Anglicisms in German

Bachelor Thesis, 2010

37 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. The Contact Situation between English and German
2.1. Language Contact - An Introduction
2.2. The Past: Phases of Language Contact between English and German
2.3. The Present: The Contact Situation between English and German Today
2.4. Attitudes towards the Use of Anglicisms in German

3. Anglicisms in German
3.1. Definition
3.2. Hierarchy of Borrowability
3.3. Word Classes of Anglicisms in German

4. The Integration of Anglicisms into the German Morpho-Syntactic System
4.1. Nominal Anglicisms
4.1.1. Gender Assignment
4.1.2. Plural Inflection
4.1.3. Case Inflection
4.2. Verbal Anglicisms
4.2.1. Infinitive Marking
4.2.2. Adaptation of Past Participles
4.3. Adjectival and Adverbial Anglicisms
4.4. Pseudo Anglicisms
4.4.1. Types of Pseudo Anglicisms
4.4.2. Attitudes Towards the Use of Pseudo Anglicisms

5. Conclusion


1. Introduction

In the wake of globalisation, English has advanced to a lingua franca in larger parts of the world. The public discourse about the influence of English on the German language, however, disregards a long and close history between the two countries, in which linguistic transmissions have occurred on a regular basis. As a consequence, claims about the possible endangerment of German are by no means a phenomenon of the 20th century, but are a natural part of language contact over time.

As the transmission of English loans has been facilitated by the new media, and their integration is not a matter of past times any longer, but instead can and has to be carried out by us as speakers of Modern German, the way in which we treat anglicisms seems to be on the verge of changing. Not only attitudinal factors towards the use of anglicisms, but also their integration into the German morpho-syntactic system might influence how the German language develops under the increasing influence of English.

With this in mind, I shall try to describe the contact situation between the two languages English and German as it was in the past, and how it has developed until the present day. On the basis of a research on how anglicisms are integrated into the German morpho-syntactic system, I hope to be able to make predictions about the future development of the contact scenario and its implications for German.

Please note that this paper disregards the fact that German words are also transmitted into English as well as structural anglicisms and hybrid compounds in German. Although these transmissions do occur, there will be no room to discuss them at length. Instead, this paper focuses entirely on lexical transmissions and instances of pseudo loans and tries to retrace the changes they bring into modern German.

2. The Contact Situation between English and German

English itself can be classified as a West Germanic language, a fact which has greatly facilitated lexical transmissions between English and German in both ways: The two languages “are close in terms of their historical development and share a high degree of lexical affinity” (Onysko 2007: 49). The main linguistic difference can be identified in the way their inflectional system has developed over the course of time: “As far as their morphological structures are concerned, however, English has lost almost all of its Germanic inflections and shifted towards the analytic end of the spectrum, whereas German has mainly retained its inflectional categories and its synthetic nature. (Onysko 2007: 49). As a result, German has kept inflections for verbs (person, tense, number and mood) as well as for nouns (case, number, gender); a paradigm which proves to pose difficulties for the integration of loan words.

2.1. Language Contact - An Introduction

Whenever two or more languages come into contact, the result of their interaction can be observed in a range of linguistic phenomena. As Thomason notes, depending on the intensity of the languages concerned, the influence may result in direct importations from a source language, either by morpheme transmission alone, morpheme and structure transmission together, or transmission of structure alone; and these features of the source-language may or may not be structurally modified during the transmission process (2001: 62). In contact scenarios with a low level of intensity only non-basic words are generally borrowed, whereas more elements of a language become prone to change as the intensity of contact increases, so that it is generally assumed that “vocabulary is borrowed before structure” (Thomason 2001: 69). As a general tendency, Onysko confirms “that contact is most readily perceivable on the lexical level of language while systemic, i.e. grammatical, patterns show greater stability for contact induced change” (Onysko 2009: 55).

