Germans fear language is being ruined by English

Published: 04th May 2010
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After years of post-war Anglicisation and Americanisation, seven out of 10 Germans speak some English. But experts say there is a growing backlash against the widespread use of foreign terms in the age of globalisation, technology and immigration. Business leaders are growing tired of English "management speak".

Angela MerkelA fortnight ago, Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative party voted to enshrine the German language in the nation's constitution. And German companies are starting to shy away from relying on English in their marketing slogans, after years of using the foreign language so often that sometimes their own customers didn't know what they were talking about.

''Many people have decided that enough is enough,'' said Roland Kaehlbrandt, author of a book called German for Elites. ''They are not taking companies that only use English seriously any more. We are very open-minded and positive about everything that comes from outside, but there is a fear now that we may forget our own language and our own culture.''

After the war and during the Cold War in West Germany, English -- particularly through the influence of the US -- was simply cooler than German, he said.

English translation services have traditionally had very good relations with German businesses because of the popularity of English, and long may it continue. In addition, historically the German and British economies have conducted huge amounts of trade over hundreds of years.

At least 60 per cent of new words being used in Germany today are English.

''That's too much," Mr Kaehlbrandt said. "It's not because of functionality. German is a very functional language. But there's a side to Germany that -- unconsciously, I think -- is trying to get rid of our heritage to get rid of our past, which is conceived as being linked to the crimes of the Nazis. But we have changed profoundly since then. And German language is much older than the Nazis.''

Walter Kraemer, from the German Language Association, which claims 32,000 members and campaigns to protect German, said the country's science and industry were being damaged as Germans fell back on English jargon and technical terms, even when talking to other Germans.

''There is no way around English,'' said Mr Kraemer, an economist and statistician. ''It's the international language. But before you communicate, you have to be innovative, imaginative, creative, and you can't do that properly in a language that's not your own. People think better in their own language. German science is suffering because of this.''

He said that when DaimlerChrysler was manufacturing cars in Stuttgart using English in the factories, it had the highest product recall rate in the country, whereas Porsche, which uses only German language, has negligible recalls.

Annette Trabold, a linguist at the Institute for German Language in Mannheim, which studies dialects and trends in German, said that all languages were fluid and therefore it was no surprise that Germany had absorbed so much English.

''In 2006, when Germany hosted the football World Cup, that was the first time it was really okay again to fly the German flag, to paint it on your face. It was such a change.''

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