Writer and Language

Hans Fallada has been shunned by readers and critics because he didn’t leave Germany when the Nazis came to power. The reason why Fallada didn’t emigrate wasn’t, however, that he supported Hitler but simply that there are no other German-speaking countries in the world. And a writer can’t live outside of the language he writes in. 

For Spanish writers who went into exile after the Civil War, it was easy. They just went to Latin America. Same language, same culture, easy peasy. But for Germans it was the same as for Russian writers who left in droves after the 1917 revolution but then all ran back into Stalin’s arms because even the knowledge of what awaited them there couldn’t defeat the need to by surrounded by the language again. 


5 thoughts on “Writer and Language”

  1. “there are no other German-speaking countries in the world”

    Die Schweiz disagrees… though spoken Schwyzertüütsch may have been a bridge too far (many Germans ime seem allergic to it).

    I wonder about the Spanish speaking authors, if I were a writer in Peninsular Spanish then being around Mexican or Chilean Spanish all the time.

    The same “I need the language” argument was made in the movie Mephisto, there’s a great scene where he’s in Paris and considering not going back to Germany but seeing street signs in French freaks him out too much…..



    1. Unless you are from the neighboring dialect region in southwestern Germany, Schwyzertüütsch might as well be a different language. As a German speaker, I find I can understand spoken Dutch better than Schwyzertüütsch.

      There were some authors who fled to Switzerland during the war, the most famous are probably Thomas Mann and Robert Musil, but I think many of them (including Mann) moved on fairly quickly because they feared the Nazis would eventually get around to invading Switzerland.


      1. “Schwyzertüütsch might as well be a different language. As a German speaker, I find I can understand spoken Dutch better than Schwyzertüütsch.”

        When I had 3sat I noticed that most of the spoken Swiss appeared with German subtitles. I had the same experience with Dutch in writing, I could understand almost half the page (at least in terms of cognates and probably grammar) but then I saw a children’s book in Swiss…. could not make heads or tails of it.


        1. On Swiss TV, children’s shows from Germany and Austria are dubbed in Schwyzertüütsch because small children don’t really understand standard German. Standard German is taught in schools and TV shows for teens and adults from Germany and Austria are rebroadcast without any dubbing or subtitles. TV produced in German-speaking Switzerland is often a mix of Swiss Standard German and Schwyzertüütsch. If you watch the news, most of the reporter speech is in Swiss Standard German, but if they have interview footage that will be in Schwyzertüütsch and the weather report is also in Schwyzertüütsch. When the subject comes up in class, I like to pull up the video stream of that day’s weather report from ARD and then the weather report from SRF. The students usually have no problems with ARD and they are lucky to understand three or four words in the report from SRF.


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