Deutsch Please, We′re German | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 21.02.2004
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Deutsch Please, We're German

As the world celebrates International Mother Language Day on Saturday, Germany's language purists bemoan the relentless onslaught of Denglish. But a German watchdog has hinted that a turnabout might be in sight.


Maybe bilingual is the way to go?

When burger giant McDonald's recently dropped its famous English slogan "everytime a good time" for its TV advertisement in Germany and replaced it with a very German "Ich liebe es" (I'm lovin' it), an audible whoop of joy was heard in the language purist camp in the country.

After years of all-out war against the rise of Denglish (a mixture of German and English), the Institute for German Language (VDS) -- self-appointed guardian of the sanctity of German language -- is celebrating.

McDonalds - ich liebe es Werbekampagne

Going German at McDonald's

"We have detected a trend reversal," Walter Krämer, chairman of the VDS told dpa news agency. "The fast-food chain McDonald's is once again advertising in German for its products, even other companies and concerns have rediscovered German for their slogans," he said.

Understand English?

But rather than a sense of loyalty and pride towards its own native language -- a sentiment more in keeping with International Mother Language Day -- it's pragmatic concerns that have fuelled the German advertising industry's recourse to German.

Tobias Mindner, VDS press spokesman pointed out that advertising gurus in Germany had found in a study that most of its target audience didn't understand slick English one-liners.

Indeed the recent representative study concluded that 59 percent of those surveyed couldn't correctly translate McDonald's Every time a good time into German. The same went for Mitsubishi's slogan Drive Alive. Just 18 percent understood it as "lively driving" in German, the rest interpreted it as "survive the drive in our car" -- a potentially damaging promo for the carmaker.

The participants were all aged between 14 and 59 -- a target group that's considered the biggest spender and thus the most promising for the industry.

BMW Werbekampagne Dress your car

BMW calls on customers to "dress your car," but what's that supposed to mean, exactly?

"A much smaller percentage of people in Germany speak English than is generally assumed," Mindner told DW-WORLD. "Just about ten percent speak and really understand it well. So you can't really just use snazzy English phrases and enthuse people for products, when they don't really get the message," he added.

Spectacular moves to clean up German

The VDS has been up in arms against the encroachment of English words in the German language for the past six years and is known for its often eccentric ways to achieve its aim.

Last year the watchdog symbolically auctioned the German language on Ebay. Within two days, the highest bid lay above ten million euro, following which the Internet auction site stopped the trade.

The organization also attempted to sue the supervisory board of Deutsche Telekom for its "nonsensical use" of English words like City call, Holiday plus Tarif and German Call. The institute also awards a prize for the Sprachpanscher (language debaser) of the year.

"No to Denglish"

The onslaught of so-called Denglish is apparent not just in Germany's advertising and business world, but increasingly in almost all walks of life and it isn't just irking language experts.

A group of senior citizens in the Bavarian city of Nuremberg recently started a "No to Denglish" signature campaign. Magda Schleip, a member, told daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, "older people only understand fragments of what politicians, advertising gurus and media tell them everyday."

Schleip added that the problem was even more acute for the unemployed. "The Federal Labor Agency only talks about job centers, cluster building, clearing offices," she said. "Which unemployed person understands that?"

Awareness the key?

Though politicians -- who are prey to Denglish themselves (task force, road show, pre-events) -- are clear it's impossible to enforce laws to cleanse German, it's generally agreed that awareness is the best way to counter the malaise.

Thus the Bavarian Education Ministry has announced that it has urged schools to "take special responsibility for the German language" on Feb. 21, the International Mother Language Day.

But will that stop German teens from using trendy and hip, German businessmen from being CEOs, bankers and managers or ordinary souls from shoppen or chatten on the Internet?

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