Englisch in der deutschen Sprache
There is a general opinion (not carried out through scientific research) that the German language is full of English. This is not a particularly striking view, considering there are words such as ‘chillen’, ‘chillaxen’, ‘bloggen’ however is this assumption that German has a lot of English leading to a culture of not wanting to learn a language?
From having studied the German language and culture for ten years, including living there for prolonged periods of time, I would not agree with the notion that the German language is overrun with English words. There are indeed words that have found their way into the language, owing mainly to the fact that they are modern day words, such as ‘liken’, ‘googeln’, ‘posten’. On the flip side, this shows the fluidity and flexibility of language. The near-universality of social media, predominantly from the USA comes hand in hand with the fact that English words have crept into other languages, with German merely being one of the examples.
With this influence of English words into the German language, it is not difficult to imagine that people may become put off from learning languages. This might seem an extreme proposition, but it can be combined with the notion of ‘everyone speaks English so they will understand me’. I would, for the most part (with exceptions) argue that learning the language could place someone in a better position. Yes, there may be words with English influence or be just English words, but it is the bundle of advantages that comes from the learning.
English in the German language also poses those “false friends”. A big example is the German ‘Handy’. In English, we do not refer to out mobile as a ‘Handy’. It is the case that there is the word handy in the English language, but the meaning is that of being useful. Far different from a mobile. Also, the English ‘actual’ does not equate to the German ‘aktuell’. The German word ‘aktuell’ means current, for example in ‘aktuelle Nachrichten’ (current affairs).
It is clear that there is influence in the German language from English, but that is a universal situation, and not retrained to German. Je mehr man lernt, desto erfolgreicher man wird.
The influence of English on the German language
When I arrived in Germany about 15 years ago, German was largely free of outside influence but this has changed dramatically in recent years. It has become riddled with English imports. In some fields, this is not so surprising. For example, the internet revolution started in America and many of the terms have inevitably found their way into German, e.g. eMail, Browser, onLineBanking, surfen etc. However, some English computer terms are used at the expense of perfectly good German alternatives. Chatten instead of plaudern, downloaden instead of herunterladen, even the word Computer itself instead of Rechner. This has also led to some bizarre-sounding German; no-one seems to know how to conjugate downloaden, for example. On chat sites, I have seen the following forms used:
- Hast du die Datei downloadet?
- Hast du die Datei downgeloadet?
- Hast du die Datei gedownloadet?
English words have not only found their way into the field of computing, however. They are prevalent in the field of advertising, particularly so in the advertising of luxury items. No manufacturer sells a car these days without reference to airbags and cockpits, limousines and caravans, spoilers and Styling. The following is a listing of some of the English used in advertising slogans in one edition of Der Spiegel, a weekly news magazine.
- There’s no better way to fly (Lufthansa)
- The classic of the future (perfume)
- The energy is yours (perfume)
- Tomorrow’s classics (watch)
- Elegance is an attitude (watch)
- Tested for the unexpected (watch)
- Take a walk on the red side (champagne)
- Active driving, active safety (car)
- We hear you (computer)
- The whole world in one bank (investment bank)
- More life, most money (investment bank)
- Time is money (investment bank)
English is ubiquitous not only in magazine advertising but also in TV commercials. The following are two examples from investment banks. (Interestingly, the words are spoken with a clearly German accent. They have not used a native English speaker or a German with perfect English to say them.)
- The future. Together. Now.
- Are you ready for investments? (the English of which seems slightly suspect to me)
In general, it can be said that the English used in the adverts is readily understood, and is used to convey the impression of a global player (another English German expression!); i.e. a company that is well-established in international markets. Compare this with the only use of German that I know in English advertising: Audi’s Vorsprung durch Technik. Here there has been no attempt to choose an expression that native English speakers are likely to understand.
A very interesting group of words that has entered the German language are those that are based on English words but not used by native English speakers. The most obvious recent one is the Handy (for mobile or cell phone). Other such words are twen, meaning a person between the ages of 20 and 30, and pullunder for what the English would call a tank top.
