When looking at this odd German phrase, there are several things we should
keep in mind. First, let's not leave out two very small, but very significant
words "gar" and "echt" both are "flavoring particles" as I've heard them
described, though I admit I don't know if that's a bone fide linguistic term.
They are therefore difficult to translate, but they are important to the tone, and
I think they are what everyone picks up on when they describe a sense of
protest or fluster or irritation on the speaker's part. I agree with that reading,
and we should add those back into the translation, but without at first designating
a meaning for those intensifiers because they are in a certain sense empty of
meaning--they could be grunts or increases in volume on certain words etc.
they only take on meaning in relation to what they modify (I know that's true
of all words to a certain extent--they depend on context--but they are particularly
true of these "signals") because they function not as describers of the words
they modify like a _red_ car or a _long_ walk, but as intensifications of what they
modify, an intensified car, a car so car that you can't get more car, or an absolute
walk (pardon the absurdities in the examples). Here then is a word by word
translation without determined words for the particles:
Bin(am) gar(intensifier) keine(no) Russin(Russian), stamm'(come)
aus(from) Litauen(Lithuania), echt(intensifier) deutsch(German).
If we put it in a vernacular that also makes frequent use of such flavoring
particles, the function of the words might make more sense
to English speakers. Let's try California surfer-speak:
Dude, I'm _sooo_ not Russian, come from Lithuania, _totally_ German!
The word "gar" has a range of meanings indicating sufficient, absolute or
overdetermination of the thing it modifies. Though "Echt" is sometimes used
as an equivalent of our "truth," it more indicates a state of perfection or an ideal
quality to the thing it modifies. There are several German words for trueness,
purity, realness,etc.--ones more "pre-loaded" with meaning than "echt"
(wahr, treu, rein, etc.). When used with negatives, "keine", "gar" takes
on the role (usually) of absolute or overdetermination: "gar keine Zweiful"
or "not the least doubt" or "certainly no doubt."
A translation of the utterance has to account for this sense of intensification
in both words:
Am certainly no Russian, come from Lithuania, authentic German.
Am no way Russian, come from Lithuania, perfectly German.
If we want to place this phrase in some speaker and context, ie. who might
say it and why and what sensible thing could that speaker mean by it, I think
one possible answer is in the historical details that others have been
industrious enough to track down and supply. The person is a recently
and repeatedly conquered Lithuanian, verifying his or her sympathies with
the most recent occupying army--German--either as a response to a direct
question from some German soldier or German sympathizer, or as an overt
show of such sympathies to keep him/herself from becoming a suspected
"Russian ally" in the face of German occupation: "Am absolutely not Russian,
come from Lithuania, an ideal/genuine/ loyal German [citizen]"
I hope I got the history correct here, and we could have this type of scene,
if only briefly on the streets of Lithuania. Perhaps it even refers to a common
phrase you might have heard Lithuanians say either with deadly seriousness
or with irony or both during this occupation (??). I know it was true of people in
countries occupied by Hitler during WWII to make an outward show of
complicity or even sympathy when they were within earshot of German soldiers,
letting the enemy "overhear " that all is well, but in more guarded moments
conspiring to strike back at an unsuspecting target, etc.
Part of what the passage signals for me regardless of the actual explanation is
it mirrors or mimics the sense of identity confusions national/ethnic/political
(there are I'm sure others) that were and are present in Europe. To use a
couple of examples beyond the ones already and recently posted, many Serbs
want/wanted to have a nation "Serbia" that would in theory allow two of those
categories ethnicity/nationality to share the same name. There were/are enclaves
of German culture and language in Prague--what is a person's nation in that
case, what is their culture? They come from Prague, but are certainly not
Slavic, "echt ???" Rilke, born in Prague, wrote in German (and French) and
is considered a "German" poet. I'm not naive enough to have no clue as to why
this is how R. is designated, only that TWL reflects the fact that these things,
language, ethnicity, nationality, place of residence, culture, etc. don't stack
up neatly or coherently.
Perhaps this should have been a separate post. Oh well...