As language contact is, however, a deeply sensitive field of research, nearly every constraint to how and which language features can be borrowed has been proven wrong by some exceptions (cf. chapter 3.2. on borrowing hierarchies and also Thomason 2001). Particularly because language contact is “after all, the result of people in contact and of communities of people of different language backgrounds in contact” (Clyne 2003: 1), no definite generalizations can be drawn for a field of research that relies entirely on human beings and their personal attitudes. As Thomason explains, these attitudes of speakers “are the wild card in this domain; they can and sometimes do cause violations of most of the generally valid predictions about contact-induced change” (2001: 61).

Although, as a result, no definite rules can be formed in this regard, it is still possible to at least formulate possibilities and probabilities of how languages in contact develop. Apart from speakers’ attitudes, other social predictors for contact-induced change include the duration of the contact period, the size of the speaker groups, and the exertion socioeconomic dominance (Thomason 2001: 66). Further potentially important variables are listed by Aikhenvald (2007).

2.2. The Past: Phases of Lexical Transmission between English and German

As far as the transmissions between English and German are concerned, several phases can be distinguished during which the intensity between the two languages lead to an increase of loan words in German. The linguistic proximity is the result of an intensive cultural exchange between German and Britain: “[I]t dates back to the fifth century when Germanic settlers who conquered England came from what is now northern Germany and southern Denmark, and the eighth century when much of Germany was Christianized by Irishmen and Englishmen (Görlach and Busse 2007: 13). As Germanic settlers brought with them their Germanic tongue to replace the existing Celtic, the stage was set for a constant linguistic exchange. The following paragraphs try to shed light on the waves of transmissions that have reached German coming from English, aiming to outline certain phases of intense language contact with particular regard to borrowed items which are still in frequent use today.

In the Middle Ages “[t]he influence of Anglo-Saxon and English on German [...] was extremely small. [...] The few English loanwords in the Late Middle Ages were technical expressions from the world of seafaring” (Viereck 1986: 107), e.g. the present terms Boot and Lotse (from loetsman). These borrowings were infrequent and have been in the language for such a long time that many of them are now assimilated and almost unrecognizable to German native speakers today (Görlach and Busse 2007: 13). It was only after this phase of relatively sparse language contact in the Middle Ages that the transmission of English words into German began to accelerate. The mid-seventeenth century brought frequent adaptation of political terms as England gradually became of political interest, especially after the execution of Charles I in 1648 and the following reports of the events translated from English (Viereck 1986: 107). As Viereck further notes, it was consequently not surprising that English expressions from the realms of politics were introduced into German during this time, either in their original form or translated into German (1986: 107), one example being Hochverrat. English science also played a role in the language contact of the seventeenth century, being a constant source for terms such as Logarithmus and centrifugal (Viereck 1986: 108) In the eighteenth century an intense contact established between English and German, particularly with regard to the intellectual and cultural level. As a consequence, large proportions of the English vocabulary found their way into German. (Viereck 1986: 108). Especially “the influence of English literature, social practices, historical and philosophical writings, and the cultural impact in architecture, gardening, pottery, etc. and in the sciences/technology were at a peak” (Görlach and Busse 2007: 13). As Viereck adds:

The vocabulary in the above-mentioned areas was considerably enriched through the influence of English. Examples of loan translations from the eighteenth century, which are still commonly employed in German today, include Gardinenpredigt (1742) (from Engl. curtain-lecture), Gemeinplatz (1770) and Tatsache (1756) (from Engl. Matter-of- fact). (1986: 109)

The nineteenth century saw the dawn of technology. Vocabulary pertaining the rise of the Industrial Revolution including “British technological methods in shipbuilding, railway technology, mining, steel production, weaving, and clothmaking became universally accepted [...] in the greater part of Europe” (Görlach and Busse 2007: 14). It is interesting to note that for most loans, the borrowing of the object itself accompanied the introduction of a word, thus emphasizing the economic impact England had in the industrial domain (Viereck 1986: 109).

Görlach and Busse draw a further differentiation in the language contact of the nineteenth century, when in its second half “a certain degree of Anglomania affected all European countries in the domain of social life”: Vocabulary relating to different types of sports (e.g. football, golf, tennis, and horse-racing) and also designations from everyday life such as drinks, clothing, breeds of dogs were imported from England and substantially enriching the German vocabulary (2007: 14).

