Denglish – Destroying our planet

Throughout history, languages have borrowed words from other languages to enrich their vocabulary. English itself is not as “pure” as say French or German, which have a clear, direct Latin and Germanic heritage respectively. Whilst English is considered a Germanic language, it is in fact a diverse mix of several languages.

A survey of 80,000 words from the Shorter Oxford Dictionary revealed that only a quarter of English words are actually “native”, inherited from Old English, which in turn was influenced by Old Norse when the Vikings invaded. Another quarter comes from French, and another quarter from Latin. Five percent comes from Greek and the rest come from other or unknown sources.

Words borrowed from other languages are absolutely fine, if there is no existing alternative. When chocolate was introduced to this country from the New World, they had no name for it in English, so the sensible thing to do would be to use an anglicised version of the word where this strange, exotic delight came from.

Germans do this to some extent. Whereas we “unfriend” someone on Facebook, they entfreunden. This is a literal germanicised version of the word that has been adapted to German grammar rules, with ent- being a negative prefix, like “un-” or “de-” in English, freund meaning friend, and the suffix -en indicating a verb.

But when Germans want to chillen, surfen the Internet, go to eine Afterparty or talk about “ein Shitstorm”, this gets ridiculous and redundant. There is so much English used in German today that they feel the need to have an Anglicism of the Year competition, which this year was won by “leaken” – to leak.

Personally, I think this is happening more so in German than other languages due to the lack of national identity following the war and the influence of the presence of the British and American military in Germany afterwards. But the Germans have re-discovered their identity, following the reunification of the country in 1990 and events such as the Football World Cup in 2006, which have proved it’s okay to be German, to wave the German flag and to speak the German language.

Whilst the German youth may think its cool to use English words and phrases like these, older Germans are not so happy about this bastardisation. The Gesellschaft für deutsche Sprache (Society for the German Language) and the Verein Deutsche Sprache (German Language Association) were set up preserve the language, and they believe there seems to be this attitude that English is somehow ‘better’ than German, and that German somehow sounds old-fashioned, particularly for a certain group of people.

The easy thing to do would be to blame English and English speakers, but this would wrong. Whilst the use of English is growing internationally, it is native speakers of other languages who choose to learn it and then adopt its vocabulary into their own languages. We Brits who do speak foreign languages, on the other hand, would rather speak them in their purest form and we prefer for our language not to be abused in such a way.

Now, you may ask why I hate Denglish so much. Well, the problem with introducing English terms into other languages, for which there is actually an existing term already, is that the meaning may become blurred and get lost in translation. Just look at “ein Handy”, a mobile phone, and “ein Beamer” a video projector.

More complicated examples can cause hell for us translators, because although we may see an English-looking word in a text, it often looks out of context due to the change in meaning and we may not fully understand what is actually meant. If I’m wearing a “Smoking” in German, it’s unlikely that most will know I’m actually wearing a dinner jacket, and what is a “Streetworker” in German? Someone who collects money for charity on the street or someone who helps homeless people? Or perhaps a ‘lady of the night’? No, it’s actually a social worker.

Besides excluding older Germans from their own language, Denglish diminishes cultural boundaries and increases the likelihood of all of Planet Earth’s cultures and languages merging into one, which perpetuates the stereotype held mainly by Americans that Europe is one country and everyone speaks English there.

So, Denglish ranks number one on my list of things that are going to metaphorically destroy our planet. In preparation for the end, I shall put on my Abendanzug rather than my Smoking.