What is Denglisch?
It’s totally badass.
Officially, Denglisch is the spawn of the devil, at least from a German point of view. Unofficially, it can be a blessing for language learners. Have a look at these sentences to know what I mean:
Wie war die URL noch mal? (=What was the URL again?)
Ich muss eine Maus für meinen Computer kaufen. (=I need to buy a mouse for my computer.)
Denglisch, a mixture of the words Deutsch and Englisch, describes the incorporation of English words into the German language. This process is also called Anglizismus (Anglicism), which is mostly used in a non-judgmental way, whereas Denglisch usually creates a negative feeling.
While language engineering by Germans isn’t new (French used to be a victim too), new is the intensity by which it has been done for the last 20 years, especially when it comes to assimilating the English language. The Germanisation of English words has already left people with the feeling of being conquered by Germans.
It may have started out with words related to new technologies. First English words were used in their literal translation (skyscraper turned into der Wolkenkratzer), but then it became hip, slowly but surely, to use English words in their original appearance. I mean words like der Computer (computer), die Computermaus (computer mouse), der Download (download) or die URL (URL).
At least you gave your best
So, you can just use English words, put on a German accent and that is meant to be German? Well, not quite, but almost. Every now and again, it can get a bit confusing.
That’s the time when the language enhancement process grows some weird compositions:
Wir können den Film doch auf dem Beamer sehen, oder? (=How about we use the projector to watch the movie?)
Letztes Wochenende war ich im Wellnesshotel. (=I stayed at a health spa last weekend)
Ah, jetzt checke ich das. (=Ah, now I get it.)
And one of the classics, German learners stumble across at an early stage:
Kann ich deine Handynummer haben? (=Can I have your mobile (phone) number?)
All those English words are obviouls used differently to their original meaning. That happens too, I’m sorry.
What is the problem with Denglisch?
What is the big problem with using English loanwords? Isn’t it how languages work? It happens the other way around as well. English kids go to a kindergarten, eat bratwurst and can get Alzheimer’s once they make it past a certain age, only sometimes. So, what exactely is the problem?
What Germans think about Denglisch
It’s all around you
Most Germans don’t have a problem with Denglisch. It can become a bit annoying when Denglisch is the only thing you hear. When you hear more English than German words in a German sentence, you might feel infiltrated, even though you might be doing it yourself (without realising it?).
How does English words creep into the German language anyway? When the German Telekom offers a plan for mobile phones called “Data Comfort Free”, you are likely to use the same terminology when telling your friends about the expensive plan you are on. I guess you won’t start translating what you think might be meant by “Data Comfort Free” plan.
Am I being betrayed into using Denglisch?
What rubs some people the wrong way is that the use of Denglisch words seems to be inspired by big companies wanting to sound young and vivid. It’s like saying “Look we do it differently, we’re so awesome. You haven’t heard that slogan before? If you don’t understand, well than you’re obviously not on top of what’s going on in the world.”
In a survey a year ago about the understandability of slogans used by German car companies, it turned out that only one quarter of the polled (Germans) understood the meaning of the English sentences being used in the advertisement. Well, did the ads fall flat? I don’t think so. It seems to be more about trying to look smart to convey authority and competence rather than about producing an understandable marketing campaign. The Deutsche Bahn even used Denglisch so incessantly, they had to instruct their staff after a public outcry with a glossary on more than 2000 Denglisch words that should be avoided.
English unequals Englisch
Apart from these issues Denglish creates for German natives, it can also be a source of mistakes for language learners. Denglisch words don’t always match the English meaning and can lead to misunderstandings. German learners should be aware that Denglisch doesn’t equals English at all times.
Denglisch comes along as something in between, a hybrid language which borrows heavily from English but is not completely English as it uses also German grammar.
Why is this all happening?
Germans love to make up new words. The recycling of words is just so efficient. Since I am German, I love it too. I love browsing through the German Urban Dictionary with all the new creations that describe situations so well, with just one word. Before the new words were listed up online, on New Year’s Day I used to cut out the newspaper articles about the best words of the previous year and pinned them somewhere in my apartment for me to see.
Even critics of Denglisch claim language development should not stop. So, who really cares if those words are German or English, as long as there is some agreement about the meaning. Trends come and go and when you have a look at some hipster suburbs in some German cities (especially Neustadt in Dresden) then you will see that German words are on the rise again. “Der Kleine Umstandsladen” for a baby clothing shop, “BackWerk” for a bakery or “Bequemschuhe” for a shoe shop.
What’s in it for language learners?
So, how can you as a German learner take advantage of the German love for English words?
What you can do
- Turn any English noun or verb into a German one.
- Completely ignore Denglisch.
- Choose not to use it but know how it works.
- Be of assistance and help enhance Denglisch by being the first to come up with a new one. Conquer back the English language.
Denglisch comes along in different ways. What all variations have in common is the English origin or at least the sound of an English origin and the treatment as German words when speaking German. Sometimes words keep the same meaning, sometimes the meaning changes with the incorporation. Apart from the use of English words, Denglisch can also mean to apply English word structure as well as English grammar rules to a German sentence.
Denglisch seems to appear in those forms:
- The use of English words with the same meaning after assimilation
Ich habe meinen Facebookaccount gelöscht, denn Maria hat mich auf einem Foto getaggt.
= I deleted my Facebook account, because Maria tagged me in a photo.
- As “Pseudo Anglicism” when the English and German meaning don’t match
Das Peeling for body scrub
Der Showmaster for TV show host
- The Use of English grammar and verb forms in German sentences
schocken instead of schokieren (=to shock s.o.)
Vera’s Auto instead of Veras Auto (Vera’s car)
In the next blog posts I will show you how it all works. Most of the time, it is a simple and straightforward process. Put your English skills to work when speaking German. We will start with