Achtung, Germans: Denglisch is here to stay

It is known as Denglisch, a hybrid of Deutsch and English, and cultural purists say it is an insult to the language of Goethe and should be purged from the vocabulary.

Denglisch has spread steadily as Germans adopted United States phrases in business, advertising, technology, and everyday speech.

“Brainstorm” has become as common a word in German as “surfen,” “chatten”, and “shoppen” (for surfing, chatting and shopping).

In Frankfurt, Germany’s financial capital, “uptick” and “downturn” are familiar terms and posters listing evening entertainment are headlined “city nacht (for night).

In Berlin, a satirical theatre calls itself quatschcomedyclub (quatsch means nonsense) and visitors to the foreign ministry can relax at “The Coffee Shop im Auswaertigen Amt.”

“We are colonising ourselves, voluntarily,” complained the German Language Association, a 26 000-strong private group of self-appointed language guardians who want legal protection for the language.

The association has introduced an award for “language adulterer of the year” to shame public figures whom it deems guilty of showing insufficient respect for German.

The leading candidate for this year’s prize, to be announced in late-August, is Guenther Oettinger, premier of the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg.

His offence? Saying Germany should adopt English as its working language and use German at home and on holiday.
The association called him a “language lackey”.

Most Germans shrug off Denglisch and the linguistic invasion of their language as an inevitable consequence of globalisation.

But several influential conservative politicians are now campaigning for a law to protect German. A similar campaign, modelled on legislation in France, failed five years ago.

How far does your mother tongue take you?

The renewed effort is led by Erika Steinbach, a member of Parliament for the Christian Democratic Union, partners in the ruling government coalition.

She says 30% of Germans speak no English at all but are ashamed to admit it.

“How far does your mother tongue take you in your own country?” she asks on her website. Her answer: not very far.

“Without English and Denglisch, you are pretty helpless in German everyday life.”

Judging from attempts elsewhere to legislate the use of a national language, both English and Denglisch are in Germany to stay.

In 1994, France passed a law meant to suppress Franglais, Denglisch’s French cousin. The legislation banned the use of foreign words in work contracts, public announcements, advertising and on radio and television.

It said foreign words would have to be replaced by words approved by the Academie Francaise, which serves as watchdog for the French language.

The law had little effect on the use of such words as “le weekend” or “le T-shirt”—denounced as language contaminants by purists.

Americanisms proved similarly resistant to legislation in Poland, where young people embraced English after the collapse of communism and decades of obligatory Russian studies.

There are no signs that the growing dominance of English around the world—according to one estimate, almost a third of the world’s population has some knowledge of English—has been affected by growing anti-Americanism in many countries.

Experts say linguistic dominance is largely a function of power.

“A language becomes an international language for one chief reason—the political power of its people—especially their military power,” said British linguist David Crystal, whose book English as a Global Language is considered a landmark study.

But the speed and breadth of a language’s universal adoption may also be linked to how difficult or easy it is to learn.

Mark Twain, in an essay entitled The Awful German Language, quipped that “a gifted person ought to learn English ... in 30 hours, French in 30 days, and German in 30 years”.

What next? Globish?

For those in search of shortcuts, there are rival proposals from India and France for simplified versions of English called Globish.

The Indian version, designed by retired engineer Madhukar Gogate, provides simplified spelling and pronunciation to make learning easier for people unfamiliar with Roman script.

The other Globish is being promoted by a retired IBM executive with a flair for publicity, Jean-Paul Nerriere, whose French-language website touts his book Don’t Speak English, parlez Globish.

He proposes a 1 500-word version of English with elementary syntax as “the planetary dialect of the third millennium and integrated solution to the problem of international communication”.

The idea mirrors the Basic English developed in the 1930s by British linguist Charles Kay Ogden. It has a vocabulary of 850 words and was hailed as an instrument for world peace after the end of World War II.

Legend has it that one of its most prominent advocates, Winston Churchill, withdrew his support after learning that Basic English renders “blood, toil, tears and sweat” into “blood, hard work, eyewash and body water.” ‒ Reuters

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