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The influence of English on the German language

When I arrived in Germany about 15 years ago, German was largely free of outside influence but this has changed dramatically in recent years. It has become riddled with English imports. In some fields, this is not so surprising. For example, the internet revolution started in America and many of the terms have inevitably found their way into German, e.g. eMail, Browser, onLineBanking, surfen etc. However, some English computer terms are used at the expense of perfectly good German alternatives. Chatten instead of plaudern, downloaden instead of herunterladen, even the word Computer itself instead of Rechner. This has also led to some bizarre-sounding German; no-one seems to know how to conjugate downloaden, for example. On chat sites, I have seen the following forms used:

English words have not only found their way into the field of computing, however. They are prevalent in the field of advertising, particularly so in the advertising of luxury items. No manufacturer sells a car these days without reference to airbags and cockpits, limousines and caravans, spoilers and Styling. The following is a listing of some of the English used in advertising slogans in one edition of Der Spiegel, a weekly news magazine.

English is ubiquitous not only in magazine advertising but also in TV commercials. The following are two examples from investment banks. (Interestingly, the words are spoken with a clearly German accent. They have not used a native English speaker or a German with perfect English to say them.)

In general, it can be said that the English used in the adverts is readily understood, and is used to convey the impression of a global player (another English German expression!); i.e. a company that is well-established in international markets. Compare this with the only use of German that I know in English advertising: Audi's Vorsprung durch Technik. Here there has been no attempt to choose an expression that native English speakers are likely to understand.

A very interesting group of words that has entered the German language are those that are based on English words but not used by native English speakers. The most obvious recent one is the Handy (for mobile or cell phone). Other such words are twen, meaning a person between the ages of 20 and 30, and pullunder for what the English would call a tank top.

The influence of English has become so strong that most Germans now sing Happy Birthday to each other in English!

[In many ways, the prevalence of English in the German language makes it easier for Germans to learn English. But sometimes it can cause problems too. Read more about this.]


Frankfurt International School: Art and artists. (Click to see at full size.)