German language

The Influence of English

The other day I found an interesting article shared by the Translating for Europe Facebook page about the influence of English in other languages. The article was written for the Prospero section of the Economist Online. As a native English speaker who has learnt German for 11 years, even I have begun to see the changes in the German language.

After looking at this article from MentalFloss.com, it is clear to see that English is not the most prominent or widest spoken first language – even including the USA, Canada, Australia and the UK – the amount of native Chinese speakers vastly outnumbers the amount of native English speakers or even those who have Spanish as a first language. However, English is often the lingua franca, despite the fact that Chinese also beats English as the most spoken second language.

As I mentioned before, I have been studying German for half of my lifetime. Even though I feel I still have so much to learn, I have learnt enough of the language to witness the introduction of several English words into the lexicon. Although you would think that being a native English (GB) speaker, the introduction of more English words would make it easier for me, it actually makes things more difficult.

The Economist article references the introduction of new words through the power of social media and the internet. In English it seems perfectly natural for us to have ‘googled’ something – in German, because of verb formation in the perfect past tense (by adding ge to the front and a t to the end) this makes it more difficult to form the past tense, because they have borrowed the English since it’s a brand name that has changed into a verb. This means that I googled turn into Ich habe gegoogelt.

Whilst borrowing or loaning words is nothing new – especially to the English language – the main concern is the prevalence of using English words over their German counterparts. In order to practise my general, everyday German, I have been watching beauty and lifestyle vloggs on YoutTube. The videos are mostly filmed by people in my age group – around 16-25. In just a few videos it was clear to see the influence social media – herunterladen became downloaden, ein bisschen zuviel became ein bisschen too much.

But it’s not just words that are creeping into languages – it’s even grammatical structures. The article in the Economist goes on to hypothesize that because German language users are so used to English grammatical structures – in magazines, adverts, television, the internet – that using an English grammatical structure with German words feels natural, and second nature to them.

Earlier, I spoke of how this makes things complicated for language learners. As someone who is striving to perfect their German, the fact that words that I once knew have now changed makes it difficult for me to know where I stand. Whilst it has been said to me many times that my German is very good, so much so that people thought I was a native speaker, these fluctuations make me uncertain of how good my German actually is. It seems that the German I have learnt is now altmodisch and that Denglish is fashionable.

After trying for years to keep the two languages separate and try not to confuse them and myself in the process; should I really be mixing the two together? So what if I use an English word here or there? Who cares if the construction is English as long as the words are in German?

Personally, I’m not sure how far to take this current phenomenon. I think I’ll wait until the German Duden dictionary makes it official. Aber solange wir happy sind… Alex

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