Conference 2018, Day 2 (a)

Briefly, some photographs from Day 2 of the conference.


Screen Shot 2018-09-15 at 07.15.46


Marguerite Helmers opens the conference, analysing reticence in the texts of nurses at the Front, Olive Dent, Kate Finzi and an anonymous, and shocking, diary of a nurse retreating with British forces at the start of the war.




Gwendal Piégais on interpreting and translating Russian for the substantial numbers of Russian soldiers serving alongside the French, in a range of locations.




Stefano Bannò on the work of Willhelm Doegen, creating the Königlich-preussiche Phonographische Kommission collection of Italian voices (later known as the Berliner Lautarchiv).




Alison Fell on the cultural tensions between locals and Belgian refugees in Yorkshire, raising the identity issues surrounding the use of the word ‘refugee’.


Screen Shot 2018-09-15 at 07.14.58


Julian Walker on veteran’s silence, exploring the ways this concept might be approached.




Javier Alcalde presenting on Esperanto during the war, an appropriately internationalist and optimistic subject to bring the conference to a conclusion.






Conference 2018, Day 1

‘The exact use of words seems to me to be the most important thing in the world. We are, in the end, governed so much more by words than by deeds’. Words from Between St Dennis and St George: A Sketch of Three Civilisations (1915) by Ford Madox Ford (then Hueffer), quoted by Lucinda Borkett-Jones in her paper on Ford’s examination of ‘Kultur’ against ‘culture’, challenge the Languages and the First World War project. The period of the conflict, in all its cultural and geographical locations, has left us images, objects, scars, lasting political problems – many apparently with no hope of resolution, boundaries, nations made and unmade; we choose to examine how people were governed by words.


Today we have explored Achiel Van Walleghem’s carefully placed irony, T E Lawrence’s self-punishment through obscenity, the self-making of identity in Australian retention of war-slang, and the fluidities of language in the East Africa campaign, where language and affiliation in hostilities did not always coincide; and much more. Thoughts and concerns begin to connect: the basis of the constitution of nation-states, changing from religion to language during the nineteenth century, and made overt at the end of the war – how do they differ where religion is ritual mediated through language? What did people understand by the word ‘race’? How, if at all, should accent be transcribed – indeed can it ever be transcribed without the disparaging projection of social class or racism? Why is new slang never as good as old slang? Why irony as the outstanding voice of the war – why not outrage, or pity? How do we recognise commodification in the voice of the guidebook?


It has been an exhilarating day; thank you to all who spoke, listened and shared. More on Wednesday.


Meic Birtwistle on Welsh war-songs


Fiona Houston on propaganda


Cristina Ilea Rogojina on the war’s influence on the language of Romanian literature


Anne Sansom on the languages of the 144 micro-nations that were involved in the East Africa Campaign.


Lucinda Borkett-Jones on Ford Madox Ford.




Two German-French phrasebooks


If after Monday’s blog you were hoping to be pleasantly surprised by the absence here of phrases such as ‘if you lie, you will be shot’, prepare for disappointment. It is hard to tell the exact date of these, though the Haasmann is generally dated 1915, and the Sulzberger is dated by some as as early as 1900, though the appearance of ‘tanks’ on p26 argues a post-1916 revision; there are aeroplanes too, not in the French military before 1909.




Haasmann has no such useful list of weaponry, and is perhaps the less belligerent of the two, asking in an engaging way on page 26 for clothes to be repaired. Sulzberger may be deceptively agreeable on the first page, but then takes on a harsh tone pp4,5

1 3

2,3 4,5


‘Wir sind sehr friedlich / Nous sommes très paisibles’ (we are very peaceful) says Haasmann (p22) – but this is when they are billeted – and asks ingenuously ‘Sind die Einwohner feindlich / Les habitants sont-ils hostiles?’ (are the locals hostile?) (p4). Sulzberger asks the same – ‘les habitants sont-ils pacifiques?’ It is noticeable that in both texts this question is asked after a very definite threat: for Haasmann ‘Wenn Sie weggehen, schiessse ich / Si vous vous sauvez, je tire’ (if you run away I will shoot); and Sulzberger ‘Wenn Sie lügen warden Sie erschossen / Si vous mentez, vous serez fusilé’ (if you lie you will be shot).


