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Linguistic Immigrants

DW staff (win)February 16, 2008

While lovers of the German language have long bemoaned a seeping infiltration of mainly English words, a search is on to find the most beautiful word with a migrant history.

A tomato in the colors of the German flag: black, red and gold
Tomatoes might come from the Aztecs, but they've practically become German as TomatenImage: Bilderbox.com/DW-Montage

With some 100,000 "immigrants" among Germany's 300,000 to 500,000 words, officials at the country's Goethe Institute and the German Language Council felt that it was high time to search for the most beautiful addition to the language.

"Our language is full of loans from all over the world," reads a statement on the official Web site of the competition to find the best immigrated word or phrase in German. "If they're better than native words, they won't be given back after a while."

Exotic entries

French fries with ketchup
Entering "ketchup" could win someone a trip to Southeast AsiaImage: dpa

About 2,000 suggestions have already been sent in by people hoping to win the grand prize -- a trip to the native country of the word they suggested.

A jury will pick the winner after the competition ends on Feb. 29.

While most entries come from English, French or Latin, some more exotic candidates are also in the running: there's the Aztec Tomate (tomato), the Arab Tarif (tariff) and the Yiddisch Schlamassel (mess).

Is Denglish the devil?

Still, English words clearly dominate the current wave of immigration, causing many Germans to complain about the often unnecessary neglect of perfectly acceptable native words.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel talking on a cell phone
It fits in your hand, so why not call it handy?Image: picture-alliance / dpa

Newcomers such as "corporate identity," "workflow" and "after-work-party" are particularly prevalent among the business crowd while creations such as "handy" (cell phone) that don't even exist in English show that things may have gone a bit too far.

But German would hardly be able to keep up without foreign injections from time to time.

"Making do without foreign words would not be possible and severely curtail the language," Anita Boomgarden of the Goethe Institute told German news service epd.

After all, Bier (beer) has a Latin origin -- and what would the Germans do without it?