Tag Archives: kettle of fish

Denglish

There was an interesting article in the German newspaper just the other day titled Effekthascherei mit “Denglish” (translation: Denglish for effect snatching). Denglish refers to the sprinkling of English words in German sentences. Conversely, Germisch is when English speakers pepper their sentences with German words. For example, a friend of mine from South Africa, who has lived in Germany longer than me, once said the following: “I bought new pillows last week. They are so nice because you can really stuff them in die Eck” (sic). Many German households prefer feather pillows that often become flattened over time. So she was thrilled with the fresh new feathers that can be bunched up to support her head. Anyway, when bilingual speakers mix languages, linguists refer to this behaviour as “code-switching”. You may find this silly, but it is reality for many who speak more than one language at home. Sometimes it is easier to just borrow words from one language while speaking the other. Normally this is done among others who share the same language, of course. I can tell you from my own experience that during the first week of any visit in the US, I feel as if my hands have been tied behind my back simply because the option of code-switching mid-sentence is not possible.

The use of Denglish here in Germany is, however, a completely different kettle of fish. It appears that businesses find English words to name products and services  more interesting than German equivalents. In response to this trend, a concerned group of people founded an organization called Vereign Deutsche Sprache (VDS) with the aim of keeping the German language “pure”. It is in a way, a Societé Francaise, á la Deutschland. The organization has 35,000 members worldwide, half of whom live in Germany. The members claim having nothing against the English language, they just do not care for Denglish.

According to this group, over 7000 English words have been integrated into the German language. As a result, there are words that have no German equivalent, e.g., clown and steak to name a couple of examples. However, VDS points out that many of the English words that are used, have, in fact, German equivalents. Moreover, they find it difficult to accept that businesses prefer to use words such as slow motion, Mid Season Sales (sic), and Outdoor Kleidung when there are German words for the same thing.

The increased use of English terms also leads to crazy new usages that native speakers of English would find difficult to understand. For example, in 2006 Germany was the Soccer World Cup host. At that time, an exciting new trend of watching a game on large screens set up in city centers or plazas caught on and became known as Public Viewing. Now, 6 years later, it is normal to hear people ask if they are going to watch a game at a Public Viewing. Germans have only recently become aware that in the USA this term refers to corpse identification at the city morgue. Then there is Handy for cell phone. Well, I guess it is handy to have, but as a native speaker of American English, it seems strange to use an adjective to name an object. Another crazy term is the Bodybag for messenger bag. Germans are usually surprised when they find out that body bag refers to the bags used to transport a corpse to the morgue. But because these usages are now accepted, thus “normal” to German ears, they have found their place in the language and the German online dictionary “Leo”.

Not only are English nouns readily accepted and used, verbs are also heard in German conjugation. How about this: ich cancele; du chillst; er updatet; wir outsourcen (I cancel, you chill, he updates, we outsource, respectively). It is also quite common to hear Germans say “sorry” instead of es tut mir Leid or Entschuldigung.

We can see why members of the VDS are afraid that their language will lose itself in English. German is the language of science and philosophy. Goethe, Kant and other great writers wrote great works of literature that have influenced the world. Not to mention the German belief that their language is more logical and expressive than other languages. These fears are therefore understandable. Perhaps, one day, German speakers may experience a linguistic backlash in which English terms are no longer considered necessary. We’ll have to wait and see how things develop.

On a cultural note, Germans do tend to take a dark view of any sort of trend or human folly. Discussions of all the bad things that could happen as a result seem to me to be a form of sport or entertainment. In the meantime, bleiben wir doch cool.

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