And yet, Haasmann page 7 brings ‘tell the truth or you will be shot’, page 10 brings ‘you are staying here as a hostage’, page 14 brings ‘if you lie you will be shot’, and page 20 ‘if the locals hide rations, the village will have to pay a ten thousand franc fine’. Both texts carry the voice of an occupier: empty your pockets, your bag; a curfew; house that people shoot from will be burnt, and their inhabitants shot.

6,7 14,15

Haasmann’s Germans get a quarter of a pound of vegetables daily, Sulzberger’s only 100 grammes, which cannot have been good for peace of mind.

20,21 22,23

A nice bit of etymology; when we said ‘budge over’ at school we never imagined we were using a word taken from French. ‘Rühren Sie sich nicht von der Stelle / Ne bougez pas de là’ says Haasmann; in English ‘don’t budge’.








Sabre-rattling in another tongue

Among the linguistic legends of the First World War is the story of the German phrasebook supposedly prepared prior to the conflict, which provided the soldiers with a model of callous belligerence. It was taken as a perfect piece of evidence to support the accusation that Germany had planned a ruthless invasion policy, applicable to Britain as well as France. Newspaper editors in Australia, as in the rest of the British empire, were amazed at such outrageously meticulous planning of an affront to the law of nations. The Observer in Adelaide, for example, stated on 20 February 1915 that ‘Phrasebooks published in Germany show that the war was contemplated by the Kaiser long before its declaration. Similar books have been found in the knapsacks of German dead and wounded, in preparation for the invasion of England. They show that should the Teutons ever reach Great Britain the country and its people would be devastated with frightfulness similar to that meted out to Belgium. The questions and answers, and other printed instructions and phrases deal largely with matters pertaining to booty, plunder, death, and incendiarism.’ Practically identical wording was used by a number of papers reporting the story at the time, taking it from sources in the London press; in terms of propaganda, it was perfect – despite the recent Christmas truces, the Germans were clearly not to be trusted at all, had both a master plan and detailed tactics, and would if given the chance carry them out.


Punch cartoonist Charles Graves took the subject further with the publication by The Echo & Evening Chronicle of The Hun’s Handbook (1915), which produced the actual phrasebook, credited with the title Törnister Wörterbuch Englisch, (‘English dictionary for the knapsack’), found on the person of a lightly wounded German prisoner, named Virskouski, with the corroboration of a companion book for French, also found in the possession of a captured German soldier. ‘Though we find no intrinsic evidence that the Wörterbuch was actually the production of the German War Staff’ reads the editorial, ‘its publication does set up a strong presumption that it was authorised for the use of a German expeditionary force destined for the invasion of England.’ Graves used a classic British weapon, satire, to hit back at such presumption, contrasting British simplicity with the inappropriately officious Uhlan reading from his phrasebook or the bespectacled Fritz scrabbling to find the correct question under the startled gaze of the lady’s outfitter.

2,7,2 Huns Handbook

All good fun, except that the legend continues; in 2013 Vendémiaire published a handsome transcription of Deutsch-Französischer Soldaten Sprachführer, the work of Lt-Col F Schulzberger, printed in Leipzig in several editions during the war. The Echo & Evening Chronicle must have thought the Törnister Wörterbuch Englisch a publisher’s dream in 1915; the choice of title in 2013 – Si vous mentez vous serez fusillé! Manuel de conversation à l’usage du soldat allemand, (If you lie you will be shot) cannot but add to the legend.