The influence of English has become so strong that most Germans now sing Happy Birthday to each other in English!
Sprechen Sie Denglish?
Germany is undergoing one of its periodic bouts of angst over the seemingly unstoppable spread of Denglish, an Anglicized hybrid that purists believe is corrupting the national language.
Like the better known Franglais, it is characterized by extensive borrowings of English words for which, in many cases, there are perfectly good native equivalents.
Deutsche Bahn, the national rail network, reignited the debate this week by starting a campaign against the inflationary spread of English and pseudo-English terms among its employees.
It issued staff a booklet of German words and phrases that should henceforth be used in preference to the corresponding Anglicisms. Out go the railway’s information “hotlines” and its “call-a-bike” service, to be replaced by more Teutonic equivalents.
English borrowings are sometimes seen as adding a touch of cool to the otherwise mundane.
Adoption of Denglish has also been particularly prevalent in business and marketing, giving rise to such horrors as “Inhouse-Meeting für Outsourcing-Projekte.”
The Germans don’t always get it right. For them, a cellphone is a “handy,” an apparent Anglicism unknown in the English-speaking world. A “sprayer” is a graffiti artist, and “peeling” means a body scrub.
Snappy German dressers, like their French counterparts, have been wearing a “smoking” — a tuxedo — for years.
But the spate of more modern borrowings is sometimes viewed as indicative of a sinister cultural imperialism on the part of the so-called Anglo-Saxon world.
The British Council, which promotes English-language study abroad, perhaps enhanced that perception when it mischievously asked its German Twitter followers on Wednesday to name their favorite Denglish word.
The German Language Association warned two years ago that German could become a “peripheral” language if steps were not taken to protect it from foreign invasions.
“German has been losing its importance for 100 years,” Holger Klatte, the organization’s spokesman, told The Guardian. “Particularly in the areas of technology, medicine, the Internet and the economy, English is becoming ever more important.”
Like France’s language guardians, German purists may be fighting a losing battle against international English. The results of past efforts to rid the language of foreign words had mixed results.
The words “Fernsprecher” for telephone and “Fernsehen” for television are survivors of a Nazi campaign to rid the language of its Latin element.
All languages are enriched by foreign borrowings and none is more of a jackdaw than English, a happy jumble of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Old French to which hundreds of words have been added from around the world.
Native English speakers tend to be more relaxed than others about adopting foreign words, which they learn naturally from an early age, even before they get to kindergarten.
Denglisch – Denglish – Neudeutsch
Some people claim that the words above all mean the same thing, but they don’t. Even the term “Denglisch” alone has several different meanings. Since the word “Denglis(c)h” is not found in German dictionaries (even recent ones), and “Neudeutsch” is vaguely defined as “die deutsche Sprache der neueren Zeit” (“the German language of more recent times”), it can be difficult to come up with a good definition. But here are five different definitions for Denglisch (or Denglish):
- Denglisch 1: The use of English words in German, with an attempt to incorporate them into German grammar. Examples: downloaden – ich habe den File gedownloadet/downgeloadet. – Heute haben wir ein Meeting mit den Consultants.*
- Denglisch 2: The (excessive) use of English words, phrases, or slogans in German advertising. Example: A recent German magazine ad for the German airline Lufthansa prominently displays the slogan: “There’s no better way to fly.”
- Denglisch 3: The (bad) influences of English spelling and punctuation on German spelling and punctuation. One pervasive example: The incorrect use of an apostrophe in German possessive forms, as in Karl’s Schnellimbiss. This common error can be seen even on signs and painted on the side of trucks. It is even seen for plurals ending in s. Another example is a growing tendency to drop the hyphen (English-style) in German compound words: Karl Marx Straße vs Karl-Marx-Straße.
- Denglisch 4: The mixing of English and German vocabulary (in sentences) by English-speaking expats whose German skills are weak.
