The use of foreign words in German is nothing new, but more and more Anglicisms are creeping in, upsetting some language mavens. The new "Living German" campaign advocates finding German equivalents of English words.
Will he grow up speaking German or some strange hybrid tongue?
To the initiators of the campaign, words like Cou n tdow n, Shareholder value and Homepage are unnecessary. Not in English, where they are at home, but in German, where they are used more frequently by German speakers.
The "Living German" campaign wants Germans to use German words for these ideas, and not depend on English imports, which, they say, many people simply don't understand. And, to top it off, many are simply "ugly," according to those supporting the campaign.
Instead of Shareholder value, why not use the good old Teutonic Aktio n ärs n utze n? Instead of the Internet-age Homepage, why not Startseite? It does use a borrowed English word, "start," but it's well-known in Germany and is short, pithy and to the point, making it acceptable to the language watchdogs.
"We affirm the enriching of German through foreign languages and we even welcome certain imports from English," said the campaign's organizers in a statement. "Our initiative is aimed only against Anglomania, against excess."
Another Anglicism? Some Germans are throwing their hands in the air
The language experts who are spearheading this attempt to clean up the German tongue -- author Wolf Schneider, German Teachers' Association President Josef Kraus and head of the German Language Association Walter Krämer -- insist they are not being fuddy-duddies who want to take German back to some utopian "purity." They simply want language to serve the function it is meant to, communication.
They point to a 2003 study that looked at whether Germans actually understood 12 English expressions that were used by German companies in their marketing or advertising materials. The results were not promising; a maximum of 59 percent understood what the companies were trying to get across. For some expressions, a full 90 percent of Germans had no idea what was being talked about.
Lo n g history
Attempts to weed foreignisms from German go back centuries. In the early 1500s, there were already battles to keep Latin, French and English expressions out of the language, with very mixed results.
In 1617, on the eve of the Thirty Years' War, a patriotic society was founded that sought to preserve the "manful German hero's tongue" against the influence of French, because German wouldn't tolerate "anything womanly."
Some, if not all, of the efforts of this particular Germanizing purge had some staying power, such as Auge n blick instead of Mome n t, Rechtsschreibu n g in place of Orthographie, and Tagebuch for Jour n al. All of these are common German words today.
Cool…or just embarrassi n g?
Today, French is no longer the bad guy, but English. To many Germans, especially younger ones, English is cool, and they pepper their speech with as much English as possible. Marketers and advertising executives also wanted to project a cool, modern image, and thought English would be a perfect vehicle for that.
The results of this public English usage by non-native speakers are sometimes cheesy, sometimes baffling, and according to those behind "Living German," unnecessary. German can stand on its own two feet, they say, and proudly.
The campaign says German has enough of its own words to get along in most situations, thank you very much
"We should stop being embarrassed by the German language," their manifesto proclaims. "It is one of the major cultural languages of the West, the largest language in the European Union and after English and Spanish, the most popular foreign language in the world."
The campaign plans on choosing three widely used Anglicisms per month and asking the public to suggesting German equivalents. Teutonic versions of Homepage and Shareholder value were relatively easy to come by. But Cou n tdow n, word number three of the campaign's first month, is proving a difficult nut to crack.
Up to now, no one has come up with a good German equivalent of the word, at least not one that is short, pithy and to the point. Duden, Germany's best-known dictionary, defines Cou n tdow n as "a count that proceeds backwards toward the number zero for the initiation of an order to start."
Doesn't exactly trip off the tongue.