Screen Shot 2018-08-07 at 06.05.53

The counterpart to the legend is the idea that British published phrasebooks were keen to stick to the fairplay aspect of British warfare, heavily influenced by phrasebooks intended for genteel foreign travel: having one’s boots cleaned please, asking politely the way to the post office, and paying a reasonable price for horses’ fodder. A recently found English-French phrasebook paints a potentially more uncomfortable picture, not as ruthless as hostage-taking or burning farms, but not as nice as might be expected. Furthermore it is an HMSO publication, crown copyright and carrying the royal crest.

GBphr cover



GBphr 17

The first page of phrases goes straight to the mark – bear in mind this is an English-French phrasebook, not English-German: ‘Take care: take the shortest road, and if you lead me wrong you will be shot’. Later on we see ‘Listen and tell me the truth, or I will take you with me’. The mayor is to be fetched, followed by the, possibly exasperated, ‘Is there anyone here who speaks English?’

GBphr 19

This is possibly hostile country ‘Can you vouch for the guide?’, and the choice of phrases in this military phrasebook are clearly for the use of troops in the field rather than looking for recreation. And while ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ are remembered, and shopping is carried out with faultless manners, there is no holding back on orders – ‘go slowly’, ‘come here’, ‘hold your tongue’.

GBphr 21

GBphr 25

GBphr 24

And if there was presumption in the Wörterbuch, what exactly is the imagined scenario here?

GBphr train






Le Langage des Tranchées, 9 juillet 1916



It would be good to know what Lucien thought of the slang as presented in the image. He uses the slang word ‘copains’, which Dèchelette defines as ‘camarade[s]’, coming from the old word ‘compain’ (compagnon). Leroy translates it as ‘friend, pal, chum’.


Comparative commentary on the vocabulary shows how variable slang can be. Partridge in Words! Words! Words! (1933) has an extensive essay on the slang of the French soldier, which in place of bricheton has ‘Briffeton, perhaps related to the Poilu briffer, to eat, … much less used than brigeton.’ Leroy gives both of these, with briffer and brichetonner, to feed; Dauzat also, but without brichetonner; Dèchelette has only bricheton. Sainéan gives Bricheton, pain. Mot de caserne tire des patois: c’est le diminutive du normand, brichet, pain d’une ou deux livres, de forms variées, qu’on fait expressément pour les bergers.


Probably all of the words shown would produce rich etymologies; those that stand out for us are godasses and singe. For Sainéan godasse and grolle are both ‘soulier’, grolle  being a ‘provincialisme’ and godasse a ‘soulier large … semblable à un godet (bucket)’. Leroy points out that ‘godasse’ was a ‘popular pronunciation of gothas, German aeroplanes’. Dauzat and Dèchelette give ‘soulier’, Dèchelette adding ‘Ce mot a complètement détrôné les anciens vocables; croquenots, godillots, pompes, tatannes. Le soldat est rarement satisfait de ses godasses, mais il marche quand même.’ Dauzat has ‘grole’ rather than ‘grolle’ (Dèchelette, Leroy, Sainéan).


It is not surprising that tinned meat, being of major importance to front-line soldiers, should have a strong slang identity, nor that there should be a range of etymologies: Partridge proposes an origin from the French military experience in Africa:


For Dèchelette there is the possibility of a commercial origin:


And Dauzat notes the development from singe to gorille, a good example of how slang grows.


Sainéan, describing singe as ‘Mot de caserne’ (barracks), quotes a French trench journal article, a mock ethnographic report on ‘Une France Inconnue’, in which Becquetance (‘food, grub’, Leroy) is described as ‘brouet (brew) don’t la composition varie par l’alternance de ces deux éléments : Ex., le matin, riz et singe; le soir, singe et riz,’ showing that the French soldier’s sense of irony was easily as developed as the British soldier’s.


