German Conservatives Want Linguistic Law to Protect Language | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 13.05.2006
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German Conservatives Want Linguistic Law to Protect Language

Germany's Christian Social Union (CSU) wants the German language to be protected in the country's constitution by a "linguistic law" which will keep the spread of English words at bay.

Conservative politicians want German words back on signs and products

Conservative politicians want German words back on signs and products

The CSU, the Bavarian sister party of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), believes that a constitutional amendment that makes German a "Staatssprache" -- language of state -- would help in the continuing struggle for integration in the country.

"The German language is the basic condition for living together in our country," CSU Secretary General Markus Söder told Focus magazine. "We need a visible sign that the German language is the most important factor in all our integration efforts."

The CSU's call follows on from a similar statement from CDU member of parliament Erika Steinbach, who recently called for the language to be legally protected.

Steinbach wants English words which have crept into everyday German life, such as information in shops, product labels and signs in railway stations and airports, to be banished.

Non-English speaking Germans being excluded

Sandwich and Coffee to go

English is taking over in some sectors

Steinbach told the mass-circulation Bild newspaper that her major concern was for almost a third of the German population who do not speak any English.

"The English language edges out German more and more in certain areas of everyday life," she said. "But 30 percent of people don't speak English and they are ashamed to admit that. Therefore, these people are being excluded. That's why the demand for a law to protect the German language has many supporters."

The German vocabulary consists of around 500,000 words; between 3,000 and 5,000 are direct anglicisms which are used in the media and advertising. Many are used because there are no equivalents in the German language while others would take on a completely different meaning if directly translated from English into German.

German literary legend Johann Wolfgang von Goethe himself once said that the Germans should let foreign words into their language as they would enrich it.

Fear of an Anglicized German future

But there are many people these days -- and not just conservative politicians -- who oppose that thinking and fear that English will one day edge German out in its native country.

"In 20 years, German city halls may only have forms in English," Rudolf Hoberg from the Society for the German Language told Focus. "We want to do everything we can to prevent that."

Duden wird 125 Jahre

The pressures of modern life are also felt by languages

However, the editorial staff at Duden -- the compilers and publishers of German dictionaries and language books -- believe that nothing can be done to protect the German language in terms of drafting a "linguistic law."

Globalization makes protection difficult

Matthias Wermke, editor-in-chief at Duden, said he believes that external forces will always put pressure on languages.

"In the age of globalization, nothing can be done to efficiently protect the German language unless foreign-language advertisements and product labels are forbidden," he said.

Experts believe that the only way that German can survive in the long run is for both native speakers and migrants to be encouraged to speak the language and constantly strive to perfect their spoken and written German. Learning the German language should also be promoted abroad.

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