How English is flowing into German

  • 2024-01-26
  • Lisa Priller-Gebhardt
  • Comment
© Getty Images/franz12

Work-life balance, selfie, social bot – many Anglicisms have by now become an indispensable part of the German language. Germanist Karin Pittner explains how the growing influence of English is shaping our linguistic approach.

Duden and the Digitales Wörterbuch der Deutschen Sprache (DWB) now include a large number of Anglicisms. Does that make them part of the German language? 

Both Duden and the DWB evaluate text collections. Whether or not a word is included therefore also depends on how common it is and how often it occurs in these collections. Duden has thus incorporated terms like undercut, work-life balance, low carb, hoodie, urban gardening, roadtrip and jumpsuit. Ultimately, of course, it’s the language users who decide which words belong to language use. 

What’s your view regarding the numerous Anglicisms that have crept into the German language? 

Many, such as computer or tablet, are necessary and useful. They facilitate international communication, given that they find use in many languages. So it’s more of a hindrance when a country like France, which seeks to avoid Anglicisms, uses the word Ordinateur for computer. There are at the same time sectors in which less would be more, such as in advertising, marketing and in job titles. Here the English term is supposed to enhance the job title and appear modern. The Hausmeister thus became a facility manager. 

There are also some pitfalls when it comes to the use of Anglicisms. Home Office actually equates to the German term Innenministerium. Public Viewing equates to öffentliche Leichenschau. Is it therefore better to avoid these words? 

No, because very few people are aware of their actual meaning. Reference is made here to apparent Anglicisms, that is to say words that have a different meaning in English. Nobody in Germany is concerned that the English term for Handy is cell phone or mobile phone. The German linguistic community has agreed for many years that we should call it Handy. 

Popular English words that Germans use incorrectly

Popular English words that Germans use incorrectly
Popular English words that Germans use incorrectly ©

Are there words for which there really aren’t any suitable Germanisations? 

This applies to much that is borrowed from the technical field. Such as social bot, selfie stick or even laptop. Nobody would ever say Klapprechner or Handcomputer. There are also many verbs for which there aren’t any suitable Germanisations, including to whatsapp, email, tinder, google or twitter. In the case of the latter, it remains to be seen what will happen to it now that Twitter has become X. 

What is the reason for this flood of Anglicisms? 

America is a cultural leader – many trends in fashion, film and music originate from this English-speaking area. The social media platforms are also predominantly based in America and thus suggest a certain use of language. The German language is also subject to change due to labour migration. 

Is English the common denominator here? 

English is the language with the most speakers worldwide, even ahead of Chinese, and it’s the language that’s most often learned as a second language. It has a straightforward structure and Latin letters, so it’s easier to learn than Chinese languages, for example.  

‘Anglicism opponents’ already fear a decline of the German language. Are they right? 

No, because the influence that English exerts on German grammar and spelling is negligible. It has become evident that Anglicisms are also adapted in inflection, such as cool, der coolste. German has meanwhile lost importance as a scientific language. In certain subject areas, there is no longer any German vocabulary. This is referred to as an expansion backlog. This means that new German words are simply not formed, since English is more convenient and it’s possible to communicate on an international level without a language barrier. This is above all the case in the natural sciences such as chemistry and physics. Publications in these domains are also often only issued in English.  

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