Related questions are:

I'm new to this board, but as far as I can tell, there is one major problem:

Thesis: This site lacks experts, that is professional linguists and Germanists.

But since I'm new and this should be a discussion, let me rephrase this as a question:

  • Is this site lacking experts?

Now, this discussion should be about:

  • Why do we lack experts?
  • What could we do to get more experts?
  • Should we have more experts anyway?

As well as:

  • What or whom else is this site missing?
  • How can we fix that?

I want to give my impressions. Firstly, why I think that this site indeed lacks experts:

It seems, many of our active members are programmers or mathematicians coming from stackoverflow, serverfault or math.stackexchange, either learners of German or native speakers of German.

I myself am a German student of mathematics, and I have a lot of questions about German grammar, etymology and linguistic aspects of German. But I'm no professional, I don't even know if my questions are phrased correctly -- I just give my best. And I get answers which I often feel are the best ones the answerers could give.

However, I also feel that the answers I got were not coming from experts (if they were I apologize). And I got the same feeling with many other answers and accepted answers: They did not come from experts, but rather from well-informed seeming dilettantes. Now, it's hard for me to judge if someone really is well-informed or misinformed, but maybe there are people here who can and will say more on that topic.

I have an example, though: Yesterday I asked this queston. Soon there was a first answer. I didn't accept it, but admittedly upvoted it for the effort and because I felt I had to do so – because I thought my expectatios were too high. Now, another answer appeared which contradicts the first answer and seems more right to me. It refers to a question on another site whose answer again refers to the Duden. I accepted this answer.

Yet I feel that isn't enough (or maybe just enough) for a qualitative stackexchange. I feel we should have higher standards – even if this means less (answer) activity. If others feel the same, I would like to open another discussion about what we can do to get higher standards. (For example, one should always back up their answers with sources if available.)

My hope is that once we get more experts on this site, they can better judge if someone is well- or misinformed, if an answer is correct, needs more citation or backup and whether the sources given are scientifically valid or not (is zwiebelfish a reliable source?). Then they could provide and define the standards of a good german.stackexchange.

And I hope I'm not out of place to begin this discussion. Let's see.

  • 2
    As far as I know we indeed have no experts. At least none active (or they conceal their quality). But there are two, perhaps three, users who frequently answer on a high level. - You're also right that most people are programmers and such. - However, most questions are coming from non-native and are very basic, so the lack didn't appear that strongly as you recognized.
    – Em1
    Commented Oct 9, 2012 at 9:21
  • The questions you recently asked are a bit more complicated than those raised in the last months. For example the subjunctive question: German changed to "K1 and K2" while other languages (as English) still have "K present and K past". Germans use the subjunctive for Potentialis. That's actually wrong. - The problem with your question is, that the question needs two answers. How it should be correct (linguistics) and how Germans handle it in reality (every native speakers). - However, the best answer you've linked yourself (there are 3 more on that page; all-in-all it answers your question).
    – Em1
    Commented Oct 9, 2012 at 9:28
  • @Em1 I agree, many questions are on a very basic level and can be answered by almost any German native speaker. But this would make the board about learning German as a foreign language. I haven't found any good definition on what this board is really about, but I think it would be best if it was a board about understanding German as an indo-european language. This I think would also cover the more basic questions about translations and such, but on a deeper level is as much as we try not only to simply know how something is, but to also understand why.
    – k.stm
    Commented Oct 9, 2012 at 9:30
  • By the way, @Em1 I haven't found a definite answer to the question on subjunctive in those articles. But so far I merely browsed through them. Also, I have a general mistrust towards online sources if it isn't about structural knowledge such as mathematics where you don't really need sources. Maybe this is why stackoverflow and mathoverflow are so successful – they can be scientific without having to quote sources all the time.
    – k.stm
    Commented Oct 9, 2012 at 9:35
  • Don't forget, that we allow translations and such. Our site is very different to, for instance, ELU where basic question are immediately close. Unfortunately and fortunately at the same time! I'd appreciate if we're getting more people asking questions as you did --- I had to reread your question, think more carefully about it and work through that page, and I'm pretty sure I could answer your question to your satisfaction. The problem is, I would write an answer at least 3 times longer than my current answer, and I need time. I haven't. Thus, wait for linguistics who know off-the-cuff :)
    – Em1
    Commented Oct 9, 2012 at 9:43
  • 3
    I am certainly no germanist, but I try to make it quite clear in my answers what my assurance/knowledge level is for that particular question. "A reputable source says that the etymology is like this", "My knowledge of ancient Greek identifies this word as ...", "It doesn't sound right to me as a native speaker but I cannot say why". The lack of professionals is not good, but the main problem with the wrong deleted answer is the lack of insight in the level of one's knowledge. It contains idle speculation presented as fact.
    – Phira
    Commented Oct 10, 2012 at 22:28
  • 1
    Specifically, you don't need to be a germanist to answer your question about the prefic "emp-" correctly. It is not too hard to figure out for native speakers with amateur linguist knowledge and it is easy to verify the right answer.
    – Phira
    Commented Oct 10, 2012 at 22:30
  • @Phira I agree. The point about the “level of insight” you made is very important in my opinion. Yet I find it dangerous to say that it's easy to verify the right answer. I'd say, how convincing an answer is, depends on one's knowledge and understandig of language and German. I often want the possibility of a common misunderstanding of a concept to be excluded in order to accept an answer. People I consider to be experts on language and German are authorities in that regard whom I ultimately have to believe if I don't want to research a phenomenon myself which just isn't an option for me.
    – k.stm
    Commented Oct 11, 2012 at 14:09
  • @K.Stm. If you want to be sure that it isn't a common misunderstanding, neither etymological dictionaries nor experts will ever be enough.
    – Phira
    Commented Oct 11, 2012 at 17:56
  • Another example: This answer is almost completely useless, yet it got upvoted at least once. Why?
    – k.stm
    Commented May 17, 2013 at 17:43

4 Answers 4


Upvoting for the effort is bad. Upvoting because you feel you have to do so is bad too.

