The German Influence on Australian and American English

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2008

23 Pages, Grade: 2,0




2 Definitions:

3 German-American
3.1) An historical overview of German emigration to the United States
3.2 German influence on American English
3.2.1 Difficulties in research
3.2.2 Loanwords
3.2.3 The spoken word
3.2.4 Grammar
3.2.5 Semancits

4 German-Australian
4.1 An historical overview of German emigration to Australia
4.2 German influence on Australian English:
4.2.1 Loanwords:
4.2.2 The spoken word:
4.2.3 Grammar:
4.2.4 German Influence on Australian Toponymy

5 Comparison and Conclusion

6 Bibliography:

1 Introduction

Both American and Australian English derived from British English. Though this cannot be disputed, both have changed a lot since the days of the first settlement in America and in Australia. It is obvious nowadays, that even though both varieties share a common ancestor, they stand alone, varieties in their own right, easily distinguishable from others due to their individual influences and developments. Settlers in America came upon native inhabitants, as did their Australian counterparts. Native Americans had a tremendous impact on AE, and so had the Aborigines on AusE, shifting both varieties further away from the British mother tongue. So far, this is more or less common knowledge.

It is often forgotten, though, that both varieties shared another great influence over the years. In both countries, there was a time when another group of immigrants undisputedly provided the largest part of the population, next to English native-speakers. These groups were the Germans, settling on both continents, though at different times, bringing with them their culture, their customs and of course their language. The more dominant language – English – persisted, of course, but whenever there is a contact situation like the settlement of a new country by settlers from different nations - and therefore with different mother-tongues – some exchange in language and culture is to be expected.

The aim of this work will be, on the one hand, to describe the history of German settlement on both continents, and more importantly of the influence of German on American English as well as on Australian English. On the other hand, a direct comparison between the German influences will be made, and hopefully it will prove that even though half the globe separates both continents from each other, there are similarities to be found. It is to be expected though, that if there are analogies, they will be regionally restricted, since both in the United States and in Australia, contact situations seem to be restricted to those areas where Germans settled from the earliest days on.

Beside the clarification of some general definitions, which will prove necessary for an understandable analysis, the difficulties in researching this topic will be made evident.

One thing that will not be considered in this examination is the influence of Yiddish-German on American English since, one the one hand, it proves hard to differentiate exactly between the German and the Yiddish aspects and on the other hand because the Jewish impact on Australian English is marginal. Therefore Yiddish-German is rather unimportant in the comparison of both varieties.

2 Definitions

For a better understanding of what we understand as a loan word or as a loan, it seems important to quote J. Allan Pfeffer’s idea of different criteria for loan words (even though it is strongly based on Werner Betz’s model). He thinks that, considering all things, there are 8 different classes of loans:

1) “Foreign words” (fremde Wörter): they are used only as quotation and are marked by writing them in italics or by quotation marks. (e.g. AE: “Aberglaube”)
2) “Not so foreign words”: Words that are almost embedded into the new language and are no longer specially marked (e.g. AE: “Autobahn”).
3) Foreign words which differ from the loanword only in some phonetic, morphological or orthographical details (e.g. AE: “ablaut” – D: ”Ablaut”).
4) Loanwords whose origin can only be recognized on an orthographic or phonetic level (e.g. AE: “bower” = the name of a card in the game of Euchre – D: “Bauer”).
5) Part-loans which are phrases consisting of a German part and an English part (e.g. AE: ”concert stuck” – D: ”Konzertstück”).
6) Loan translations (e.g. AE: ”academic freedom” – D: ”akademische Freiheit”).
7) English conversions of an originally German word (e.g. AE: “hockamore” = a white whine – D: ”Hochheimer”).
8) Loaned meanings to enrich the semantic field of an English word (e.g. AE: “habilitate oneself” – D: “sich habilitieren – die Lehrberechtigung an einer Hochschule erwerben”).[1]

Another distinction that has to be clarified is the difference between “cultural borrowing” and “intimate borrowing” which helps us to understand both the development of German-American English influences and German-Australian influence in comparison with British English.

Compared to the German-English borrowing process in Britain, where almost exclusively the written word “invaded” the English language (“cultural borrowing”), American English profited to the largest part from direct contact situations between German speaking immigrants and English speaking habitants (“intimate borrowing”)[2]. The same applies for German-AusE influence, as this paper will show. This intimate borrowing resulted in two things: firstly, it means that borrowing covers fields that are mostly ignored in “cultural borrowing”. This includes areas like food, social life or colloquial language. Secondly, while in “borrowing” the written word the letters stay the same, but the pronunciation may differ greatly from the original source. In intimate borrowing- situations however the spelling adapts to the pronunciation. This leads to words like “bower” (AE), derived from a German word “Bauer” (“Bube” in a deck of cards). Pronounced, all L1 speakers of German would understand the meaning, but in written form recognition might prove hard if not impossible.2

When analysing the German influence on the Australian variety, one has to deal with toponymy, since it is one of the largest and most obvious fields where German has left an imprint. As to what belongs to toponymy, three subgroups have to be defined.