Lazare Sainéan, L’Argot des Tranchées (1915)

Albert Dauzat, L’Argot de la Guerre (1917)

Francois Dèchelette, L’Argot des Polius (1918)

Oliver Leroy, A Glossary of French Slang (1922)

Eric Partridge, Words! Words! Words! (1933)



Russian-German & German-Russian phrasebooks in the First World War

This week’s blog is from Iaroslav Golubinov, Assistant Professor in the Department of Philosophy and Cultural Studies, Samara State Medical University. Dr Golubinov’s ORCID is  He is a contributor to the “International Encyclopedia of the First World War”:

Hello, dear readers!

My name is Iaroslav Golubinov, I’m a historian from Russia. The little text below was written because of the gentle request of Julian Walker and Christophe Declercq who asked me to share some observations on the German-Russian phrasebook.

Indeed, not long ago the authors of this blog shared a beautiful German-Russian phrasebook published for German soldiers. This book was written by Gustav Werkhaupt and printed in 1914 in Leipzig “Helios-Verlag”[1].


Front cover


Unfortunately, I don’t have the information about the author of the phrasebook. All I know is that he was a teacher of Russian language in “Handelshochschule Leipzig” in 1912[2] and, probably, he worked in Russia some decades before the Great War. The Journal of the Ministry of Education of Russia contained the review on a reader (chrestomathy) of Latin and Greek texts made by Густав Веркгаупт (lit. “Gustav Verkgaupt”, the spelling might be changed because of the rules of the Russian language)[3].

Nevertheless, I want to note that Werkhaupt’s phrasebook had very similar analogues in Russia. So, in 1913 Captain Plekhanov and Lieutenant German compiled and printed “Russian-German questionnaire: For the officers, NCO and scouts: With a brief military technician dictionary and a description of the battle dress of German and Austro-Hungarian armies”[4]; in 1914 warrant officer Wulfius made “A brief Russian-German military interpreter for scouts”[5]. Also, in 1915 and 1916 one Petrograd publisher printed several issues of “A new Russian-German military translation book for officers and warrant officers”[6]. It has to be mentioned that some books were written for people who didn’t speak German and even didn’t know the Latin alphabet (e.g., “Russian-German pocket military dictionary: Contains the necessary words and ready-made German phrases, written in Russian letters: Available for those who do not know the German language”[7]).

The Russian army widely used also pocket dictionaries and phrasebooks for three or even four languages at once (e.g., Russian-French-German[8] or Russian-Bulgarian-Rumanian-Turkish[9]) due to the territories where the battles they were involved in happened. So, a Russian-French-German version could be useful for the Russian Expeditionary Corps in France[10].

Looking through Russian Internet libraries, the closest available analogue of Werkhaupt’s book I found was “Military phrasebook in Russian, German and Polish” (1915, 2nd issue) by a colonel of the General Staff Andrianov[11]. This book was written for those ranks who didn’t know any language except Russian, thus, all parts but one were written in the Cyrillic alphabet[12].

IG Adtitle

Interesting, the chapters in the German phrasebook are small and their content is directly related to the place or situation of conversation (patrol, railway station, billets, transport with POW, hospital etc.) The Russian book has two big parts: the first is devoted to so-called “military talks” (военные разговоры) and the second — “civilian talks” (житейские разговоры); the big chapters are divided into small parts (“chasing the enemy”, “scouting” etc. or “hotel, restaurant”, “laundry” and so on). After a brief comparison of both books, I assume that the tone of talking is equal. Maybe, the German book is a little bit rougher and the Russian a little bit more polite (especially with civilians). But when the soldiers and officers need to speak with a spy or POWs or deserters all questions and manners are quite similar.

I need to mention that Werkhaupt sometimes made mistakes in Russian (e.g., he translated “Draisinen”, meaning rail vehicles, as “велосипеды”/bicycles/, but it’s incorrect) and used old or rare words. I believe that nobody could understand a German officer asking Russian POWs or civilians about “franc-tireurs”. Instead of this most rare word (it’s absent in many Russian dictionaries of the 1900s), Werkhaupt needed to write “partisan” (партизан), of course.

