Markus Stocker bio photo

Markus Stocker

Between information technology and environmental science with a flair for economics, the clarinet, and the world of soups and salads.

Email Twitter Google+ LinkedIn Github

Do you think your first language influences how you feel for, or think about, events you come across during your lifetime? Words often convey a sense beyond their apparent meaning, or what they obviously represent. For instance, take the word kindergarten, which obviously represents a preschool environment where children are taught basic skills and knowledge. Kindergarten literally means “children’s garden”. Beyond its obvious representation, the word may convey a colorful, ample, roofless, scented environment with the freshness of a morning’s first dewfall, for children to play and explore. A child might feel entirely different when thinking of kindergarten as a classroom with four walls and a teacher or a garden with butterflies.

What the New York Times calls ‘Austerity Plan’ mostly reads Haushaltssanierung, or Sanierungsprogramm, in German news. Incidentally, the word Sanierungsprogramm, is also used for when investments are planned as, for instance, in this case of railway station restoration.

Though they may represent the same thing, austerity plan and Sanierungsprogramm convey a radically different sense beyond their obvious meaning. Sanierung, in German, means restoration or, sloppy, clean up or, in finance, recapitalization. The Sanitäter is the person you need the most in a life-threatening moment; you would not want the paramedic to be a single minute late. The sense beyond austerity is, rather, one of deprivation, hard times, punishment. That the two are not far apart is obvious. However, does the different emphasis have implications beyond the apparent?

The German words for ‘austerity plan’ seem to suggest more about the why, the prospect that soon things will get better, a light showing up at the end of the tunnel. Austerity, instead, conveys a sense of nightmare and, to make matters worse, the plan has yet to be implemented, adding to uncertainty and the sense of endlessness.

Imagine you grow up reading how governments, companies or individuals, call for Sanierung. Imagine you grow up reading about calls for austerity. Do you think, the particular sense conveyed beyond the granted meaning influences how you feel for the actual implementation of austerity, er, Sanierung?