Oikonyms refer to the names of places and settlements, inhabited by people. Most of the times, they are simply referred to as “place names”.

Oronyms refer to elevations such as hills or mountains.

Hydronyms name masses of water, e.g. rivers, streams, lakes and bays.

3 German-American

3.1) An historical overview of German emigration to the United States

John R. Costello claims that the first mentionable waves of immigrants from Germany arrived in the English colonies of North America in the late 17th century as a result of the Thirty Years War (1618 – 1648)[3]. If one tries to make a distinction between different factors that influence people’s decision to emigrate, it is important to distinguish two main categories: the so called push and pull factors. Whereas “push-factors” provide people with reasons to leave their country, “pull-factors” “attract people to a particular destination.”[4] The aftermath of the Thirty Years War can definitively be seen as a “pull-factor”. The favoured destination for many of the settlers of this first wave, mostly arriving from the Southwest of Germany[5], was the rich farmlands of Pennsylvania. To illustrate the extent of this wave of immigrants, Costello quotes a letter by Benjamin Franklin to an English botanist. In this letter, Franklin mentions that among the 6 printing houses in the province of Pennsylvania, 2 were entirely German, 2 were half-German, half-English and only two were all-English. He also mentions bilingual street-signs, advertisement and Assembly meetings, which he considers a threat to the English language and to the regional government3. Another part of Franklin’s letters, cited in Rosina Lippi-Green’s “English with an Accent”, shows an even deeper mistrust to the German language.

“Those [Germans] who come hither are generally the most ignorant Stupid Sort of their own Nation, and as Ignorance is of the attended with Credulity when Knavery would mislead it, and with Suspicion when Honesty would set it right; and as few of the English understand the German Language, and so cannot address them either from the Press or Pulpit, `tis almost impossible to remove any prejudices they once entertain… Not being used to Liberty, they know not how make modest use of it. […]”[6]

As one can see, the contact situations between speakers of German and speakers of English were a lot more intense than with mere settlers from different countries, having to find a way to communicate with each other. As Costello mentions, Franklin’s fears did not all prove right. In the early nineteenth century, all transactions of the Pennsylvania State Assembly were translated into German. He even goes as far as to claim that the well-known myth that when the “[…] United States Congress took a vote on which language was to be chosen for the newly formed republic, German lost by one vote”[7], has its origin in these translations. Of course this thesis could never be proven, but the notion sounds plausible enough to believe.7

Besides Pennsylvania, German immigrants (in numbers worth mentioning) settled in Ohio, Illinois, Texas and New York. Since his book “The multilingual Apple” focuses on NYC, he takes a closer look at the German immigrants settling there. The earliest “settlers” arrived in New York between 1708 and 1709. The process continued over the years, with a peak at the beginning of the 20th century and no significant decline until after World War II. Expressed in numbers, this means that until the end of the 19th century, about 6 million people with German as their first language have immigrated to the United States.[8]

From the days of the early settlements until the beginning of World War I, German Americans were met with “relative tolerance toward their language”[9]. All this changed during the Great War and the early 1920s, when especially in the Midwest the imposition of an English-Only policy resulted in widespread persecution of German speakers. There are even reports of whipped or tarred and feathered ministers, whose only crime was preaching their sermons in German.[10] This policy resulted in a more or less forced assimilation of German Americans which ultimately led to a new and enforced “mix-up” between German and English since more and more Germans denied their heritage and integrated themselves into the American society. It is obvious that an important part of integration if not assimilation is the adaptation of the dominant language.


[1] Pfeffer, J. Allan: Deutsches Sprachgut im Wortschatz der Amerikaner und Engländer. Tübingen 1987 p. 4-6

[2] Eichhoff, Jürgen: Der deutsche Einfluß auf das Amerikanische Englisch (p.173-189) in: Stanforth, Anthony W: Deutsche Einflüsse auf den englischen Wortschatz in Geschichte und Gegenwart p. 174

[3] Garcia, Ofelia: Multilingual Apple. New York 2002 p. 74

[4] Bieswanger, Markus: German Influence on Australian English. Heidelberg 2004 p.8

[5] Marckwardt, Albert H: American English. Oxford 1958 p.51

[6] Lippi-Green, Rosina: English with an Accent. London 1997 p.218

[7] Costello 75

[8] Stanforth 176

[9] Finegan, Edward: Language in the USA. Cambridge 2004 p. 326

[10] Finegan 327

Excerpt out of 23 pages


The German Influence on Australian and American English
University of Constance
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German, Influence, Australian, American, English
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Lars-Benja Braasch (Author), 2008, The German Influence on Australian and American English, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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