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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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The way Americans really speak English

During our most recent trip to the US we decided to go on a cruise. On the ship, I’d estimate that more than ¾ of the passengers were from the United States which gave me a great opportunity to listen to the way Americans speak English. It is during these visits that I am reminded of how much of what we teach oversees differs from colloquial usage. In fact most of what I hear tends to be colloquial. With this in mind, I started keeping a list of interesting Americanisms I encountered on this cruise. In this contribution, I present such expressions and define them for my German readers.

Now, anyone who has ever been on a cruise will know that there are a lot of people whose main purpose of booking such a trip is to eat. I have watched people eat more food in 1 day than I do in 10! So, it makes sense that I would hear the expression “scarf down” on a regular basis. To” scarf down” refers to eating, but in a quick and complete way. The German expression would be “fressen”. For those of you who don’t speak German, there are two words that translate “to eat”: “essen” and “fressen”. While “essen” is used for people, “fressen” is for animals. Native speakers, imagine what the unsuspecting German interprets when they hear someone say: “Boy, the burgers were scarfed down in no time”. Or, “you better get to the shrimp before it’s all scarfed down”.

I went to a presentation about Geomythology in which Bruce Blackerby, PhD, professor of geology, talked about how old myths such as Jason and the Golden Fleece have their source in explaining geological phenomena. Since we were on our way to Hawaii, Bruce gave a series of talks about volcanos. During his lectures, Bruce used a number of great idiomatic expressions. While telling the story of Jason, he said that this character was actually a “wimp” who relied on the help of Medea, a sorceress, who knew how to deal with the dragon guarding the golden fleece. Like Hollywood films, the two fell in love, but when Jason took Medea back to Greece with him, he turned out to be a “heel”, who “dumped” her for some other “cupcake”. So the wimp is a “Weichei”, or weak and ineffective – not a man. Not only that, he was a “heel”, or insincere in his feelings for Medea because he “dumped her”, or left her. To dump something or someone has the connotation of throwing objects in the rubbish, or as we Americans would say, “trash”. In addition, dumping is rough, as when no caution is shown to how the object lands. Finally, Bruce used the expression “cupcake”, which refers to a pretty, young woman. For the benefit of my German readers, a cupcake is a “muffin”.

The most interesting part of Dr Blackerby’s presentation is how he used language. As a professor, he is used to lecturing in an academic code. This means he uses vocabulary rich in Latin and Greek derivatives, and he explains terms in a clear style. But he also peppered his language with colloquialisms, usually after he made an important point. So, his comment about Jason being a heel and dumping Medea for a Greek cupcake was used to summarize his story: a style used quite often in the US. It is a way to establish a positive relationship between the speaker and audience. These comments are funny and able to show that he, the professor, is “down-to-earth” and not lacking in humor.

Other interesting expressions that were used during this talk were:
Acting up”: behaving in an unexpected and inappropriate manner. Such as when children are not behaving properly. For example: “The children started acting up when the adults left the room”

Keep a watch”: to exclusively watch something and nothing else. For example: “We kept watching for our friends to come through the door” (because we didn’t want to miss them).

Wiped out”: destroyed. For Example: “The volcano eruption wiped out the city of Atlantis and its people”. The explanation relates to the Bruce’s talk, but is should be known that it is an idiomatic   expression used for a variety of meanings, such as when you are very tired as in “Yesterday wiped me out”.

During a ukulele lesson (yes, I learned the rudimentaries of this Hawaiian instrument while on board), I heard a man say “pertinear” and means “pretty near”. He said: “A werkt pertinear 30 years on’er train” (I worked for pretty near to 30 years on a train”)  I haven’t heard that since I was a child visiting my grandparents in Arkansas! This man’s southeastern accent was so strong it fascinated me simply because it is falling out of use. Some suggest that TV is responsible for regional accents to flatten out.

How about this one: “How j’ya like summore?” This is the running together of “How-would-you-like- some-more? Or “Whad’ya gonna do layder?” You can always quickly identify a student who has spent a lot of time with American speakers of English when they write “going to” as “gonna”. Some actually think this is the correct spelling!

After a month spent in the US I feel my American is polished up. One thing is certain: am gonna ‘aveta think’bout howta teach is’stuff n’Germinee.


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