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Is there such a thing as ‘Denglish’ and what are its implications for a discussion of culture and translation?

Language is the key to communication. Whilst boarders can and do change, this often takes a lot of time. Languages, on the other hand, are constantly changing – they adapt and update. Their fluidity transcends the boundaries of the countries they ‘belong’ to. Whilst we often speak of ‘official languages’, this does not take into account the hybrid and eclectic nature of language acquisition.  It is impossible to say that any language is pure and unadulterated. This essay will focus on the evolution and potential of a ‘new language’ – Denglish, a macaronic mix of German (Deutsch) and English, the use of which is on the rise in German speaking countries. Looking at the history of language in Germany and the use of Denglish in modern Germany, using examples taken from the everyday usage, this essay will analyse Denglish’s possible use and introduction in translation.

Macaronic blends of languages are not new concepts; arguably, however, Denglish is one of the most recent ‘blended languages’ in Europe. To provide a context and later comparison to the use of Denglish, it is also useful to look at the hybrid languages Spanglish and Franglais.

Spanglish as it is now known, a blend of Spanish and English was coined by Puerto Rican essayist Salvador Tió in the 1940s. Originally, Tió separated this linguistic phenomenon into two parts – ‘Espanglish’ denoted the primary use of Spanish with occasional English terms, whereas ‘Inglañol’ represented English with some Spanish terms. In 1898 Puerto Rico became a United States territory, marking the start of English being imposed as the country’s new language. Researcher Ramon Martinez has carried out linguistic studies on Californian bilingual sixth-grade students who frequently ‘code-switch’ between Spanish and English, during the course of normal conversation.

In comparison the more natural introduction and spread of Spanglish, Franglais has much more comedic origins. The use of and title Franglais was invented by British journalist Miles Kington in the 1970s, who often wrote comical columns in Franglais. Since then, it has become a part of French linguistic culture – Franglais is often associated with a mangled combination of either English or French due to poor language knowledge, native bilingualism or humorous intent.

Denglish is a much younger language; whilst loan words and literal translation from English to German can be dated back as far as the 18th century, not to mention that English and German are both Germanic rooted languages, the current sustained use of anglicisms is generally attributed to marketing and business markets of the 1990s and early 2000s. Perhaps due to their similar linguistic heritage, Denglish has far reaching use in German. These have been condensed into three main definitions:

1)      Adaptation – Germanifying English words – the past tense in English of ‘to google’ is ‘googled’. In German, the convention is to add the prefix ge– and a –t to the end of a verb to form the perfect past tense. In German ‘googled’ becomes ‘gegooglt’.

2)      Adoption – Needless use of English words or phrases – the use of laptop instead of Klapprechner, or the insertion of English words into German grammatical structures – ‘ich freue mich darauf’ (I’m happy about it) has now become ‘ich bin so happy darauf’.

3)      Misappropriating English words with a new meaning or creating fake English words – ‘peeling’ in German is an exfoliator or the invention of ‘showmaster’ to mean a TV show host.

Word or language borrowing is not a new concept. Until the invention of the internet, migration has been the biggest source of language adaptation. In recent times, translation studies have focused on ‘translational cities’ and the influences of migration on language use, multilingualism and the effect of these language acquisition changes in translation. In comparison to Spanglish which has arisen from a country’s forced language adoption, Denglish has been influenced by the constant 24/7 migration of information that has been enabled by the internet and the access to 24 hour news.  Translation scholar Sherry Simon has looked at the influence of immigration of ‘translational cities’ and the complexity of the cultural, social and economic implications. Whilst Simon’s work focuses on the ‘transnational’ concerns of cultural and economic influence, due to its technology based beginnings, Denglish has the potential to transcend social class, ethnicity, and religion, although it still has the possibility to exclude groups of the population. Unlike the migration of people influencing language, this language change has been influenced by people inside Germany – mostly by younger generations and the media – and their constant access to the outside world. Language influence is nothing new, language influences come and go – but since the internet will not be stopping anytime soon, does the rise of English pose a real and immediate threat to other languages, and will Denglish become a force to be used in its own right in translation?

During particularly nationalist periods in Germany’s history, the German language has been seen as vitally important to the retaining the culture of Germany. In the 1930s the Nazis sought to forcefully ‘cleanse’ the German language of all foreign words and made attempts to exchange them for alternatives that were of ‘pure German origin’ (Deutsche Welle). Also around this time, ardent nationalists attempted to publish ‘Germanising’ dictionaries, in an attempt to rid the German language of words that originated from French. Despite these attempts, Germany does not give an equivalent to the French Académie Française – the French authority on matters of the usage, vocabulary, and grammar of the French language (Académie Française).