The Russian book is bigger than the German version and contains the templates of military orders for the civilian population of occupied territories, a small dictionary of military terms and (the most interesting!) the part with the answers expected of a German POW. Surprisingly, the German book lacks it. It’s unclear, did Werkhaupt expect that Russian could say something in answer?

This chapter in Russian book begins with such words:

“To get an exact answer or to allow a German [soldier] to ask Russians a question that is completely understandable to Russians, the reader submits a book to the German in order that the German finds, among the answers and questions written in his native language, a suitable answer or question and points it out. Then, due to a nearby Russian translation, the reader will understand what the German [soldier] wants to say. When you give a book to a German, you should add: “Nim das bookh, efne nekhste Zaite und tsaige mir daine Antvorten und Fragen”.

IG Ad054

The last phrase is in German but written in Russian Cyrillic. “Take the book, look onto the next page and show me your answers and question”.

What answers and questions of Germans did Russians expect to hear?

  • Ich ergebe mich
  • Ich werde mich setzen


  • Unser Stab ist geschlage
  • Unsere Generale sind getote etc.

This looks like the answers of completely defeated enemies.

IG Ad056 war answersIG Ad057 war answers

But the voices of German wounded men and POWs are also presented:

  • Ich habe grosse Schmerzen
  • Herr Doktor, mir ist besser
  • Ich sehne mich nach der Frau

…and so on.

Some places are also taken for the civilians (they were presented as very obedient people). Interesting, this book has no answers of Poles, they remained in silence. But the Germans are made very loquacious:

  • Wollen Sie nicht zu Mittag bei uns bleiben?
  • Haben Sie schon gefruhstuckt?
  • Wir essen immer warm zu
  • Abend
  • Wir haben Kalten Kalbsbraten, Schinken, Kase

And, finally,

  • Hier ist die Rechnung
  • Bitte zahlen Sie
  • Adieu!

IG Ad060 answers by woundedIG Ad063 simple statementsIG Ad067 3 langs sentencesIG Ad068 3 langs sentencesIG Ad074 3 langs sentences


Thus, these two phrasebooks are very interesting examples of the very complicated process of understanding and negotiating between two sides of the Eastern front.


[1] Full digital copy you may find here:

[2] Vorlesungs-verzeichnisse der universitäten, technischen und fach-hochschulen von Deutschland, Deutsch-Oesterreich und der Schweiz. Munchen: Academischer Verlag, 1912. P. 114.

[3] Zhurnal Ministerstva narodnogo prosveshcheniya. Chast’ CCII. Mart 1879. S. 95 and passim.

[4] Plekhanov, S. N. Russko-nemetskiy voprosnik : Dlya g. g. ofitserov, unter-ofitserov i razvedchikov : S krat. voyen.-tekhn. slovarem i s opisaniyem form pokhod. obmundirovaniya germ. i avstro-veng. armiy / Sost. kap. Plekhanov i poruchik German. Varshava : tip. Okr. shtaba, 1913. 67 s.

[5] Vul’fius. Kratkiy russko-nemetskiy voyennyy perevodchik dlya razvedchikov / Sost. 14 Grenader. Gruz. polka praporshchik Vul’fius. Petrograd : tip. Trenke i Fyusno, 1914. 40 s.

[6] Novyy russko-nemetskiy voyennyy tolmach dlya g. g. ofitserov i praporshchikov. 4-ye izd. Petrograd : Berezovskiy, tsenz. 1916. XI, 112 s.

[7] Russko-nemetskiy karmannyy voyennyy slovar’ : Soderzhit neobkhodimyye sl. i gotovyye nem. frazy, napis. rus. bukvami : Dostupen dlya neznayushchikh nem. yaz. Moskva : K.L. Kovzan, 1916. 32 s.

[8] Krit M.N. Kratkiy russko-frantsuzsko-nemetskiy perevodchik dlya ofitserov i nizhnikh chinov, sovershenno ne vladeyushchikh frantsuzskim i nemetskim yazykami. Petrograd: Glavnoye upravleniye general’nogo shtaba, 1916. 108 s.

