Europe Battles English Invasion | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 01.12.2004
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Europe Battles English Invasion

Fast becoming Europe's lingua franca, English has invaded other national languages. The trend has some on the continent worried that languages might in the future take second place even within their countries of origin.

Overrunning the continent's other languages?

Overrunning the continent's other languages?

English has already invaded the languages of Moliere, Cervantes and Goethe, dominating the fields of technology and business and even taking some native tongues hostage.

But purists are fighting back as hybrids such as "surfen" and "downloaden" on the Internet, "emailear" and style terms "looke" or "gestyled" show the creeping advance of English.

Spanglish, Franglais or even Denglish, a mix of Deutsch (German) and English, are prompting a backlash, with a call to arms in some European countries for protective measures or new policies.

But linguistic expert David Crystal said the trend was no bad thing as the introduction of such words enriched a language and aided communication.

Kommunikation Communication Illustration Raimo Bergt EU-Osterweiterung Dossier

A commonly spoken language does make it easier to communicate

"The world needs a lingua franca the more international communication gets and English is the frontrunner at the moment," Crystal, an honorary professor of linguistics at the University of Wales in Bangor, told AFP news service.

Why not German?

But others countered that -- at least as far as the European Union is concerned -- English should not necessarily be given the status of the bloc's foremost language.

"Why should it be English," said Tobias Mindner, the spokesman for the Verein Deutscher Sprache (VDS), an organization that aims to cleanse German of Denglish. After all, a third of the EU's population speaks German, making it the union's most widely spoken language, he added.

EU Parlament in Brüssel 3

EU parliamentarians rarely resort to German for discussions

German leaders were partially to blame for their language's subordinate role within the EU as they had not done enough to promote it as a commonly used language within EU institutions, Mindner said.

"Politicians have to do a better job at lobbying" for German, he told DW-WORLD.

A first step in that direction has already been taken: This year, the German parliament passed a resolution calling on the government to push for German as a third EU working language alongside English and French, said Karin Eichhoff-Cyrus, the executive director of the Society for German Language, a government-sponsored organization charged with researching, promoting and protecting German.

A clear-cut program to promote German within the EU, however, does not exist so far, she said, adding that she sees the growing prevalence of English as a greater danger to the survival of other national languages than the adoption of English words.

No danger from Denglish?

Sale - reduziert

Some Germans think "sale" sounds cooler than the German equivalent

Germans, for whom English is unrivalled as their second language, like to show off their English skills, sprinkling sentences with adopted expressions like "last-minute" offers, "happy birthday" and "just for fun."

They have also looked to English for certain concepts -- brainstorming, feeling groggy, midlife crisis and sex appeal. A person exposed as gay has been "geoutet."

"Now it's English, before it was Latin or French," Eichhoff-Cyrus told DW-WORLD, adding that still only about 3 to 4 percent of German words were derived from English.

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Continental concerns

Elsewhere in Europe, the invasion of English and its possible replacement of national languages has raised concerns as well.

Königin Elizabeth II. in Frankreich Jacques Chirac

Queen Elizabeth II, a fluent French speaker, and Chirac

"Nothing would be worse for humanity than to move towards a situation where we speak only one language," French President Jacques Chirac has been quoted as saying.

Although words such as "le week-end" have slipped into daily French usage, outside of the classroom virtually the only exposure to the language of Shakespeare comes from pop culture.

"The irony is that an awful lot of the words that the French people complain about coming into French from English like 'le computer' came from French in the first place," Crystal said, noting the word originated from Latin.

Outside the EU, the onslaught of English has raised eyebrows as well.

Russia's first lady, Lyudmilla Putin, the wife of President Vladimir Putin, is a leading opponent of change in the Russian language.

Chicago Musical in Moskau

Chicago in Moscow

English has widely entered the Russian language since the fall of communism, especially in emerging capitalist sectors. Business language such as "distributor" and "consulting" are transliterated into Cyrillic and advertising executives refer to "slogans."

In tiny but multilingual Switzerland, the "Defense of French" foundation put up an impassioned plea recently arguing the Swiss had no need for a fifth official language.

Swiss French-speakers, who make up a fifth of the population, are up in arms as schools in the majority German-speaking areas can now teach English from about the age of nine and start French or Italian lessons two years later.

English's openness key to success

But Crystal said English has in fact "borrowed" words from 350 other languages over the last 1,000 years, including up to 60,000 words from French during the Middle Ages, as well as from Latin and Greek, Italian and Spanish.

This openness is one of the reasons for the success of English, Crystal said.

"The range and depth of Shakespeare's vocabulary comes from the way in which he employs Germanic words, French words and Latin words to characterize the different people that he has in his plays," he added.

Englischunterricht für Drittklässler in Nordrhein-Westfalen

Young Germans are taking no chances and get an early start with English

Crystal said about 800 million people now speak English either as their first language or as a second language in countries where English has an official status such as India and Ghana.

But he pointed out the backlash against English was not a new trend.

The influx of Latin stoked huge controversy in the 16th century and even protest marches, he said, adding people always reacted to any internationally dominant language whatever it was.

"It just happens to be English's turn at the moment to influence these other languages."

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