“Come in and find out”: a view from Germany on the dominance of English

Posted by on March 14, 2013

Today’s guest post comes from Martina Bredenbröcker, Assistant Lecturer at the University of Paderborn, Germany. Originally a teacher at primary school level and co-author of Sally, a textbook for EFL at German primary schools, she is currently working on her PhD thesis in English Linguistics.

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German has quite a tradition as the language of cultural and natural sciences. In the past, scholars like Humboldt and Schleiermacher combined the literary German with scientific German to become something known as Deutsche Wissenschaftssprache (the German language of science). It formed the basis of a new academic culture which went hand in hand with the foundation of the German university system of the 19th and 20th century.

The rise of the Nazis and the ensuing exodus of the Jewish intelligentsia are among the reasons why German as the language of science began losing some of its importance. Later on, globalization played its part, with the rise of English as a global language, a role in which it has replaced German almost completely. Especially for scientists nowadays the dictum “Publish in English or perish in German” holds true. One of the drawbacks of this development lies in the fact that it is accompanied by a simplification of English, with the consequent loss of many linguistic nuances. It restricts itself to a form of low-profile intercultural communication. This is different from the role Latin once played in the realms of religion and science because then, only a few scholars with a high mastery of the Latin language discussed mainly religious topics.

Another problem is that researchers generally think and reason in their mother tongues. Some concepts are not easily transferable and thus insights and findings are in danger of becoming superficial and trivial, as the German Kulturrat bemoans.

Thorough as we usually are in Germany, we have totally submitted ourselves to the dominance of English. Hence Anglicisms or “Denglish” (a blend of deutsch and English) is pervasive in our daily lives. Here are some examples:

– In German cities, you buy a train ticket at the mobility center of the Deutsche Bahn.

– When scanning vacancy notices in German newspapers, you’ll find jobs like Sales Manager, Account Manager, Front Desk Manager. Even the caretaker (Hausmeister) is now usually called a Facility Manager.

– A look at the world of advertising is even more amusing. Most German companies use English slogans because they consider them to be hip and up-to-date. One example is the title of this post: “Come in and find out”. The Douglas perfumeries used this slogan some years ago in order to attract customers. But – as a study revealed – their target group interpreted it as “Come in and try to find the way out again” which obviously was not the message Douglas intended to convey.

– We Germans even invent pseudo-Anglicisms that either do not exist in English at all or mean something completely different. Here is a list of some of them. (Feel free to do some guessing, you can find the key at the bottom.)

Handy, Base Cap, Beamer, Beauty Farm, Flipper, Partner Look, Messie, Public Viewing, Pullunder, Slip, Smoking, Tramper, Shooting Star

As a linguist specializing in English, I personally have no problem with its dominance. However, according to a study from 2010,a majority of German adults (61%) do not feel so positive about it. The simple reason is that many of them have little or no understanding of English. So with this fact in mind, the question arises whether it really makes sense to have English replace German in so many aspects of our daily lives?

Key: Handy (mobile phone), Base Cap (baseball cap), Beamer (projector), Beauty Farm (spa), Flipper (pinball), Partner Look (matching outfits), Messie (a person suffering from compulsive hoarding), Public Viewing (public showing of football matches), Pullunder (slipover), Slip (briefs), Smoking (tuxedo), Tramper (hitchhiker), Shooting Star (overnight success).

For more blog posts in this series discussing the dominance of English, or English as a lingua franca, please see this page.

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Comments (1)
  • Very entertaining and educational piece of reading, Martina! Thank you. And even though I knew how influenced Swedish is by German, I was surprised to see how many similar words from your “Denglish” I find in our “Swenglish”. For instance Smoking, Flipper and Shooting Star is used in the same way in Swedish.

    If you want to learn some Swedish words (maybe you’ll find some similarities in German!) I suggest you check out my latest blogpost at Keewords: http://www.keewords.com/en/2013/03/13/the-winter-words/ 🙂

    Best of luck on your continued studies and research.

    /Anna

    Posted by Anna Larsén on 14th March, 2013
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