[9] Musiyenko I.V. Voyennyy perevodchik na russko-bolgarsko-rumyno-turetskom yazykakh. Odessa: tip. Akts. yuzh.-rus. obshch. pech. dela, 1917. 32 s.


[11] Andrianov P.M. Voyennyy perevodchik na russko-pol’sko-nemetskom yazyke. 2nd ed. Odessa: Ye.I. Fesenko, 1915.

[12] Unfortunately, I can’t esteem the level of translation skill in Russian book because I don’t speak German and Polish.




Humour from Home


Blighty was a compilation magazine enterprisingly put together in 1916 and 1917 and delivered free to BEF soldiers and members of the Royal Navy. It was subsidised by corporate and private sponsors and carried cartoons from Punch, Bystander and national newspapers, and was published by the mysterious-sounding ‘The Committee of “Blighty”’. Its masthead showed a drawing of the dome of St Pauls Cathedral and a country cottage in front of a village church, a proclamation of the ideal, the nostalgic, and the church-as-state, behind the title and subtitle, ‘a budget of humour from home’. Affirming the idea of home that the forces were defending, this magazine was proposed as a reaching out of home humour, though often drawing from the experience of the troops, even at the Front; its humour was self-feeding and circular.


Humour based on words featured heavily, as might be expected. We offer here three examples from a fragile copy of issue No 2, 7 June 1916.


The first is from The Bystander, an excruciating page of examples of how metaphors look when taken literally. Schoolboy humour, but as has been said so often, many of the readers were little more than schoolboys; the much referred to Comic Cuts contains very similar wordplay, as do a lot of the trench journals. The combination of the naivety of this material and the circumstances that it was read in is difficult to grasp. Perhaps the extremity of terror, even though rarely experienced, and the constant anxiety provoked a retreat into childhood: Michael Roper in The Secret Battle (2009) states that in Kleinian terms here ‘what extreme anxiety did to these young men was to throw them back to the position of the small child’.


The second is a good example of irony, a wry look at the cliché of the Bible/pack of letters/lighter/cigarette case/diary/penny that saved a soldier’s life. The same cartoon would have remained relevant, though mostly with pennies being shot at, for long after the war, if ebay is anything to go by. Again, it is about the mind seeking refuge.



Countering these examples of the fragility of the human mental frame is the image of the flapper. Partridge recorded subalterns being called ‘the flapper’s delight’, though sexual relations were a refuge in themselves – see the scene towards the end of Helen Z Smith’s Not So Quiet.

Here ‘Efemera’ a regular columnist in The Bystander in 1916 describes the rise of the flapper. The term ‘flapper’, for a young woman or teenager, usually with immoral connotations, dates from the 1880s, about the same time as the German term ‘backfisch’ (a fish for baking), which was introduced into English as ‘backfish’ in the early 1890s, when The Pall-Mall Gazette described the backfish as ‘[one who] ranges from fifteen to eighteen years of age, keeps a diary, climbs trees secretly, blushes on the smallest provocation, and has no conversation’.


Noteworthy is ‘Efemera’s interpretation of the German term as passive, compared to the active Anglo-Saxon flapper, a kind of folk etymology. Further exploration, into the OED particularly, muddies the water: in the definition of ‘flapper’, the word ‘backfisch’ is ‘perch, fish for frying’, while the earliest citation for ‘flapper’ gives an alternative, ‘flipper’.

EP flapper

Before the war flappers were supposed generally to wear their hair in pigtails. Eric Partridge (above), always good for obscure usages and enlightening details, offers the idea that between 1905 and the end of the war the meaning became established that a flapper was ‘any young girl with her hair not yet put up (or, in the late 1920’s and the 30’s, not yet cut short).’ Many would take issue with this, though ‘Efemera’s flappers do have long hair (but hardly look Anglo-Saxon).

Bl EF1