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Denglis(c)h (oder Vergangenheitscopierung) December 2, 2005

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.

Via PooterGeek, a lovely and light (and old) piece in the New York Times about Denglish, or the creep of English words into German, especially in the sphere of advertising. This is something I’ve often mused on myself and, especially where some of the more complicated English logos are concerned, I’ve thought, “Hm, surely only about 50% of Germans are going to understand that.” Maybe that’s half the appeal, of course. Having something advertised in English adds instant kudos. Instead of a dank December afternoon in East Berlin, you can imagine you’re somewhere like… some posh place in the US (can’t think of a good example), pumping iron on the beach, having lunch with Madonna (if she’s visiting from her Wiltshire estate) and being generally glamorous. I’m not sure I agree with Mr. Bernstein that this need necessarily be about snappiness, and because English words tend to be shorter than their German counterparts. I don’t think Germans say sorry rather than Entschuldigung because sorry is shorter. It’s just come in, and is a complement to the original.

But it’s an odd phenomenon, this. Obviously English words are heard all over Europe (and elsewhere) because of American TV and films and it’s not surprising that some of these words should catch on. (I sometimes think my Danish friends know more American slang than I do.) American English IS punchy and snappy and, often, straightforwardly fun. (I know this is sacrilege coming from an Englander. Don’t worry. I still love English English too.) (Don’t know about that Welsh stuff though.) (Joke.) And some words are so obviously international that you’re not going to bother localising them. The internet and all its minion words are a good example. This battle is fought and won to different degrees around Europe. The most famous case being the French, I suppose, who, with varying success, invent French equivalents for English borrowings. Some stick, some don’t. The Icelandic do the same, with almost complete success, I’m told. And so do the possessors of the world’s most beautiful language – as anyone with a brain, an ounce of taste and functional ears will agree – the Finns. (Might have to do a separate ode to Finnish another time.) (Snippet to set your ears/eyes a-tingle: Yöllä lyön höyhentyynyäni, which means, as nobody will be surprised to learn, “At night I beat myself with a feather pillow.”)

So why are Germans more happy to have English pepper their ads than their French, Icelandic or Finnish counterparts? Partly, I think, it’s keeping up with the Joneses. The Swedes, Danes, Norwegians and Dutch have English all over the shop, and don’t dub, and are better English-speakers than the Germans as a result. This gives the Germans cockshrink. But I also have another sneaky suspicion – sorry, boring theory – that there is still a good dollop of self-flagellation in this. Why use an English word when a German one will do just as well? Well, precisely because it isn’t German, and Germans, for all their Vergangenheitsbewältigung and in spite the fact that Germany is now a pretty bog-standard European country, are still haunted by everything that Germanness (rightly or wrongly – I happen to think wrongly, mostly) connotes.



1. BerlinBear - December 6, 2005

Ooooh, I do like the look of your blog. So glad you found me, so that I could find you. You’ve been blogrolled and I shall be back, not least to comment in detail on this post, which, as it happens, is the topic I’m doing my doctorate on. Give me a couple of days and I’ll be back to share something, be it wisdom or otherwise.

2. Broke in Berlin - December 9, 2005

Thank you for finding me! Look forward to hearing your wisdom…

3. Blonde at Heart - August 30, 2006

No wisdom from the Bear, huh?

Some English creeped into Hebrew as well. In high school I had a communist teacher and instead of teaching us history he gave us an hour-long lecture about the importance of the Hebrew language. In the rest of the time we studied communism. That was a good year.

4. BiB - August 30, 2006

Inspiring teachers are an awfully good thing. I don’t think I had many at ordinary school. University was better, although language teachers can only inspire with their linguistic knowledge, which isn’t as sexy, to me, as philosophical inspiration.

Hebrew’s an interesting case. I wonder if lots of linguists study it. Reviving a language that had died. And now it’s just an ordinary language again. Does this mean any modern Israeli can read ancient Hebrew texts and there is hardly any difference between the language of those days and today? Fascinating! (Like Icelandic sagas.)–>

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