Angst In Germany Over Invasion Of American English
4 min 22 sec
It seems hardly a sentence is spoken in Berlin that doesn't have an American English word in it.
word that especially grates — and I confess to a certain bias, having
learned German as a toddler when it wasn't so Americanized — is a word
pronounced "sogh-ee." Or, as Americans say it, "sorry."
"Sogh-ee" your package is late.
"Sogh-ee" your hot water is off.
"Sogh-ee" we can't help you.
More American English Words Germany Has Borrowed
Baby — to refer to an infant
Campen — to camp
Downloaden — as to download on a computer
Party — as in a festivity
Seifenoper — literally translated means soap opera
Team — as in a sports team
Wellness — to refer to a spa
Anatol Stefanowitsch, an English linguistics professor at the Free
University of Berlin, says it makes sense that many German businesses
have adopted that word. "I mean, 'sorry' is quite a useful way
of apologizing because it doesn't commit you to very much. It's very
easy to say 'sorry.' The closest equivalent would be Entschuldigung,
which is, 'I apologize,' " Stefanowitsch says. "That's really like
admitting that you've done something wrong, whereas with saying 'sorry,'
you could also just be expressing empathy: 'I'm so sorry for you, but
it has nothing to do with me.' "
"Sorry" is one of more than
10,000 American words Germans have borrowed since 1990. Language experts
here say English is the main foreign language that has influenced
German over the past six decades. This cultural infusion is pervasive,
with English used by journalists, by scientists and even at the highest
levels of government.
"Germany doesn't really have a very
purist attitude to language — unlike France, where you have an academy
whose task it is to find French alternatives for borrowings; or if there
is a new technology that needs to be named, then the academy will find a
name," Stefanowitsch says.
Even purely domestic enterprises like the German rail system are
getting into the English game. Christian Renner, waiting at Berlin's
main station for a train home to Frankfurt, says it's useful to know
English words if you want to find a waiting area.
"I'm not sure if calling it a 'lounge' is better than using the German word 'warteraum,' "Renner says. "I guess it's more modern or hip."
Also confusing to some German passengers is the word for the main ticket "center," instead of the German word "zentrum."
some language experts, like Holger Klatte, the widespread
Americanization of German is problematic. Klatte is the spokesman for
the German Language Society, which has 36,000 members worldwide.
second world war and Nazi times have led Germans to downplay the
importance of their language," he says. "Unlike the French, Finns and
Poles — they promote their languages a lot more than we do."
believes this linguistic angst — a word that migrated from German to
English — is overblown. He says a quarter of all German words are
borrowed from other languages. That's more than what's found in Mandarin
Chinese, but far less than the 40 to 80 percent seen in English, he
Plus Germans integrate the words they borrow — for
example the suffix "-gate," as in Watergate, which was voted last year's
Anglicism of the year in Germany. Stefanowitsch says it has been used,
among other things, to describe the NSA spying scandal on the German
chancellor as "Merkel-gate."
"Borrowing doesn't mean that a
language loses its vitality. It's an addition of creativity. No language
has ever disappeared because it borrowed words," Stefanowitsch says.
But he says there are pitfalls to overdoing Americanized German. Take,
for example, the word "handy," which is what Germans call their
cellphones. Stefanowitsch says people here assume it's an English word,
and it may have come from the word "handheld" to distinguish it from car
phones when cellular technology was relatively new.
He says the danger to such made-up words is that Germans could end up using them when trying to speak actual English.