The silent tiger-duck

Making up cards to send to correspondents yesterday, I pulled out a booklet of German stickers for kids. About a creature that appeared to be a wooden pull-toy with the name Tigerente. Tiger-duck? Well, yes, and you can sort of see that:

English Wikipedia tells us that

The Tigerente (lit., tiger duck) is a children’s book character created by German artist and author Janosch. It is a little wooden toy duck on wheels, striped black on yellow, that is pulled around on a string by various characters of Janosch’s books. It never gets a line of dialogue, but still has become by far the most popular figure ever created by the author. The Tigerente has since appeared on most traditional cultural icon hangouts, including posters, postcards, high school art projects, buttons, mugs, socks, umbrellas, cutlery, and nearly every item of children’s furniture imaginable, and has been the namesake and mascot of the German TV show Tigerenten Club, all without ever uttering a single line.

German Tiger is of masculine gender, but Ente is the head of the compound and it’s of feminine gender, so the whole compound is feminine. And that’s how it functions syntactically, in article choice (die Tigerente rather than der or das) and in the choice of anaphoric pronoun (sie rather than er or es). You’ll notice that English Wikipedia uses the pronoun it — reasonable since the Tigerente is a toy, with no intrinsic sex, although toys in the shape of an animal are often referred to by assigning a sex to the animal (like cartoon animals: Snoopy and Garfield are both male).

Not only does Tigerente never utter a word, it has no perceptible linguistic life at all. Unlike Garfield, who has a rich mental life conveyed via thought balloons, or Snoopy, who types stories and long letters to editors, Tigerente just gets pulled along by its companions on their adventures; (from German Wikipedia) the subtitle of the first book (Oh, wie schön ist Panama (1978) — yes, Panama in Central America) is Die Geschichte, wie der kleine Tiger und der kleine Bär nach Panama reisen ‘The story of how the little Tiger and the little Bear travel to Panama’. The stories are about Tigerente’s friends, and Tigerente is a passive companion — but the books etc. are billed as “about” Tigerente (and its friends). See the cover:

I don’t know how German-speaking children relate to these books, but it might be a clever move to leave Tigerente as a blank slate, on which kids can project whatever they want in their imaginative play.

Final note on the author, which introduces some of the complexities of nationality in Europe:

Janosch (real name Horst Eckert) (born March 11, 1931) is one of the best-known German artists and children’s book authors. He was born in Hindenburg (now Zabrze, Poland) in Upper Silesia to a family of mixed German and Polish heritage. He said in an interview that he is Silesian and that it is his nationality. (English Wikipedia)

Post-final note: I suppose I should comment on the gender complexity of Tigerente, combining the masculine tiger and the feminine duck, where these assignments involve both grammatical gender and sociocultural gender role. Tigerente is bi-gendered as well as mute.


2 Responses to “The silent tiger-duck”

  1. Philipp Wasserscheidt Says:

    I don’t understand why you need to comment on the gender of Tigerente? There absolutely nothing special about it. It’s a duck with tiger stripes, so ‘tiger’ refers to the stripes, not to the duck being a tiger as well.
    I just read the story about Panama to my son this morning (in Berlin). He actually never talks about the tigerente when remembering the story, but only about the tiger and the bear. I guess that ‘her’ popularity is the result of her being unconventional and sweet at the same time.
    By the way, the name ‘Janosch’ itself is Hungarian.

  2. bla bla me Says:

    [Somewhat edited down by AMZ] I am American and was stationed in the military in Italy, and had a German girlfriend. Anyhow, when I met her she gave me this book with the Tigerente (even gave me a tigerduck small wooden figure with string attached which I hung on my rear view mirror). In true German fashion she told me how great this story was…The story in the book I received, was that this frog would pull the Tigerente around and ask the tigerente (tigerduck) if it agreed. The frog would (think or hear) the appropriate response. Since the tigerente was always silent & never answered. The Frog would have to ASSUME it heard an answer that coincided with what it wanted to hear. It was a do you agree with me, and the wooden tiger duck’s answer was answered by what the frog wanted the answer to be. Our relationship ended just like the story. In looking back, this story was a classic example of communication breakdown. Unfortunately, I was the frog just thinking I heard the appropriate response.

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