In recent times, after the increased use of English in media and marketing campaigns, German politicians and academics have made further attempts to ‘protect’ the German language from further English influence; even going as far as to say that the German language should be enshrined in the constitution (Chamberlain 2006). The Verein Deutsche Sprache (VDS) or the German Language Foundation has aimed to be the German equivalent of the Académie Française. Founded in 1997, the VDS has attempted to launch campaigns to rid the German culture of the pollution of Denglish. The VDS also want German radio stations to play a higher percentage of German language music and have tried to force the government to implement laws that would force manufacturers to include German information of products (Pidd 2011). German studies specialist and the director of the Verein Deutsche Sprache, Holger Klatte firmly believes that language is an expression of German culture, and together with the VDS launched ‘German Language Day’ in September 2001 (Deutschland.de)

It should, however, be noted that only one to three percent of German vocabulary is made up specifically of anglicisms – like English, French and Latin have also had strong influences on the German language due to migration and historic invasion (Pidd 2011). As German and English stem from the same linguistic family – words such as kindergarten, Zeitgeist and doppelga(e)nger have become understood and are commonly used to English native speakers. Germany’s culture minister Julian Nida-Rümelin has rightly pointed out that language fluidity and change is a process to which every living language is subject, and has argued that it is not something in which the state should intervene (Deutsche Welle).

In an increasingly globalised and interconnected world, there needs to be an international language – due to its prevalence of use in the business, science and technology sectors, English has become the lingua franca, and the upward trend for using English has only been increased by the easily accessible world-wide-web (Aris 2003). A recent survey by the European Commission of the foreign language skills of 16,000 of the EU’s citizens suggests that English is on the rise in Europe (Deutsche Welle). In comparison to the ‘creation’ of Spanglish and Franglais, which have been formed through cultural necessity or from comedic beginnings, Denglish has been so successful due to its widespread uptake – not only in ‘youth culture’ and on the internet, but also in everyday business and advertising use in Germany. It has moved from being a craze to a way of everyday speaking.

Since the majority of new language in the fields of medicine, technology and economics are increasingly created in English, there is a genuine lack of German vocabulary alternatives. Due to language’s ability for being ever-changing, not enough German words are being produced quickly enough to be able to overtake the use of the original English. In the marketing sector – das Marketing – there is not enough German vocabulary to sustain talking completely in German (Pidd 2011).

Whilst in some cases it can be argued that English is used because a suitable alternative does not exist or is not readily available, there are clear examples of businesses deliberately choosing to use anglicisms and English words when German alternatives are clearly available. In 2013 Deutsche Bahn, Germany’s largest rail network was forced to produce an information guide for its German staff, detailing 2,000 anglicisms that employees were encouraged to abandon, instead substituting them with their German equivalents, for example, employees were advised to use handzettlen instead of flyer (Carter 2013).  This growth in the use of English and pseudo-English is not singular to Deutsche Bahn however, and language experts have argued that it is simply a ‘reflection of increasing internationalisation and globalisation’ (Vasagar 2013). German appliance brand Philips also came under fire recently for their Denglish slogan ‘schneller, einfacher und cleverer’ on the packaging of one of their high performance irons (Appendix: Figure 1). In this instance the German and the English formation of the comparative is formed in the same way, by adding an –er suffix, but since German already has a word for ‘cleverer’, ‘klüger’, it is completely unnecessary to use English, expect for the rising use in popularity in English generally.

Whilst it may seem that Denglish is a ‘language’ specifically used in industry sectors such as business and marketing, it is important to also recognise the influence and use of Denglish on a local, more everyday level. The use of everyday English words is now common in Germany – one of Germany’s longest running and most respected dictionary, Duden, has begun including words such as ‘Facebook’, ‘app’ and social media’ into the dictionary as there are no German equivalents (Paterson 2013). Furthermore, a search on Duden’s online entry for ‘Facebook’ also reveals the addition of the word ‘adden’[1] taken from the English ‘to add someone on Facebook’. Other highly used Denglish additions include ‘Shoppen’[2], ‘downloaden’[3] and ‘einloggen’[4].

The borrowing and adaptation of English verbs has, due to their ‘germanification’ to fit German grammar rules, resulted in verb forms whose usage and understanding is fairly regimented. In comparison, when slogans have been lifted from English, they have resulted in comical results with varying levels of success. In the early 2000’s Bahnhof Zoo in Berlin mislabelled their portable coffee carts ‘Coffee on Rolls’ instead of Coffee on Wheels. Similarly, signs in cafés around Germany advertise ‘Coffee to-go auch zum mitnehmen!’ not realising that ‘zum mitnehmen’ (to take away) and ‘to-go’ mean the same (Appendix: Figure 2).

In practical terms, this significant and visible language change has caused friction in German society. Older generations, who are less proficient in English have reported feeling alienated by the increasing use of English in media and advertising – not understanding something as simple as an advertising slogan has left many in Germany feeling excluded and more distant from society. In 2003, one of Germany’s largest telephone operators was inundated with calls from pensioners who simply were not able to understand what services the operator provided because they had been named in English, ironically calling the ‘call centre’ to find out what that actually means.

Ironically, despite retaining their German slogan Vorsprung durch Technik, car manufacturer Audi has enjoyed global success, emphatically proving that retaining slogans in the company’s native language has been no barrier to international commercial success. A survey in 2013 by the brand consultancy firm Endmark showed that only one quarter of those polled understood the English slogans used to promote German cars in Germany (The Economist 2013).

