• 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

Legend has it that US president John F. Kennedy made a whopping grammatical gaffe with his iconic declaration "Ich bin ein Berliner" 50 years ago on Wednesday, telling his audience - and the world - "I am a jam doughnut".

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)

Don't miss...X
Left Right

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
German ladies net Fed Cup final appearance
Germany's Angelique Kerber celebrates her victory over Australia's Sam Stosur with teammates after their match in the Fed Cup semi-final. AFP Photo: Patrick Hamilton

German ladies net Fed Cup final appearance

Angelique Kerber put Germany into their first Fed Cup final in 22 years with a fighting victory over Australia's Samantha Stosur in the semi-final in Brisbane on Sunday. READ () »

Germany should make use of shale gas: EU
EU commissioner for Energy Günther Oettinger pictured in Luxembourg in 2013. AFP Photo: Georges Gobet

Germany should make use of shale gas: EU

EU energy commissioner Günther Oettinger has urged Germany to make use of shale gas options and added that the he saw no danger of Europe's access to Russian gas falling victim to possible economic sanctions in the standoff over Ukraine. READ () »

Tennis aces close in on Fed Cup final
Members of the German Fed Cup Team celebrate after an earlier victory in the tournament. Photo: DPA

Tennis aces close in on Fed Cup final

Germany took hold of their Fed Cup semi-final on Saturday, winning both the opening day singles to lead Australia 2-0 in Brisbane. READ () »

Croatia extradites ex-top spy to Germany

Croatia extradites ex-top spy to Germany

Croatia extradited a former Yugoslav spy chief, Zdravko Mustac, to Germany on Thursday to face charges for the 1983 murder of a dissident on German soil. READ () »

German court jails Somali pirate for 12 years
An officer of the Lower Saxon Criminal Investigation Department (CID) securing evidence on the hijacked ship Marida Marguerite. Photo: DPA

German court jails Somali pirate for 12 years

A German court has sentenced a Somali pirate chief to 12 years in jail for hijacking a ship off the Horn of Africa and tormenting its crew during an eight-month ordeal. READ () »

New app helps clients find prostitutes
Photo: DPA

New app helps clients find prostitutes

While the German government is considering tightening prostitution laws, Berlin entrepreneurs have developed a smartphone app to connect sex-workers with clients. READ () »

Highs of 22C forecast for Easter weekend
Photo: DPA

Highs of 22C forecast for Easter weekend

The days running up to Easter may be cool and wet, but the holiday weekend should be a bit warmer for most of Germany, according to forecasters. READ () »

Berlin man must call himself a mother
The fight over the transgender man's right to be his child's official father has been raging since last year. Photo: DPA

Berlin man must call himself a mother

A transgender person who became the first man in Germany to give birth in March 2013 must be registered as the child's mother, a court has ruled after his year-long court battle to be named a father. READ () »

Study: rape convictions fall sharply
Photo: DPA

Study: rape convictions fall sharply

The chance of being convicted of rape in Germany has more than halved in the past two decades to fewer than one in ten, a major study revealed on Thursday. READ () »

SPD: Restore 45-percent investment tax
The tax privilege for investment income is unfair, says the SPD. Photo: DPA

SPD: Restore 45-percent investment tax

The centre-left half of Germany's coalition government has called for the old top rate of a 45-percent tax on investments to be brought back - to match standard income tax and fight the squeeze on middle incomes. READ () »

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Photo: DPA
Rhineland
Elderly man taped €200,000 to his genitals
Photo: DPA
Business & Money
What's the unemployment rate in your area of Germany?
Photo: DPA
Gallery
Nine ways to celebrate Easter like a German
Photo: Galerie Bilderwelt
Gallery
World War I in colour photos
Photo: DPA
Society
'The mafia has infiltrated every sector in Germany'
Photo: DPA
Society
JobTalk: Why you should teach English in Germany
Photo: DPA
National
330,000 sign up against TV licence fee
Photo: DPA
Hamburg
School kids hospitalized after 'porno' party
Photo: Submitted
Frankfurt
'I'll get even with my old pal Schwarzenegger'
Photo: DPA
Gallery
The week in pictures: April 5th - April 11th
Photo: DPA
Gallery
Ten great inventions you (probably) didn't know were German
Photo: J. Arthur White
Berlin
Clashes in Berlin as refugees tear down their own camp
Advertisement:
Photo: DPA
Gallery
Munich's baby polar bears are finally named
Photo: DPA
Gallery
The 10 best German employers to work for
CurrencyFair
Sponsored Article
Why it pays to avoid banks when making overseas transfers
Mr. Lodge
Sponsored Article
How to find a furnished rental in Munich
Sponsored Article
How to make a lasting impression in business
Hult International Business School
Sponsored Article
What they don't teach you at Business School
Photo: DPA
Society
Nine jobs you can only do in Germany
Photo: DPA
Business & Money
JobTalk: All you need to know about working in Germany
Photo: DPA
Features
The Local List Archive - Your guide to all things German
National
Share news tips with The Local Germany
Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

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

3,070
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd