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Auf Wiedersehen, English

The title of an article in the November 16, 1998, edition of Time by Ursula Sautter includes two views, by Germans, about the invasion of English into the German language and culture.

Some significant parts of the article include the following:

  • “No greater harm can be done to a nation,” German philosopher Immanuel Kant wrote two centuries ago, “than taking away its national character, the idiosyncrasies of its spirit and its language.”
  • Many of Kant’s present-day compatriots agree, and are taking up arms against an ever-increasing number of English words insinuating their way into the mother tongue: they want Kinder instead of kids, Spass instead of fun, Unterhaltung instead of entertainment.
  • Among those battling for linguistic purism is the Dortmund-based Society for the Protection of the German Language (or V.W.D.S., the initials for its German name, Verein zur Wahrung der Deutschen Sprache).
  • “The German tongue is deteriorating into a pidgin dialect which will soon no longer be usable as an independent cultural language,” says society president Walter Kraemer, 49, a professor of statistics at the University of Dortmund. “We fight against this kind of chimpanzee language.”
  • Among others, the rise of “Denglisch”, is opposed by a physics student from Darmstadt. “The use of Anglicisms is directly proportional to the intention to obscure the emptiness of what is being said,” Bischof says. To support his view, Bischof’s private Internet homepage — or Heimseite, as he calls it — is 100% free of English terminology.
  • For Rudolf Hoberg of the Society for the German Language in Wiesbaden, the matter is much simpler. “ Germans are fascinated by English words simply because they like their international flair,” he explains.
  • In contrast to such linguistic purists as Kraemer and Bischof, Hoberg, a professor of German literature, welcomes the prevalence of English in the world and of English additions to the German language. “For the first time in the history of mankind, there is a lingua franca for the whole world,” he says.
  • Fortunately, Germany is not likely to institute a state-controlled language policy as in France, where the infamous loi Toubon, which was passed in August, 1994, prohibits the use of foreign elements in public language. “Traditionally,” says Hoberg, “we Germans have always been very liberal where language is concerned.”
  • Perhaps so, and perhaps altogether too many words — both German and English — are being wasted on the discussioin about exactly how many Anglicisms the Teutonic tongue can handle.
  • What’s in a name? That which the English call a rose, is eine Rose in German; but it smells as sweet either way.
  • This entry is located in the following unit: Focusing on Words Newsletter #03 (page 1)