Occasional musings, Geistesblitze, photos, drawings etc. by a "resident alien", who has landed on American soil from a far-away planet called "Germany".

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The English invasion

The Liebeskummer thread drifted at the end into comments by me on the avalanche of English words currently hitting German. I think this topic deserves a thread in its own right, and I moved the comment I made there to the no. 1 spot here.


Ulrich said...

I have a page open from the website of a German newspaper, the respected Rheinische Post published in Düsseldorf. It has some nice illustrations of the phenomenon we're discussing here (collected from a single page!):

"pre-paid Telefonkarte" (pre-paid phone card)
"last-minute Treffer" (last-minute goal)
"Werden Sie zum Top-Manager" (become a top manager)
"kostenlose Online-Games" (free online games)
"Showdown im Kanzleamt" (showdown in the Chancellery; i.e. Merkel's office)
"günstiger surfen" (surf more advantageously)
"verlinken Sie auf diesen Artikel" (cross-link this article)

The verbs "surfen" and "verlinken" illustrate how English verbs are being used as roots that receive suffixes according to the rules of German conjugation; e.g.

ich surfe, du surfst, er/sie/es surft, wir surfen, ihr surft, sie surfen (I surf, you surf, he/she/it surfs, we surf, you (plural) surf, they (or "you" in a formal address) surf) and so on to other tenses and the passive voice...

..and "verlinken" is formed by adding the German prefix "ver" to the Germanized English verb "linken"!

Furthermore, the English roots maintain, to some degree, their English pronunciatuion; e.g. "surfen" is pronounced as it were spelled, in German, "sörfen".

I find this hilarious, but the language police is in total uproar about the situation, calling this mixture of two languages Kauderwelsch--another candidate for a future word of the month b/c of its expressiveness...

Ulrich said...

Correction: The last sentence in the penultimate paragraph above should read 'e.g. "surfen" is pronounced as if it were spelled, in German, "sörfen".'

Heika said...

Hi Ulrich, I laughed at your post. Why do you think the Germans are so willing to incorporate English into the language when the French are much less so? I understand that some people are up in arms over the English additions, but it seems that the general public in Germany is not listening.

Although I don't know how true it is, I have read that the French are much more protective of their language and less willing to incorporate barbaric, from their point of view, intruders, an attitude I find kind of dumb, given the fluid nature of language, but the Germans apparently are not. Any ideas as to whence the difference or if one really exists.
Can we have more examples? Surfen was the best I think.

Ulrich said...

@Heika: I have no explanation for the differences in the way in which the French and the Germans view foreign words that enter the language--I believe the French have, in fact, some watchdog group charged with preserving the 'purity' of the language, but I do not know any details.

In Germany, as far as I can make out from here, protests are very much restricted to individuals, some of whom are very vocal, though, e.g. on blogs. I'm in principle not receptive to their claims--they appear to come from the same kind people who insist, here in the US, e.g. that infinitives not be split. For them, 'correct' grammar appears to be an important ingredient of their self-esteem, i.e. it shows that they do not belong to the riff-raff. Their cause is, of course, doomed to failure b/c, as you say, language is fluid and ever-evolving.

The biggest reason why I'm so sanguine about the situation in Germany is my experience with an author like Chaucer: If I read him in the original, his language does not look like English to me, but like a mixture of French and German. Only a few centuries later, we have Shakespeare, in whose work the two languages are completely integrated and provide him with an exceptionally rich vocabulary.

My guess is that something like that is going to happen to German--an indication is given by my observations about the way English verbs are already being adapted to German conjugation rules.

As to examples: I'll keep my eyes open and will report if I find something...

Ulrich said...

Headline just seen on another newspaper website:

"Vier Teenie-Schüler stecken Schule an" (4 Teenie Students Set School on Fire)

It also occurs to me that the Germanized English verb "flirten" (to flirt) was already in use when I was a teenie.

ArtLvr said...

Wunderbar, Ulrich! Love the examples you gave. I haven't current examples from the French, but the traditional ban on "Franglais" has been in a losing battle for quite a while. Any younger generation is always "pushing the envelope", because it's hip!

Ulrich said...

Here's another oddity: When the Germans needed a name for "cell phone", they chose "handy"; i.e. they coined a non-existing (in this particular sense) English term, rather than coming up with a German name. This was done deliberately by manufacturers--it was not the result of something that emerged from popular speech.

BTW Google's translation service tells me that the French call a cell phone "cell phone"--point for the Germans when it comes to originality!

Ulrich said...

Another correction: Google tricked me--acc. to another online translator, "cell phone" is "téléphone cellulaire" in French--makes much more sense.

Ulrich said...

A friend (who didn't know about this thread) sent me the following Weihnachtsgedicht ("Christmas poem"), which illustrates the present topic in a playful way. I'm copying it for readers who have enough German to get the gist of it.

A little Weihnachtsgedicht

When the snow falls wunderbar,
and the children happy are.
When the Glatteis on the street,
and we all a Glühwein need.
Then you know, es ist soweit.
she is here, the Weihnachtszeit.

Every Parkhaus is besetzt,
weil die people fahren jetzt.
All to Kaufhof, Mediamarkt,
kriegen nearly Herzinfarkt.
Shopping hirnverbrannte things,
and the Christmasglocke rings.

Mother in the kitchen bakes,
Schoko-, Nuss- and Mandelkeks.
Daddy in the Nebenraum,
schmücks a Riesen-Weihnachtsbaum.
He is hanging off the balls,
then he from the Leiter falls.

Finaly the Kinderlein,
to the Zimmer kommen rein.
And it sings the family
schauerlich: "Oh, Chistmastree!"
And then jeder in the house,
is packing the Geschenke aus.

Mama finds unter the Tanne,
eine brandnew Teflon-Pfanne.
Papa gets a Schlips and Socken,
everybody does frohlocken.
President speaks in TV,
all around is Harmonie.
Bis mother in the kitchen runs,
im Ofen burns the Weihnachtsgans.
And so comes die Feuerwehr,
with Tatü, tata daher.
And they bring a long, long Schlauch,
and a long, long Leiter auch.
And they schrei mal - "Wasser

Christmas is now in the Arsch ..

mac said...

@Ulrich: that rhyme is a riot! It reminds me of a mixed Dutch/English booklet my father had. It also reminds me of my Sinterklaasrijm effort the beginning of December! I pride myself in being pretty good at it, but it has gotten harder, because the rhyming English words come so much easier.....

Ulrich said...

@mac: The same friend wrote that the Germans have a word for it: Denglisch. Apparently, entire websites are dedicated to it--haven't had the time yet to look for them yet, though.

Esther said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ulrich said...

In case anybody wonders about me exercising censorship: I did not really delete anything, just moved a comment to a different thread--I wish Blogger would allow me to handle this with more grace...