- Denglisch 5: The coining of faux English words that are either not found in English at all or are used with a different meaning than in German. Examples: der Dressman (male model), der Smoking (tuxedo), der Talkmaster (talk show host).
Some observers make a distinction between the use of anglicized words in German ( das Meeting = anglicism) and Denglisch’s mixing of English words and German grammar ( Wir haben das gecancelt. ), especially when German equivalents are shunned. Although there is a technical difference (and a symantic one: Unlike “Anglizismus” in German, “Denglisch” usually has a negative, pejorative meaning.), I think such a distinction usually draws too fine a point; it is often difficult to decide whether a term is an anglicism or Denglisch.
There has always been a certain amount of language borrowing and “cross-pollination” among world languages. Historically, both English and German have borrowed heavily from Greek, Latin, French, and other languages. English has German loan words such as angst, gemütlich, kindergarten, masochism, and schadenfreude, usually because there is no true English equivalent.
But in recent years, particularly following the Second World War, German has intensified its borrowings from English. As English has become the dominant world language for science and technology (areas that German itself once dominated) and business, German, more than any other European language, has adopted even more English vocabulary. Although some people object to this, most German-speakers do not. Unlike the French and Franglais, very few German-speakers seem to perceive the invasion of English as a threat to their own language. (Even in France, such objections seem to have done little to stop English words like le weekend from creeping into French.) True, there are several small language organizations in Germany that see themselves as guardians of the German language and try to wage war against English — with little success to date. English terms are perceived as trendy or “cool” in German (English “cool” is cool).
English Influences on German
But many well-educated Germans shudder at what they view as the “bad” influences of English in today’s German. Dramatic proof of this tendency can be seen in the popularity of Bastian Sick’s humorous bestselling book entitled Der Dativ ist dem Genitiv sein Tod (“the dative [case] will be the death of the genitive”). Sick’s 2004 bestseller (another English word used in German) points out the deterioration of the German language (“Sprachverfall”), caused in part by bad English influences. The success of the first book brought about two sequels: Folgen 2 und 3, Parts 2 and 3, “Neues/Noch mehr aus dem Irrgarten der deutschen Sprache” (“new things/even more from the German-language maze”).
Although not all of German’s problems can be blamed on Anglo-American influences, many of them can. It is in the areas of business and technology in particular that the invasion of English is most pervasive. A German business person may attend einen Workshop (der) or go to ein Meeting (das) where there’s eine Open-End-Diskussion about the company’s Performance (die). He or she reads Germany’s popular Manager-Magazin (das) in order to learn how to managen the Business (das). At their Job (der) many people work am Computer (der) and visit das Internet by going online.
While there are perfectly good German words for all of the “English” words above, they just aren’t “in” (as they say in German, or “Deutsch ist out.”). A rare exception is the German word for computer, der Rechner, which enjoys parity with der Computer (first invented by the German Conrad Zuse).
But other areas beside business and technology (advertising, entertainment, movies and television, pop music, teen slang, etc.) are also riddled with Denglisch and Neudeutsch. German-speakers listen to Rockmusik (die) on a CD (pronounced say-day) and watch movies on a DVD (day-fow-day).
Denglisch – The German language under attack?
Languages have always had to change. It is this that keeps them. New words have been and continue to be developed to allow for the expression of new concepts and ideas and cross-cultural interaction often results in the adoption of words from other languages. With modern transport and globalisation, this historically slow process has been rapidly accelerated. English is the lingua franca of the ‘Western’ World and its prevalence has presented some new challenges. This is very much the case in Germany, where the influx of English words, referred to as ‘Denglisch’ (a portmanteau of the German words ‘Deutsch’, meaning German and ‘Englisch’, meaning English), is a sensitive subject.
