We recently wrote a post on text expansion and contraction during translation. We received some questions about how the use of compound nouns in English creates text expansion in some translations, including German, Finnish and Dutch.

Gerhard Preisser, one of our fabulous German translators, was kind enough to elaborate on how this works:

“First, an example from our daily work. Let’s take the word TV marketing strategy. TV is Fernsehen in German, marketing is Marketing, and strategy is Strategie. While our original English term is 3 separate words, the corresponding German term is one compound noun: Fernsehmarketingstrategie.

You may notice that the original –en ending on Fernsehen was dropped—dropping “inconvenient” endings is not an uncommon phenomenon when creating compound nouns.

Another example: captain of a cruise ship. Here are the German components:

    • Cruise = Kreuzfahrt (this in itself is a word consisting of 2 noun components: Kreuz & Fahrt, i.e. a “cruising expedition”)
    • Ship = Schiff
    • Captain = Kapitän

Now let’s put them all together: Kreuzfahrtschiffskapitän.

You may have noticed the extra “s” between Schiff and kapitän. Its sole purpose is to facilitate pronunciation. This “transitional s” is very common in the creation of compound nouns.

So in these 2 examples we have compound nouns consisting of 3 (or 4) components. Longer noun creations are rare and usually avoided. If they are created anyway, hyphens frequently come into play. Going back to our first example, we could, for instance, also write this as follows: Fernseh-Marketingstrategie (just like Internet-Marketingstrategie, or even Fernseh-Marketing-Strategie). The use of hyphens is especially common if one noun component is “loaned” from another language, e.g. Service-Partner, Präzisions-Targeting, Display-Werbekampagne etc.

Now for some fun: The length of compound nouns is only limited by common sense, not by any syntactical or grammatical rules. So, let’s add the word change (Wandel) toFernsehmarketingstrategie, and we get Fernsehmarketingstrategiewandel. Or, let’s coin the term expert assessment of the changes in TV marketing, which in German could be expressed as Fernsehmarketingstrategiewandelexpertenurteil. You wouldn’t expect to actually encounter that term, but it’s a theoretical possibility.

Let’s add to the second example as well—let’s give our cruise ship captain a hat (Mütze), which we might call Kreuzfahrtschiffskapitänsmütze. If we’re interested in the design of that hat (Design), we can use the term Kreuzfahrtschiffskapitänsmützendesign (deftly adding a “transitional n” between mütze and design). And, as a mental exercise, if we discovered a flaw (Fehler) in that design, we might (but probably won’t) refer to that as a Kreuzfahrtschiffskapitänsmützendesignfehler. You get the point.

Incidentally, compound nouns take the gender of their last component, i.e. Kreuzfahrtschiffskapitän would be masculine (der Kreuzfahrtschiffskapitän) because it’s der Kapitän, but Kreuzfahrtschiffskapitänsmütze would be feminine (die Kreuzfahrtschiffskapitänsmütze) because it’s die Mütze.”

Thanks for the examples, Gerhard!

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