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German Grammar for Chemists and Other…
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German Grammar for Chemists and Other Science Students

by John Fotos

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Recently added byhmajor, T.S.Lauber, benwbrum, suedonym

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The text is the first of a four-part collaboration between Fotos, a Professor of Modern Languages, and either of two Chemical Engineering professors at Purdue. German Grammar for Chemists is not actually a reader. It's something much, much stranger than that.

Purdue University had been a hotbed of experimentation in scientific German instruction for many years, and is the source of many of my progressive readers. According to the preface, the usual offering of Scientific German as a third-year elective had been unsatisfactory to science students with a heavy required courseload. These complained to their professors that they found themselves translating fables instead of attending lab (or drinking beer). Purdue reformulated their Scientific German class as a second-year offering, but more drastic measures were needed.

German Grammar for Chemists is a first year course. No wasting time on "weather" or "mother", "chair" or "table". Telling time is banished from the course, replaced with the participial construction. You want to talk about chalk? Wait till you read synonyms for Kalziumoxyd.

The thing is, it works. The grammar is largely the same — Lesson I still talks about the noun and articles. It's just that the exercises start with Der Wasserstoff ist ein Gas. For someone who can already muddle through some German, the readings are tremendously effective, since they're rigorously graduated as a side effect of per-lesson vocabulary lists. Those lists are compiled based on word-frequency analysis of chemistry literature, which was no mean task in 1938.

Perhaps because of the subject matter, perhaps because of the zeitgeist, an exceptional amount of attention is given to vocabulary acquisition. After the grammar and exercises, each lesson contains a word study section. These typically cover a single High German/Low German consonant alternation, a technical difference (e.g. "electronegative elements precede the electropositive ones in inorganic compound names"), and an exploration of a particular ending ("-shaft") or common stem. If I was ever taught this stuff in college German, I certainly don't remember it.

I'm still dubious about using Fotos & Bray for a first year course — the grammatical explanations are a bit terse, and sometimes follow the "here are the prepositions that govern the dative case" format — but as an introductory reader for chemical German, German Grammar for Chemists is spectacular.

Crossposted at http://horizon.bloghouse.net/archives/000897.html ( )
  benwbrum | Jan 3, 2007 |
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