Is English Threatening German?

Is the German language in danger? According to The Guardian, some German linguists think so.  Apparently English, German’s bigger brother, is encroaching on its sibling’s turf.

The problem is especially notable when it comes to technology – English is coining new buzzwords like “follower” and “livestream” and exporting them at an astounding rate, so quickly that the English versions catch on before German translations can gain traction.

The German Language Association, or VDS, has been trying their hardest to play catch up. This month, for example, they suggested that Germans say”Anhänger”instead of “follower”, “Direkt-Datenstrom” instead of “livestream” and “Geselligkeit” instead of “socializing.”

But VDS spokesman Holger Klatte told the Guardian that their efforts simply aren’t having enough of an impact:

“German has been losing its importance for 100 years. 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.”

It’s not just shiny new internet terms, either. “Marketing,” a field that has been around for decades, is translated as “das marketing.”

The VDS wants the German government to issue French-style protections for the language, but it should be noted that the French system is often seen as too slow in coming up with new equivalents for the latest buzzwords, as well.

Also, not everyone sees the German language as being under siege. Andrea-Eva Ewels, the managing director of the  Society for the German Language, told the Guardian that while a significant minority of Germans were admittedly unhappy with the number of English loanwords that have been popping up recently, the situation isn’t as dire as it seems:

“Contrary to common belief, only 1%-3% of the average German’s vocabulary of 5,000 words is made up of anglicisms. 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.”

7 replies
  1. Macsen
    Macsen says:

    English doesn’t ‘enrich’ the language German language in this way because by definition it is saying that one language doesn’t have a word which another language does.

    This is typical left wing post modern lie. When a language uses a word from another language then the implication is that the speaker is saying to the other speaker that he ‘knows’ that his language is deficient and wants to show he’s on the side of the stronger language.

    There is certainly an argument that there is no need to translate every word into German (or any other language) but there are some concepts which are in no way unique and which are not unique to an English thought process for which German words could be used. The instances of say “Anhänger”instead of “follower”, “Direkt-Datenstrom” instead of “livestream” and “Geselligkeit” instead of “socializing” are certainly ones which could be used for instance. Why ‘home’ rather than ‘heim’ or some other simple word. Welsh uses ‘hafan’ (lit. haven) for ‘home’ for instance.

    The implication given as in pop songs sung in English by German bands, is that German is a language for kinder, kuechen und kirchen and defined areas of life. But it’s not a language for the modern age.

    As a Welsh-speaker I know the end game for this mentality and it’s language death.

    German is in a far stronger position than Welsh, but it seems that German is ‘minoritising’ ( ) its own language and it’s only a matter of time before it then could be a minority language.

    • Culhwch - neu Olwen?
      Culhwch - neu Olwen? says:

      Don’t know if you’ll get to see this, Macsen, but I totally agree with you. I live in Finland and it’s heartbreaking to see so much English everywhere. You get the impression that Finnish people despise their own language. The sad thing is that the Finns think they’re being clever and ‘cool’ – actually it’s just ‘naff’ – exactly as you say in another post. Very worryingly, I often hear young Finns talking to each other in ‘English’ and young parents talking to their children in ‘English’. I have warned people that there really should be alarm bells ringing, but they don’t believe me when I tell them that they are in danger of destroying their language. They just repeat things like ‘but everyone can speak Finnish’. This may well be true but matters not a jot. The only thing that matters is what language young people CHOSE to speak – and it’s not Finnish. Language carries culture. Once they lose the Finnish language – and that WILL happen sooner than they think – their culture will also disappear. Suomi, alas, will be no more, just Finland.

  2. Robb
    Robb says:

    Actually, it’s ‘das Marketing’. German still capitalizes its nouns, even if they’re foreign words. The German equivalent, ‘Vermarktung’, has a slightly different connotation and is in parallel use. In this way, foreign words in German *do* enrich the German language just as foreign words in English enrich the English language. Hotels, hostels, hostelries, hospices and hospitals (or hosps or spitals) are all buildings for more or less different purposes (they ‘host’ people for some reason or other), but the words for them are all based on the same root. They came to English from different languages and/or at different times in history. Nobody is worried about English dying because of this. On the contrary, this is one of the main things that makes English so strong and resilient.

  3. Macsen
    Macsen says:

    Mark – I take your point and agree with it to a large extent. I think the best example of the English language ‘enriching’ German is the German/English word ‘handy’ for a mobile phone (I forget the gender sorry). It’s a way the German language has adapted the word.

    However, there is one big difference in that English is a monolingual language if I can use such a clumsy term. That is, native English speakers very very rarely speak another language. The situation in German is that German is slowly becoming a minoritiesed language within some spheres of German life – pop music, high finance maybe, computing. It’s a fine line then of words adding to the lexicon of German and subsituting words or concepts.

    The use of English words also looks naff to English speakers. We have this issue in Welsh. It implies to the English speaker that German is insufficient in itself to have words for quite simple concepts like Marketing and can’t adapt existing words or Germanise foreign words into its lexicon. English-speakers don’t think it’s enriching German they just think German must be a crap language if it doesn’t have a word for ‘home’ or ‘marketing’. It doesn’t even, as Welsh does, adapt English words to Welsh orthography and pronounciation e.g. jîns for jeans.

    I’m not sure if an official body can change this. Maybe it can to some extent by making sure that terms are used in government sponsored sites and institutions. But maybe what’s needed (if one feels the need that is) is that German speakers take pride in their language and be playful with it too. It’s fun adapting new words for new concepts … after all that’s what happened when the English words were invented for these new ideas.

  4. Rachael
    Rachael says:

    As an English speaker living in Germany, I can recommend the following article (in German) by Jürgen Trabant “Die Maulhelden einer sprachlichen Revolution: Nicht durch Dielekte ist das Hochdeutsche gefährdet, sondern durch das Englische” in the Süddeutsche Zeitung (Sat. Nov 13, 2010). It basically argues that it might be relevant to consider English as an emerging substitute for a dialect. I do think that is a pity, but language use is dynamic as well as embodying the aspirations of her speakers.
    As one who is developing an appreciation for German, I have some suggestions for new words, such as “Feinheiterkeit” a delight in minute details, or say “Scherzhaftung” punishment for a poor joke…


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