I was all geared up to learn just why it was that the English-speaking world was mistaken about the German sense of humor, but as I was reading the supposedly revelatory article by a certain Stewart Lee, I ran aground on the following passage.
But German will not always allow you to shunt the key word to the end of the sentence to achieve this failsafe laugh. After spending weeks struggling with the rigours of the German language's far less flexible sentence structures to achieve the endless succession of "pull back and reveals" that constitute much English language humour, the idea of our comedic superiority soon begins to fade.
Was sagen Sie? Es tut mir leid, aber this is simply complete nonsense. Far from German having "far less flexible sentence structures", the language's highly inflected nature actually means that German-speakers need not rely on word order to determine meaning to anything like the extent English-speakers do, as illustrated by
Der Hund beißt den Mannand
Den Mann beißt der Hundboth of which mean exactly the same thing. Furthermore, anyone who claims German doesn't allow one to place the key word in a sentence at the very end obviously can't be familiar with Mark Twain's famous essay poking fun at a supposed German tendency to do precisely that, much less possess a command of the language sufficient to make far-reaching pronouncements.
If the above sins by Mr. Lee were all he'd committed, they'd have been heinous enough, but then he compounds his error by saying the following:
The German language provides fully functional clarity. English humour thrives on confusion.Again, absolute nonsense. German is no clearer than the person speaking or writing it is able to make it, while English can be precise and clear enough to please even the most Spock-like reasoning machine; if German really were the human language equivalent of first-order logic, it would hardly be capable of supporting an art form like poetry which is based on allusions and ambiguity - and in any case, Gödel taught us that even first-order logic isn't dry and precise enough to exclude multiple interpretations. But wait, there's more, like this howler:
In English we surround a noun with adjectives to try to clarify it. In German, they merely bolt more words on to an existing word.Huh? What could this possibly mean? That Germans don't say "Rote Kreuz" where we say "Red Cross"? That the lack of spaces makes "Bundesverfassungsgericht" any more impregnable than "Central Intelligence Agency"? That Germans use compound nouns in place of adjectives? I just can't make head or tail of it.
The rest of Stewart Lee's article consists of just more nonsensical mystification in the same vein, all of which amounts to nothing more than saying the stereotype of Germans as humorlessly logical is true, but only because of the nature of their language; the absurd thing about this line of argument is that it would necessarily also imply that the English of King Alfred's day were humor-deficient robots who sat around thinking Deep Thoughts™ like so many Wittgensteins, as modern-day German grammar is most similar to no language other than Old English. Usually, when people are looking for foreign languages to construct elaborate Sapir-Whorfian theses of difference around, they're prudent enough to opt for something so exotic and alien that no one is likely to call them on their claims: quite why Mr. Lee chose to use a language so similar to his own for such a purpose - and therefore so easy to check his claims against - is mystifying to me.
PS: It turns out real-life linguist Mark Liberman agrees with me - Stewart Lee is talking absolute rubbish from start to finish.