Denglisch - The German language under attack?
by Edward Langley
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
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
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.