Some people argue that the use of English words in German, such as sale, meeting, company, lifestyle, etc is simply not necessary as there are already equivalents for these words in German (Schlussverkauf, Besprechung, Firma and Lebensstil respectively). Others argue that the use of such words gives a sense of international openness and that this is important for German business. English is also important to many young Germans who support international openness, but also feel that English words often allow themselves to more effectively express themselves. For these youths, English words just sound ‘cool’.
What about Germans who don’t have an understanding of English? Broadly speaking, younger Germans have at least some understanding of English words and they are regularly bombarded with English media, which they have been able to understand and to some extent assimilate. This is not the case for the older German generation. Their grasp of English is often very limited and the use of English words in retail and media leaves many feeling excluded and angry. So there is a generational divide, but it is important to note that younger generations have often used slang words which cannot be understood by the older generation and the whole point of this has been to create a kind of linguistic space which belongs to them and cannot be penetrated by older generations. This revolution also helps to keep languages alive – the invention of new concepts and the expression of new nuances should ultimately lead to the enrichment of a language. The difference here is that the lingustic generational divide is maintained not by young Germans revolting against the older generations, but by German businesses and government who wish to prosper in a globalised economy in which English is the dominant language. This can leave old people behind and many feel it will ultimately alienate younger Germans from their cultural and linguistic roots.
Another issue is that the Denglish phenomenon does not only involve the use of loan English words, but also to German interpretations of originally English words. These so-called pseudo-anglicisms often lead to confusion, particularly when it comes to translation. For example, the word Parking in German does not refer to the act of somebody parking a vehicle, but instead refers to a car park or place where someone would park a vehicle. Another example is the word Smoking – in German this has nothing to do with the action of smoking something, but instead means dinner jacket or tuxedo. These false friends can be problematic, but most reputable companies that provide translation services keep track of these words and can ensure there are no crossed wires – a relief to any German company hoping for success in any English-speaking market!
So what is to become of the German Language? It is spoken by over 120 million people worldwide, so is there really a chance it could, as some argue, become so flooded with English words that it will become no more than a mere dialect of English? This is the key question in the Denglisch debate, but the answer is not a simple one. English is likely to continue to dominate as the lingua franca and will continue to influence the German language. The amount of influence English will have, although currently heavily influenced by a globalised economy and both economic and political ambitions, will ultimately be decided by the people that speak German and use it to express themselves. Older people in Germany will for now have to put up with Denglish and can only try to ensure that the younger generations don’t forget their roots by promoting interest in German language and culture. If German can be enriched by some English words, it can only be a positive thing – as long as a healthy balance is maintained.
Angst In Germany Over Invasion Of American English
It seems hardly a sentence is spoken in Berlin that doesn’t have an American English word in it.
One word that especially grates — and I confess to a certain bias, having learned German as a toddler when it wasn’t so Americanized — is a word pronounced “sogh-ee.” Or, as Americans say it, “sorry.”
“Sogh-ee” your package is late.
“Sogh-ee” your hot water is off.
“Sogh-ee” we can’t help you.
Anatol Stefanowitsch, an English linguistics professor at the Free University of Berlin, says it makes sense that many German businesses have adopted that word.
“I mean, ‘sorry’ is quite a useful way of apologizing because it doesn’t commit you to very much. It’s very easy to say ‘sorry.’ The closest equivalent would be Entschuldigung, which is, ‘I apologize,’ ” Stefanowitsch says. “That’s really like admitting that you’ve done something wrong, whereas with saying ‘sorry,’ you could also just be expressing empathy: ‘I’m so sorry for you, but it has nothing to do with me.’ ”
“Sorry” is one of more than 10,000 American words Germans have borrowed since 1990. Language experts here say English is the main foreign language that has influenced German over the past six decades. This cultural infusion is pervasive, with English used by journalists, by scientists and even at the highest levels of government.
“Germany doesn’t really have a very purist attitude to language — unlike France, where you have an academy whose task it is to find French alternatives for borrowings; or if there is a new technology that needs to be named, then the academy will find a name,” Stefanowitsch says.