The twentieth century can be segmented into three discrete periods of borrowing from English. Whereas in the early twentieth century numerous AmE terms from the realms of music, dance, motor cars, and aviation entered German, the impact became massive after the 1945: The cultural orientation towards the United States propelled the increasing introduction of Anglo-American loanwords (Görlach and Busse 2007: 14). It is interesting to note that especially terms from these periods “have won themselves a secure place in the German vocabulary”, as Viereck points out (1986: 111). Among these are terms that have undergone a process of naturalization to such an extent that they are still in frequent use today, not bearing resemblance to their pristine English etymology any longer. These words include, amongst others, “from the first phase, Untergrundbahn (from Engl. underground line), Globetrotter, Thermosflasche, Polo, Golf, Bluff, and for the interwar period, Badminton, Lautsprecher, Einbahnstraße, Wochenende and Sex Appeal” (Viereck 1986: 111). The third period in the twentieth century has taken place in the wake of globalization:

Since the 1990s the huge impact of American culture and its linguistic influence reflexes have become more intense. Worldwide communication via the Internet, globalization of national economies resulting in multinational corporations, and commercial television with its advertisements and videoclips have led to a new dimension of lexical borrowings and code-switching, at least in the technical languages of business and commerce, computing, advertising, and youth language. This unabashed influx has partly provoked hostile reactions. (Görlach and Busse 2007: 14)

In sum, cultural and to a lesser extent geographical contact has played a certain part in facilitating language contact between English and German in order to make loans possible. As language is part of our culture, its contact mirrors how relationships between nationalities have developed over time. Particularly with regard to borrowings from the nineteenth and twentieth century it is obvious that in Germany the huge influx of technical innovation demanded adequate terminology. And what was easier that simply borrow the term used in the country of origin? As the label enters the language together with the concept, many a word has found its way into an altogether different language, irrespective of the intensity of contact. English itself has expanded its lexicon to huge extent by simply adopting foreign and employing them alongside the English equivalent, making differentiations between different nuances possible.

2.3. The Present: The Contact Situation Between English and German Today

The above mentioned phases of lexical transmission have enriched German with a substantial portion of English vocabulary. In order to complete this picture, it is necessary to define the contact scenario between these two languages as it is today, and thus to evaluate the intensity of the impact English has on modern German.

According to Onysko, the situation between English and German can be identified as “remote”, in which contact is “not based on direct speaker interaction but is primarily mediated through print and audiovisual media (newspapers, journals, TV, radio, Internet)” (Onysko 2009: 58). As the contact situation is based on a “non-immediate, distant relation”, only “mitigated influences (such as lexical borrowing) are expected” (ibid.).

Despite this contact scenario being categorized as remote, the varying types of influence let us draw conclusions as to the impact English has on German. In this particular case, it is worth noting that, “even though the structural similarity of English and German would make calquing easy” (Görlach and Busse 2007: 31), a substantial number of direct borrowings and a relatively low number of calques can be found in German. Görlach and Busse thus show that “present-day German is open to Anglicisms to an extreme degree in comparison with other languages in modern Europe” (Görlach and Busse 2007: 31). As Viereck specifies:

The number of direct and indirect German borrowings from English at the lexical level is extremely high. It is especially the direct borrowing from both American English and British English—in other words, the zero substitutions—which are a clear indication in the German lexis of today of increasing technicalization and internationalization. (Viereck 1986: 119)

In turn, however, these direct loans themselves show the restrictedness of the influence of English. As Fischer (2008: 2) notes, lexical borrowings in remote contact scenarios are mostly restricted to certain domains only and are predominantly attributed to the written language. Due to their restricted usage, they occur only occasionally and do not form a part of the native word stock. Additionally, “English colloquialisms tend to occur in advertising, in journalism and in youth language, carrying a certain prestige in these discourse types” (Fischer 2008: 2). This restrictedness is summarized by Onysko as following:

[F]or the German language, many studies on anglicisms show that the use of English is restricted to certain domains of discourse, in particular to topics of lifestyle, fashion, entertainment and sport, to the language of advertisement, to certain technical jargons (e.g. computer and IT technology), and, to a lesser extent, also to business and economics. Their use in these varied domains is tied to specific communicative functions ranging from mainly denotational reference (e.g. technical nomenclatures) to primarily connotational associations (e.g. in advertisements). (2009: 55)

As a result, the use of anglicisms in German is not only related to certain domains, but also to different attitudinal functions. As Görlach and Busse specify, in German, most anglicisms are either “‘technical’ (restricted to the terminologies of sciences, technologies, and other jargons); these tend to be infrequent, incompletely integrated, written, and attitudinally neutral” or “‘colloquial/slang’; these tend to be frequent only in youth language, journalism, and advertising and more typical of spoken use […]. In contrast to the terms in [the first category], the meaning of colloquial items is often vague” (2007: 28).

Additionally, the contact scenario between English and German is not only classified by the different domains of discourse and attitudinal functions, but also their use in particular social surroundings and other demographic parameters must be taken into account: “It is quite obvious that the present impact of English on German is unevenly spread in the vocabulary as far as domains, degrees of formality, technicality, frequency and social variables (age, education, region) are concerned” (Görlach and Busse 2007: 28).

To sum up, the high number of direct borrowings instead of mere calquing suggests an extreme degree of influence on German. On the other hand, speaker- external socio-cultural factors (including demographics and fields of discourse), speaker-conscious attitudinal parameters (such as questions of prestige and language purism) and last but not least subconscious linguistic criteria (e.g. an underlying borrowing hierarchy) can and will influence how language contact between English and German develops.

As an afterthought, the fact that anglicisms occur in certain fields of speech might have a larger influence on society than assumed. Especially the use of anglicisms in everyday discourse, such as in lifestyle and entertainment domains (and these very terms have seen such an extensive use in German that they tend to become semantically empty) might influence parts of the speaker community on a larger scale as their sole denominational function in restricted domains. Mass media readily absorb anglicisms and everyday terms become naturalized and integrated into the language, with the consequence that many English loan words are being used without awareness. It is thus necessary, after having defined in which particular contexts anglicisms are used, to consider the attitudes towards their usage in order to gain a complete view of their use in German today.

2.4. Attitudes Towards the Use of Anglicisms in German

When languages come into contact, it is only natural that “[a]ttitudes towards nonnative forms vary, both between communities and within a given community. Some adopt loan forms on a large scale, while others consider using ‘foreign’ importations as tokens of unacceptable language mixing” (Aikhenvald 2007: 39).

Although the contact scenario between English and German can be classified as remote, “language contact can emerge as a socially and emotionally sensitive issue. Perceived linguistic influence can lead to institutional efforts of language planning and policy in order to “protect” the integrity of one’s tongue”1 (Onysko 2007: preface). Of course, also in Germany discussions have arisen concerning the felt endangerment of the German language based on a “perception of English elements as non-indigenous, as foreign, as intruding” (Onysko 2007: 2). As Fischer notes:

[T]he critique of the anglicisms is not so much about the fact that language is a means of communication, but rather about language being a symbol of the national and cultural identity of a speech community. Anglicisms embody Anglophone or American social and cultural structures and values, which can be perceived as a threat to one’s own values. (Fischer 2008: 4)


1 Examples of these attempts can be seen in France, where commissions go to great lengths to ban English words from French altogether (Plümer 2000). Fischer notes a certain ironical tinge in these efforts, given the fact that more than half of the English vocabulary originates from French (Fischer 2008: 4).

Excerpt out of 37 pages


Anglicisms in German
Ruhr-University of Bochum
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Anglicism, Anglicisms, Anglizismen, Anglizismus, Sprachkontakt, Language Contact, Spracheinstellung, Integration
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Katharina Czerwinski (Author), 2010, Anglicisms in German, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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