Downvote bad answers more often. Downvote bad questions.

This might discourage average answers without argument, but will not attract new visitors. Downvote me-too-answers, which just repeat what was already said. They're a huge waste of time.


Most of the questions and answers are in english. Every serious lerner of a language will expect to ask and answer in German, not english. It's a foolish idea to use english more often than german. People who aren't able to formulate their question on german will surely not raise the level.

  • 2
    +1 Don't know what for the downvotes are, but I agree 100%.
    – Em1
    Commented Oct 14, 2012 at 14:04

Chicken and egg

I have read all the Questions on Meta and this one is the best by far. My two cents:

There is a lack of good Questions on GLU. Questions that are interesting. Questions that challenge and stretch one's knowledge and ability.

There are not enough experts on GLU. In fact, I see ZERO experts who have identified as such. Although I am a language professional, I do not call myself an expert on the German language. I do not have a Ph.D. and I have never published in an academic journal.

So we have a chicken and egg problem. What could happen to make this better?

About the only unique advantage that GLU has, in my opinion, is that it runs on the Stack Exchange engine, currently the best platform for the Q&A format in the entire Internet. No competitor comes even close. Will that be enough to make GLU a success?

But will they come?

In the Kevin Costner movie, he builds a ballpark in the middle of nowhere. Everyone chuckles at the fool, but he stubbornly plows ahead: "If you build it, they will come." And one fine day (with the help of a few ghosts of yesteryear), there is a grand opening and the stands are packed with spectators.

This, more or less, is what it comes down to. Eventually a miracle will happen and all the efforts by the good people who built GLU will be rewarded. Though perhaps not in our lifetime. And only if SE does not close down this Beta before then.

Attempts to enforce some kind of higher standard are irrelevant. Sure, a lot of the low-quality Questions currently asked could be closed much more rapidly. Dilettantes making so-called nice guesses (= giving wrong Answers) could be discouraged much more forcefully.

But it won't make one whit of a difference with respect to the two most important metrics: (1) good Questions and (2) good Answers. Actually it is only one metric: good Questions. If you have those, good Answers will come and poor Questions and Answers will be crowded out naturally.

One thing that hasn't been tried yet is to offer a one-click switch to choose a German-language user interface. Perhaps this will increase traffic by a few percentage points.


A possible measure to get more experts

I was thinking: Maybe if we were to contact student associations of Germanistics and linguistics to tell them about german.stackexchange, how it works and why it has a potential to be of value to them, and to us if they promoted this site, hopefully we could get at least more students to visit this site. That might be a good starting point to keep this site alive and raise its standards.


Advanced scientific professionalism is not only contingent with interest and knowledge, but also with the ability to raise money and lead a research organization like a university chair.

I have just read a psychological study that found a strong negative correlation between the need to socialize and the professional success of people working in high career positions (such as managers or professors). In other words, while many professors of linguistics are very active networkers, they have no basic need to make friends, be friendly, recieve attention and admiration etc., but rather they have a strong need for achievement and power. People who don't have a strong need for achievement and power don't succeed in leadership positions.

A forum like german.stackexchange is sustained by people with a strong social need. Our users are people who like to help others, who are lonely at home and in search of social contact, who (like myself) procrastinate -- or who don't know anything and are looking for answers.

Answering a question at german.stackexchange is simply not attractive for an active researcher. Why would he want to waste his time here, instead of working on his dissertation or preparing his lectures? A university career is an extremely tedious and stressful situation that you won't succeed in if you are not totally focussed on it.

Aside from this personality difference between professionals and hobbyists, there is a basic difference between a site such as stackoverflow and german.stackexchange:

Programmers are by definition working with computers. Being on the internet is a part of the job for many of them.

Linguists and professors of literature deal with books and spoken words and have a centuries old tradition of communicating in printed publications and at simposiums. They use the internet mainly to send and recieve email, otherwise they work offline.

In the forums that have a computerrelated topic, many members are professionals, many questions are of an extremely advanced level, and many answers are of very high quality.

In the forums that have no relation to computers, most of the users are curious bipassers or people with a problem who are looking for help. There are no users here with a professional interest in German language and literature, because there is no affinity between the topic and the use of a computer. I would even go so far as to say: computers and the internet are at best a tool for non-programmers, and many people choosing careers in language and literature find computers somewhat unattractive and avoid using them. This is of course not true for all linguists, but there is a pronounced difference with information science: there are no programmers who dislike computers and try to avoid them. But people loving books and language have different values and lifestyles, and they often prefer an "analogue" life.

The conclusion is that we will find it nearly impossible to attract linguistic or literature professionals to this site.

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