Even purely domestic enterprises like the German rail system are getting into the English game. Christian Renner, waiting at Berlin’s main station for a train home to Frankfurt, says it’s useful to know English words if you want to find a waiting area.
“I’m not sure if calling it a ‘lounge’ is better than using the German word ‘warteraum,’ ” Renner says. “I guess it’s more modern or hip.”
Also confusing to some German passengers is the word for the main ticket “center,” instead of the German word “zentrum.”
To some language experts, like Holger Klatte, the widespread Americanization of German is problematic. Klatte is the spokesman for the German Language Society, which has 36,000 members worldwide.
“Languages do tend to affect one another, but the influence of English in Germany is so strong that Germans are having a hard time advancing their own vocabulary,” he says.
Klatte says that can be a problem for Germans who may not know any English.
“The second world war and Nazi times have led Germans to downplay the importance of their language,” he says. “Unlike the French, Finns and Poles — they promote their languages a lot more than we do.”
Stefanowitsch believes this linguistic angst — a word that migrated from German to English — is overblown. He says a quarter of all German words are borrowed from other languages. That’s more than what’s found in Mandarin Chinese, but far less than the 40 to 80 percent seen in English, he says.
Plus Germans integrate the words they borrow — for example the suffix “-gate,” as in Watergate, which was voted last year’s Anglicism of the year in Germany. Stefanowitsch says it has been used, among other things, to describe the NSA spying scandal on the German chancellor as “Merkel-gate.”
“Borrowing doesn’t mean that a language loses its vitality. It’s an addition of creativity. No language has ever disappeared because it borrowed words,” Stefanowitsch says.
But he says there are pitfalls to overdoing Americanized German.
Take, for example, the word “handy,” which is what Germans call their cellphones. Stefanowitsch says people here assume it’s an English word, and it may have come from the word “handheld” to distinguish it from car phones when cellular technology was relatively new.
He says the danger to such made-up words is that Germans could end up using them when trying to speak actual English.
Mind your language: German linguists oppose influx of English words
It is the mother tongue of Goethe, Schiller and Brecht, a language still spoken by more than 100 million people worldwide. But an increasing number of linguists now fear German is under mortal danger from a torrent of anglicisms flooding into the nation’s vocabulary.
The German Language Association (Verein Deutsche Sprache, or VDS) fears that German could become a “peripheral” language if steps are not taken to protect it from foreign invasions.
Each month the VDS updates its Anglicism Index, which reports new English words which have crept into common parlance and then suggests home grown alternatives. The latest entries include “follower”, “live-stream” and “socializing” which ought really, it says, be “Anhänger”, “Direkt-Datenstrom” and “Geselligkeit”. Other unwelcome new additions are classic examples of the mongrel known as “Denglisch” – “business breakfast” and “eye catcher”, neither of which are used by native English speakers.
“German has been losing its importance for 100 years,” said Holger Klatte, spokesman of the VDS. “Particularly in the areas of technology, medicine, the internet and the economy, English is becoming ever more important. There are not enough new German words being invented, and many people are shut out of the conversation because they can’t understand it.”
He warned: “The German language is not only losing its influence but will also at some point become a peripheral language.”
Germany is classed as one of the world’s major languages, and is the most widely spoken first language in Europe. The VDS has more than 33,000 paying members and is growing.
There are certain situations nowadays where it is “nigh on impossible” to speak German in Germany, said Klatte – “for example if you work in marketing, there just isn’t the vocabulary”. The German word for marketing, incidentally, is das Marketing.
Klatte’s own pet hate, he said, was seeing shops displaying signs promising “further reductions” – “there is no need at all for them to use the English in that situation”.
The VDS would like to see Germany follow France’s example and do more to protect and nurture the language. German public radio should be obliged to play a higher percentage of German-language music, said Klatte, and the government should introduce a law forcing manufacturers to include German information on product labels.
“We have a special responsibility to protect our language because it is a language of particular cultural importance,” he said. “Our language is our expression of our culture and we have a duty to nurture it and ensure its future development.”