Due to Germany’s conflicted history, this has also influenced the use and views of English. Many older generations have not learnt much English – in former Western Germany and more recently in former East Germany, English is now a popular second language choice. Younger generations feel that English is much more modern and dynamic than German – due to its position in the world and its linguistic influence, English is perceived as more connected to the globalised world we live in. Despite this, there is still a clear east-West divide when Germans were asked about the increasing use of English in German advertisements. 46% of those polled in East Germany responded that they were unhappy with the use of anglicising in adverts, as opposed to 37% in the West.

In addition to its vocabulary based beginnings, the influence of English grammatical structures in German is becoming wider, which in turn has affected translators who are working from English to German. In a 2005 interview with Die Welt newspaper, the German translator of the internationally acclaimed Harry Potter series, Klaus Fritz, was asked if there were any particular translation mistakes that annoyed him. Fritz replied that ‘the use of “nicht wirklich” for the stupid Anglicism “not really”. It should be “eigentlich nicht”, you hear that used less and less[5]’ (Freund et al 2005). Whilst grammatical choices like this are fairly low level and do not or would not affect the majority of translated texts, the potential for using translated English grammatical structures in place of German ones could potentially affect German usage, both in translation and in source texts. These anglicised grammar structures illustrate the potential that literal translation has on actively influencing German grammar and its prevalence in everyday culture. Through social media and the internet, English word usage has shaped German word choice and structure, with younger generations opting to use the literal translation over the established equivalent.

Although In Germany, the use of Denglish appears to be mostly limited to vocabulary and the occasional grammatical structure, hybrid-language translation is now on the rise. In 2016, Ilan Stavan produced a Spanglish translation of ‘The Little Prince’, ‘El Little Principe’ for Tintenfass publishers. Stavan has argued that despite Spanglish lacking in standardised spelling and grammar, this ‘hybrid tongue’ is spoken all across the American continent, and characterises Spanglish’s three main characteristics as fluent code-switching between Spanish and English, simultaneous translation and the use of neologisms. Through its constant use in the media and on the Internet, Spanglish has now become ‘normalised’, particularly for younger generations. Stavan’s translation draws upon using English adjectives, ‘un beautiful dibujo’ whilst retaining Spanish noun genders and applying them to English nouns, such as ‘una boa constrictora’.  With his ‘El Little Principe’, Stavan is clearly arguing the case that Spanglish has now become a recognised language in its own right, even going as far to say that readers deserve to ‘have access to classics in their own tongue’ (Stavans 2017).

The current rise and influence of English on the German language is indisputable. The influx and metamorphosis of languages by foreign cultures is also nothing new, but in contrast to other historic language changes, that were influenced by physical invasion, the internet and social media poses a continuous ‘threat of invasion’ that is unlikely to wane.

Opinions on the rise of Denglish are divided. Some politicians are adamant that Denglish poses a serious threat to German culture and society – certainly Denglish alienates the elderly and those who do not have sufficiently advanced English skills. Misappropriation has also caused comically confusing marketing and advertising slogans. Although German has successfully created and utilises their Denglish word for a mobile phone, ‘das Handy’, many of the current linguistic additions, such as app, social media and USB stick are being introduced and accepted far more quickly into the language than Germans are able to invent their own equivalent word.

Members of the Verein Deutsche Sprache, such as Holger Kette, certainly feel that German is at risk of being swamped by this increasing use of English-German. It is important to remember, however, that Denglish as defined in this essay has three main types; misappropriation, adoption and adaptation. Although a case could and should be made to encourage German speakers to maintain and retain original German vocabulary when it is available, German is also using its linguistic power to shape the English words it adopts – the past participle ‘downloaded’ in English has been adapted into a separable verb in German, and has then been subjected to the standard formation of the perfect past participle – the prefix ge– and the suffix –t, forming ‘downgeloadet’.  German is not defenceless against the supposed ‘tide of English’ to which the VDS feels it is subject.

Those that are more outward looking, may consider Denglish as an opportunity for new learning; after all there are region dialectic differences in most countries. Whilst there are no current plans to release literature in Denglish, the influence and adoption of English words into German culture will ultimately influence translation – will translators opt to use Hochdeutsch vocabulary if Denglish words are what are actively being used by society?

In his article, Stavans argues that ‘Spanglish is about the intercourse of two syntaxes, two grammars and two weltanschauungs, donating to a new child’. Though it is too late to reverse the birth of Denglish, this hybrid-language is still in its infant stages; there is still time for Germany to shape and reclaim it before it reaches maturity.

[1] http://www.duden.de/suchen/dudenonline/facebook

[2] http://www.duden.de/suchen/dudenonline/shoppen

[3] http://www.duden.de/suchen/dudenonline/downloaden

[4] http://www.duden.de/suchen/dudenonline/einloggen

[5] Translation A Corrigan http://www.welt.de/print-welt/article682580/Harry-Potter-hat-mir-gleich-gefallen.html


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