Languages change as long as they are alive, and these changes may involve adopting terms from other languages. This is often because there is no simple equivalent in the adopting language, and these loan words  or ‘borrowings’ (such as anglicisms in German) generally enrich a language and may be useful. Loan words may also be adopted if different languages are spoken by geographically adjacent populations, such as the francophone population in the Western part of Switzerland and the German-speaking population in the Eastern part, which has adopted a number of French terms. However, there have been many attempts to maintain the purity of languages such as Italian, French and German. These attempts have been largely unsuccessful, since it is difficult to legislate language usage. But if loan words such as anglicisms can enrich a language, why do people object to them? The main reasons are nationalistic, pragmatic and aesthetic.
For many nations, language is inextricably linked with cultural identity, and becomes a symbol that stands for the entire nationality, and this is particularly so for Germany and the German language. In fact the term ‘nationalism’ was first used by J.G. Herder, who believed that language determines national thought and culture . People may therefore feel that anglicisms are corrupting a symbol of their national identity, as if foreigners were trampling on their national flag. It is worth noting that loan words tend to be ‘borrowed’ from the language that is currently culturally dominant or has the greatest prestige. When Herder was writing in the mid-18th century, that language was French: “spew out the ugly slime of the Seine. Speak German, O You German”. But nowadays it is English, so that loan words borrowed by most languages are anglicisms.
Anglicisms are not much use if they are not understood. The anglicisms used in advertising slogans are not understood by the majority of German speakers, particularly by older people, and in that case they do not contribute to communication or enrich the language. For example, a recent survey found that only 25% of Germans surveyed understood English slogans used to advertise cars.
In fact, English terms are often imported into German not to improve communication or intelligibility, but as a pretentious attempt to present a person as educated or superior, or a product as fashionable or modern . Anglicisms are therefore often used in advertising or promotion . Used in this way, they tend to be tasteless and ugly, as illustrated by this outstanding example of anglicisms in German produced by Jil Sander, a German fashion designer:
“Mein Leben ist eine giving-story. Ich habe verstanden, dass man contemporary sein muss, das future-Denken haben muss. Meine Idee war, die hand-tailored-Geschichte mit neuen Technologien zu verbinden. Und für den Erfolg war mein coordinated concept entscheidend, die Idee, dass man viele Teile einer collection miteinander combinen kann. Aber die audience hat das alles von Anfang an auch supported. Der problembewusste Mensch von heute kann diese Sachen, diese refined Qualitäten mit spirit eben auch appreciaten. Allerdings geht unser voice auch auf bestimmte Zielgruppen. Wer Ladyisches will, searcht nicht bei Jil Sander. Man muss Sinn haben für das effortless, das magic meines Stils.”
However, some German organisations are fighting the trend towards ‘Denglish’. For example, Germany’s rail operator, the Deutsche Bahn, initiated a campaign in 2013 to roll back the use of English, and issued a booklet for staff that contained 2,200 German phrases that could be used instead of the corresponding Anglicisms. A spokesman for the DB said that the aim was to ensure that the language used was clearly understood by customers.
There is now an annual prize for the ‘Anglizismus des Jahres’ in Germany, initiated by Anatol Stefanowitsch, who teaches English linguistics at Berlin’s Free University. In 2017 the prize went to ‘influencer’; previous examples include ‘fake news’, ‘crowdfunding’ and ‘shitstorm’.
The primary purpose of language is to communicate. Sparing use of anglicisms may enrich a language and benefit communication. But used in a pretentious effort to impress, it is detrimental.
- Durkin, P. (2014) Borrowed Words: A History of Loanwords in English, OUP Oxford.
- Dow, J.R. (1999), ‘Germany’, in Joshua A. Fishman (ed.), Handbook of language & ethnic identity (New York: Oxford University Press), 286-99.
- Niehr, T. (2002) Linguistische Anmerkungen zu einer populären Anglizismen-Kritik, Sprachreport, (4), 4-11.
- Die Zeit (2007) Die verkaufte Sprache.
- Onysko, A. (2012) Anglicisms in German: Borrowing, Lexical Productivity and Written Codeswitching. 392 pp, bilingual. De Gruyter.