Not everyone in Germany sees English as a threat. In the south-western spa town of Wiesbaden, the VDS’s rival, the Society for the German Language (Gesellschaft für deutsche Sprache) is of the firm belief that German is not at risk of marginalisation, even less, extinction.
“Contrary to common belief, only 1%-3% of the average German’s vocabulary of 5,000 words is made up of anglicisms,” said Andrea-Eva Ewels, the society’s managing director. “We don’t see English as the enemy. We’re of the opinion that English can enrich our language, just as many other languages, for example French and Latin, have influenced German over history.”
But she admitted that many Germans were unhappy with the anglicisation of their mother tongue. “We did a survey in 2008 and 39% of respondents said they did not like anglicisms,” she said. Interestingly, Germans in the east were more unhappy with the anglicisation of their language – 46% objected compared with 37% in the west.
Despite the onslaught of English, some attempts are being made to stem the tide. In January, Siemens announced it would use fewer anglicisms in future. The VDS has noisily criticised the company for years, complaining last year that there was no need for them to refer to “renewable energy” when “erneuerbare Energie” would do just as well, ditto “Smart Grids” (intelligente Stromnetze) and “Healthcare” (Medizintechnik).
Last year Germany’s transport minister, Peter Ramsauer, banned his staff from using a string of anglicisms, including “Laptops”, “Tickets” and “Flip-charts”.
Sprechen Sie Denglish? Germans hit at English invasion
The German language is under threat. That’s the view of Angela Merkel’s ruling Christian Democrats party, which wants to change the country’s constitution to include German as the national language.
Although some interpreted the centre-right CDU’s move as an attack on Germany’s Turkish minority, it seems the invasion of English provided a more likely impetus. The debate is an on-going one. For years German linguists have despaired at the flood of incoming English words and the mixing of the two languages which has become known as ‘Denglish’; ’shoppen’, ‘chatten’ and ‘babysitten’ have become the norm.
The CDU’s call to make the German language an official part of the constitution at its party congress last month has added fresh fuel to the debate. Although the motion passed easily into CDU official policy, Angela Merkel, head of the party and Germany’s chancellor, was firmly against it: “I personally don’t find it good to write everything into the constitution”, she told German television channel RTL.
Professor Ludwig Eichinger of the Institute for German Language, who spoke on Germany’s place in a globalised world at a conference on foreign policy this week, is relaxed about the debate: “Words come in and out of fashion all the time and I don’t think that anybody is questioning that Germans speak German. It wouldn’t hurt to have something like that written into the constitution, but then again I don’t think that’s a strong enough argument in its favour.”
But many German language critics would welcome the move. While they say they have no problem with the natural absorption of English vocabulary in the same way as Latin or French words have been absorbed over centuries, they object to the exaggerated way in which English has been embraced in all areas of public life.
“It causes a problem in that whole areas migrate into English, for example on the stock exchanges, in the field of computing and within some companies,” says Holger Klatte, director of the Association for the German Language (Verein für Deutsche Sprache). “It’s not just whole sections of the population who can’t speak English who are then shut out, it means that in those areas hardly any new German phrases develop, that German is overtaken and loses further standing.”
The Federation of German Consumer Organisations specifically attacked advertisers at a recent debate, pointing to the use of English or Denglish advertising slogans which many consumers fail to understand. One of the most quoted is “Come in and find out”, used by the cosmetics chain Douglas, and interpreted by many Germans as “come in and find the exit”.
Wolf Schneider, the country’s foremost language critic, supports the idea of a constitutional change: “Yes the German language is under threat – if advertising language and business jargon continue to develop as they do, if German politicians and journalists in Brussels would rather speak bad English than good German, if German academics try to understand each other using bad English.”
But a change to the constitution may take a while in coming. No further discussions within the party or in parliament have been scheduled and the Social Democrats and Greens are opposed – any law would need a two thirds majority in parliament.
Wise Guys – Denglish