German on Mother Language Day
German is the native tongue of more than 100 million people in the European Union, that is to say around 20 percent of the EU’s population. Worldwide, some 14.5 million people speak German as a foreign language.To mark International Mother Language Day, we reveal the most popular German words abroad, plus a record-holder and some interesting facts.
German is the native tongue of more than 100 million people in the European Union, that is to say around 20 percent of the EU’s population. Worldwide, some 14.5 million people speak German as a foreign language. In emerging economies such as China, Brazil and India, we are seeing growing interest in German. It is above all the country’s economic power, political weight and leading position in key technologies which contribute to the significance of German. The German language plays an important role on the Internet: in the online encyclopaedia Wikipedia, for instance, the German page ranks second only to the English version, offering around a million articles.
In addition to the many regional dialects that are to be found across Germany, there are a number of sociolects in the German language. In urban districts with a high immigrant population in particular, young people can be heard speaking “Kiezdeutsch”, a kind of local slang. Speakers of Kiezdeutsch create new sentence structures and like to leave words out. There are, after all, quite a few – contemporary German is estimated to contain 500,000 words. The core vocabulary of an adult German is roughly 50,000 to 70,000 words. Incidentally, the “E” is the most common letter in the German language.
Of course, German also has a number of idiosyncracies. The most prominent must be the language’s compound nouns: with no fewer than 80 letters, the word “Donaudampfschifffahrtselektrizitätenhauptbetriebswerkbauunterbeamtengesellschaft” even made it into the Guinness Book of Records as the longest published word in the German language. “The Most Beautiful German Word”, an international competition initiated by the German Language Council and the Goethe-Institut, seeks out the world’s favourite German words: “Habseligkeiten” – meaning belongings – is considered to be the most popular German word abroad, followed by “Geborgenheit”, which means security, or the feeling of being safe, “lieben”, which is the verb “to love”, “Augenblick”, a moment, and “Rhabarbermarmelade” – rhubarb jam.
Migration is not only changing the appearance of many places and cities in Germany, it also leaves its traces in German culture, most of all in the German language. What are the tangible consequences of this phenomenon? Is it harmful to the German language or could we even see it as an enhancement?
Special German Words on Mother Language Day
With the possibility of combining almost any set of words to create a new compound, German naturally contains many expressions that cannot be translated. A list of some of the most popular – and funniest – untranslatable German words.
A melancholy feeling of being completely alone in the forest. Literally: forest loneliness.
English may have a phrase for the food you eat to comfort yourself when feeling low (comfort food), but German has Kummerspeck, a word for the inevitable weight gain that follows.
A friend you’ve known since childhood. Literally: sand box friend.
The present you get for your significant other when you know you’ve done something wrong and want to “appease the dragon” you know he or she is going to turn into when he/she finds out. Literally: dragon food.
Seeing someone else do something so embarrassing that you feel embarrassed for them yourself. Literally: foreign shame.
A bad mother, usually used to describe a mother who is thought to spend too little time with her children. Literally: raven mother.
The come back to the snide comment that you don’t think of until ten minutes later, when you’re already out the door and going down the stairs. Also used to refer to a stupid joke, ridiculous behavior, or the irony of fate. Literally: stair joke.
A face that looks like it needs a fist. Literally: cheek whistle face.
The fear, as you age, that opportunities are vanishing from your life. Literally: gate close panic.
English has “home sickness,” but it doesn’t cover the opposite emotion which this word embodies. Fernweh is the feeling of missing being away. Literally: Distance pain.
A personal favorite, Ohrwurm is the phrase you use to describe a song that is stuck in your head.
One of the strangest phrases on the list, this word refers to someone who is a coward. Literally: glove snow ball thrower.
How does language influence our way of thinking, our culture and our identity? Conversely, how does our language develop under the influence of constant changes in our environment? Language researchers have always been fascinated by the link between language and identity and how they influence each other.