoever it is who could make some announcement should do so by now.

What means "auch mal"? The "mal" is a shortening of "einmal", but that doesn't make it any clearer perhaps. You use this phrase similarly to the English "for a change": you deal with a situation which has been like this for a while (here: no announcements made) and you think that it is time for such a change.

Here is an example: we want something from a third person and we talk to that person. That is: you argue the whole time and I remain silent. So at some point you turn to me and say:

Sag doch auch mal was!

That is: "Say something too, for a change".

"Langsam": This is probably the hardest one. The direct translation is "slow" or "slowly" but that doesn't explain the meaning. It is ironical and means the exact opposite: something, which should have happened already, should happen and rather sooner than later. The best English translation is perhaps "being high time": I have waited for something to happen long enough and now I am quite anxious for it to happen.

Coming back to the example before, adding "langsam":

Sag doch langsam auch mal was!

would add some urgency to the command: not only should I change my course of action and say something but it is also high time for doing so.

So, the translation is basically: they (the airport) should make an announcement (instead of being silent) and it is about high time for doing so.

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The word "langsam" is the difficult part, I suppose. It means "slowly" when it is a manner adverb, close to the verb: "etwas langsam sagen", but it has another reading when it is farther away from the verb: "langsam etwas sagen". The latter use indicates the time that passes until you start doing something. In English, only "quickly" can get this kind of meaning, perhaps like "he turned around quickly" (manner) and "he quickly turned around" (immediately)... So here, German "langsam" is the opposite of "immediately": it is taking a long time, or: it is overdue to say something.

"Auch mal" are just very vague. These particles make the statement sound casually. As if you wanted to encourage them that saying something would not turn out to be so difficult for them after all.

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