• Germany edition
 
JFK cleared of 'I am a jam doughnut' gaffe
Photo: DPA

JFK cleared of 'I am a jam doughnut' gaffe

Published: 26 Jun 2013 08:15 GMT+02:00
Updated: 26 Jun 2013 08:15 GMT+02:00

The historical lore was that JFK, in his first faltering words of German, was wrong to use the indefinite article "ein" and should have said "Ich bin Berliner" to declare his solidarity with the embattled Cold War city.

Not so, says Anatol Stefanowitsch, a Berlin professor of linguistics.

"The sentence 'Ich bin ein Berliner' is grammatically absolutely acceptable," he told news agency AFP ahead of the commemorations for the stirring June 26, 1963 speech.

The phrase came up twice in the speech, delivered in Kennedy's broad Boston accent. It was his brainchild and translated into German for him by official interpreters - JFK had written it out phonetically on notecards so he would be understood.

Stefanowitsch notes that while "Berliner" is a German word for a filled pastry, the context of Kennedy's declaration made his sentence abundantly clear to the cheering throngs.

"The confusion derives from the fact that (in German), you normally express your belonging to a predefined group in a sentence without an article, such as 'Ich bin Student' or indeed 'Ich bin Berliner'," he said.

"The sentence 'Ich bin Berliner' is clear and cannot refer to 'doughnuts' because that is not a predefined group," he explained.

Stefanowitsch said the construction with the article "ein" is used when a speaker wants to say that he doesn't literally belong to the group, Berliners in this case, but rather wants to express that he has something in common with them.

"That is exactly what Kennedy wanted to do - he did not want to claim to actually be a resident of the city of Berlin but rather to say that he shared something with the Berliners, namely their love of freedom," Stefanowitsch said.

At the end of his 10-minute address, Kennedy uttered the immortal words: "All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin and therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words 'Ich bin ein Berliner'."

So there would have been no blank stares or giggles from the crowd of 450,000 Germans that summer's day?

"Kennedy not only delivered a grammatically correct sentence but rather the only sentence that made sense there," Stefanowitsch said.

Take a look at what could have happened if he had been elsewhere.

AFP/bk

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Quiz
How well do you know Germany?
Photos: DPA/Shutterstock

How well do you know Germany?

Do you know your Saxony facts from your Saxony-Anhalt ones? Test your knowledge of Germany's federal states in The Local's quiz. READ  

Climate chief hails Bonn greenhouse gas deal
Pollution from a coal-fired power station in Frimmersdorf, North Rhine-Westphalia. Photo: DPA

Climate chief hails Bonn greenhouse gas deal

The UN's climate chief hailed a European agreement in Bonn on greenhouse gases on Friday as providing "valuable momentum" for a world pact to be inked in Paris next year. READ  

Germany gets €780m EU rebate for poor growth
Photo: DPA

Germany gets €780m EU rebate for poor growth

Germany will get an early Christmas present of around €779 million from the EU, thanks to weaker than expected GDP growth. READ  

Stay inside after blast, Ludwigshafen told
Photo: DPA

Stay inside after blast, Ludwigshafen told

It will take several days to find out what caused a massive explosion on Thursday which rocked a town on the Rhine, killing a builder and injuring 26 others. READ  

German helicopter fleet 'not fit for Nato'
An NH90 helicopter. Photo: DPA

German helicopter fleet 'not fit for Nato'

Germany's fleet of NH90 helicopters is undergoing engineering checks after one of them suffered a serious engine failure, in the latest blow to the country's military capabilities. READ  

Ex-boss of Berlin Airport farce gets €1.2m
Rainer Schwarz at a court hearing in September into the case. Photo: DPA

Ex-boss of Berlin Airport farce gets €1.2m

The man who was blamed for Berlin's miserable attempt to build a new airport must be paid more than €1 million - after being fired. READ  

Steinmeier challenges UN over Isis gas reports
Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Kurds watching the attack on Kobane. Photo: DPA

Steinmeier challenges UN over Isis gas reports

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier pressed UN General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon to bring possible poison gas use by Isis in Iraq before the Security Council. READ  

Spring back in German consumers' step?
Photo: DPA

Spring back in German consumers' step?

Update: Consumer confidence in Germany has stopped falling, as households appear to be no longer fazed by concerns about the economic fallout from geopolitical crises, a new poll found on Friday. READ  

Ludwigshafen explosion kills one, injures 26
An eyewitness captured the moment of the explosion on their phone. Photo: DPA

Ludwigshafen explosion kills one, injures 26

UPDATE: One person has died and 26 others are injured after a huge explosion in Ludwigshafen, western Germany on Thursday. READ  

Germany has just ten Ebola beds
Photo: DPA

Germany has just ten Ebola beds

Doctors at high-level infectious disease clinics say that caring for patients with the Ebola virus is much more intensive than they first thought, meaning they can handle fewer cases at once. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Photo: DPA
Gallery
PHOTOS: Huge explosion rocks Ludwigshafen
Photo: DPA/Shutterstock
Gallery
Which high school cliche is your German city?
Photo: DPA
Gallery
Storm hits southern Germany
Sponsored Article
An international school unlike any other : School on the Rhine
Photo: Fitzpatrick family
Society
'We still don't know what happened to Matthew'
Photo: Mariana Schroeder
Munich
Special Report: Hope and chaos at Munich's refugee shelters
Photo: DPA
Culture
Can you top our history quiz leaderboard?
Photo: DPA
Politics
UKIP ‘seeks EU pact’ with German satirical party
Photo: DPA/Shutterstock
Gallery
11 things Germans are afraid of...
Photo: DPA
Business & Money
JobTalk: All you need to know about working in Germany
National
Share news tips with The Local Germany
Sponsored Article
Bilingual education from nursery to graduation at Phorms
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

3,528
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd