Anglicisms in the German language - in spite of linguistic purism?

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2008
29 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of contents


1. The spread of English

2. The borrowing process
2.1.The term Anglicism
2.2. Other terminology

3. Anglicisms in the German language after 1945
3.1. Language change
3.2. Interventions

4. Linguistic purism and language policy in Germany
4.1. The ‘ADSV’ (Allgemeiner Deutscher Sprachverein:
General German Language Association)
4.2. Linguistic purism from 1919-1945
4.3. Linguistic purism after 1945
4.3.1. The ‘GfdS’ (Gesellschaft für deutsche Sprache:
Association for the German language)
4.3.2. The ‘Duden’
4.4. France as model?




Hatte ich vorsichtshalber den Times -Artikel über die ‘German linguistic submissivness’, unsere bekannte sprachliche Unterwürfigkeit, überflogen, muß ich die Travel-Service-Hostess hinter dem Counter ziemlich perplex angestarrt haben, als sie loslegte: „Jetten sie single or double, IT, Comfort oder Business Class? Carrier? In London Bed & Breakfast oder Full Service, Fly-And-Drive-Arrangement, Rent-a-car oder nur Transfer vom Airport zur City-Lodge? (Pollmeier 1994, in Spitzmüller 2005: 117)

Most linguist are consistent with the fact that German linguistic purism came to an end with the abolition of the ‘Allgemeiner Deutscher Sprachverein (ADSV)’ in 1940 (Pfalzgraf 2006: 9). Since the late 1990s, however, the debate about foreign words in German has become more intense. A number of politicians from all parties have recently criticezed the overuse of Anglicisms. Furthermore, there have been demands for a law to protect the German language - as France did in 1975.[1] Nationally supported associations as well as private organizations and internet homepages combat the so-called ‘flood’ of Anglicisms in German. In 1899, Hermann Dunger wrote an article on Wider die Engländerei in der deutschen Sprache[2], but the opposition to the English[3] influence has existed since the 17th century.

After an introduction to the spread of English, different definitions of Anglicisms and other terminology of the borrowing process, examples of English words and Anglicisms in German will be presented and discussed. Interventions against the language change complete this paper.

1. The spread of English

“It takes little linguistic training to notice that of all the world languages it was the English language that played the major international role at the end of the second millenium AD“ (Nettmann-Multanowska 2003:1). English is more widely spoken and written than any other language has ever been. It could be labeled as a world, international or global language – or all three:

The term World English acknowledges, according to Nettmann-Multanowska, the “planetary reach of the language” (2003: 2). According to Viereck (2002: 242), in 1996 there were approximately 355 million speakers of English as a mother language, 100 million of English as a second language and 150 million of English as a foreign language.[4] In over 50 countries, English is the official or co-official language.[5] But these estimations are unreliable because it is not clear which competencies one needs to be considered as a speaker of English. This worldwide spread of English “makes substantial demands on the language itself, which has undergone various transformations, remakings, domesticatings, or nativizations” (Nettmann-Multanowska 2003: 2). The varities of English, especially those with official status, are often refered to as ‘the New Englishes’ (Melchers & Shaw 2003: 7), also called ‘different Englishes’or ‘World Englishes’ (Nettmann-Multanowska 2003: 2).[6]

The term International English refers to English as a ‘lingua franca’.

There is a reasonably clear consensus in the sociolinguistics literature about the term lingua franca: a lingua franca is ‘a “contact language” between persons who share neither a common native tongue nor a common (national) culture, and for whom English is the chosen foreign language of communication’ (Rubdy & Saraceni 2006:41).

According to Holmes (2001: 78) “a lingua franca describes a language serving as a regular means of communication between different linguistic groups in a multilingual speech community”.

Is English a simple language to learn? With grammatical flexibility, lack of gender, rich vocabulary or relatively high ‘Lernbarkeit’ (learnability) English seems to be relative simple, in contrast to Chinese for example. But because of its high idiomatic usage, phrasal verbs, and tenses “English is the easiest language to speak badly” (Shaw in Nettmann-Multanowska 2003: 3).

The international prestige of a language is a cultural, political, and economic phenomenon rather than a linguistic one. Due to the USA being one of the world’s leading economic (and political) powers, English has an aura of chic, prestige, and attractiveness.

The internationally dominant position of a culture results in a forceful expansion of its language, with the reverse correlate: the expansion of the language contributes, by its very expansion, to the prestige of the culture behind it (Kahane 1992, in Nettmann-Multanowska 2003: 4).

The term Global English is quite a contemporary creation and can be seen as a response to globalization. The growth in Internet use has created a ‘global village’. The huge popularity of English as “an auxiliary language in the modern, cosmopolitan world is a natural response to the need for easier, faster, and wider communication, and a [sic!] utilitarian challenge to linguistic conservatism and inertia” (Nettmann-Multanowska 2003: 11).

According to Crystal (2003: 3f), a language achieves “global status when it develops a special role that is recognized in every country”. This status can be achieved when a language is taken up by other countries around the world. This can be done by 1) a language being made the official language of a country or 2) a language being made a priority in foreign language teaching in a country (cf. ibid.).

Why a language becomes a global language has little to do with the number of people who speak it. It has much more to do with who those speakers are. [...] Without a strong power-base, of whatever kind, no language can make progress as an international medium of communication. Language has no independent existence, living in some sort of mystical space apart from the people who speak it. Language exists only in the brains and mouths and ears and hands and eyes of it users. When they succeed, on the international stage, their language succeeds. When they fail, their language fails (Crystal 1997: 7).

English is – according to Nettmann-Multanowska (2003: 9) – the language of “international diplomacy, science, trade and commerce, tourism, advertising, sport, air and maritime communication” – a recognized lingua franca and ‘Fachsprache’. Furthermore, widespread newspapers like The Times and Washington Post as well as the book production, scholary publications, and translations from English show the attractiveness of the English language.[7]

Besides, giant companies such as Coca Cola, McDonald’s, Kellogg’s, Ford have marked their worldwide presence. According to Crystal (2003: 92f), the USA also controls about 85%[8] of the world’s movie market and an enormous share of the (pop) music industry.

British English and American English “‘joined hands’ to make English the world language” (Nettmann-Multanowska 2003: 8). English is quite often used for non-native/ non-native communication and is e.g. THE lingua franca of European organizations. Arguments against English are for instance “the notion that with English one can get by almost everywhere reduces the motivation to learn another foreign language” (Weinreich 1987, in Nettmann-Multanowska 2003: 12). According to Vielbert & Drexel (2003: 84f) there are multiple causes for the expansion of English:

1. the ongoing globalization
2. the heavy promotions of the language by the British and Americans since
the mid-1950s
3. the substantial investment in the teaching of English in the education
systems of continental European countries
4. the popular demand for English, connected with influence, success,
consumerism, and hedonism.

In the future, English could be massively ‘abused’ by non-native speakers and due to the dynamics, English could fragment too: The English language will end up “reduced to a lingua franca of social cripples or an international pidgin” (Coulmas 1987, in Nettmann-Multanowska 2003: 13). “English has the reputation of being a socially primitive language, and therefore is abused by many” (ibid.). English will go through changes itself in the future, and will also force changes upon other mother languages.

A natural consequence of the globalization at the end of the 20th century is the “extensive infiltration, or absorption, of Anglicisms” into other mother languages – often labeled as over use or ab use (Nettmann-Multanowska 2003: 15).

2. The borrowing process

2.1. The term Anglicism

There is a present dilemma of an exact definition of Anglicisms. Plümer (2000: 17) uses Anglicisms as generic term for borrowings from British and American English. It is difficult to distinguish Americanism and Briticisms, so it seems easier to speak of Anglicisms in general.[9] Before 1917, mostly British words were brought into the German language; from 1917 on (after World War I), it were mainly American words; and from 1945 on (after World War II), nearly all inclusions have been from American English.[10] There is not THE definition of an Anglicism, but the one from Zindler (1959) was confirmed in Busse (1993) and is still quoted by many linguists:[11]

Ein Anglizismus ist ein Wort aus dem britischen oder amerikanischen Englisch im Deutschen oder eine nicht übliche Wortkomposition, jede Art der Veränderung einer deutschen Wortbedeutung oder Wortverwendung (Lehnbedeutung, Lehnübersetzung, Lehnübertragung, Lehnschöpfung, Frequenzsteigerung, Wiederbelebung) nach britischem oder amerikanischem Vorbild.

25 years later, Stickel (1984) defined: “Wörter und Wendungen, die morphologische Elemente aus dem Englischen enthalten oder in ihrer Struktur oder Bedeutung auf englische Vorbilder schließen lassen“ (in Plümer 2000: 18).

Yang (1990, in Plümer 2000: 18f) subdivided Anglicisms into three categories:

1. Conventionalised Anglicisms: become common practice, are known (Computer, Manager, Baby)
2. Anglicisms in the conventionalising process: words used in media (they become 1. or disappear)
3. Quotations and proper names: used in particular situations (College, US Army).

The definitions of Anglicisms can vary due to the attitudes of the authors. Deroy (1980, in Plümer 2000: 20) created the terms Emprunts de nécessié (there is no appropriate translation or just a too long-winded explanation in the own language, so one accepts the English words) and Emprunts de luxe (Anglicisms are superfluous and mean a threat to our own language). Carstensen (1987, in Plümer 2000: 20) adds:

Der Anglizismus ist wohl dort überflüssig, wo er mit einem deutschen Wort absolut synonym ist, aber wo ist das wirklich der Fall? […] Der Anglizismus ersetzt in vielen Fällen ein deutsches oder nicht-englisches Wort, weil das aus dem Englischen stammende Wort ’vornehmer’, exotischer, internationaler, etc. ist. […] Offenbar gibt es imaginäre psycholinguistische Faktoren, die für die Annahme oder die Ablehnung des englischen Wortes sorgen.

Anglicisms which are valid worldwide are e.g. airport, bar, boss, golf, jeans, know-how, no problem, okay, sex-appeal, stop, weekend.[12]

Nettmann-Multanowska (2003: 70) sums it up:

[...] the assumption is that an Anglicism (Anglo-Americanism) is a lexical, morphemic, phonemic, graphemic, semantic, or syntactic element present in any recipient language [...] that duplicates, resembles or is based on an English model.

2.2. Other terminology

Many linguists have described, criticized, and changed the terminology of the borrowing process. So, terms such as loan shifts, loan creations, loan blends, etc. are vague and incoherent.


[1] The Loi Bas-Lauriol was revived in 1994 as Loi Toubon.

[2] Cf. Kettemann (2002: 55).

[3] No distinction will be made between British and American English.

[4] According to Kachru (1985, in Nettmann-Multanowska 2003: 2) the numbers are 300 million using

English as a second language and 115 as a foreign language. According to Graddol (1997, in

Melchers & Shaw 2003: 8), the numbers are 375 million of first-language speakers, 375 million

second-language speakers and 750 million foreign-language speakers.

[5] For details see Viereck (2002: 241).

[6] See also McArthur’s circle of World English and Kachru’s three-circle model of World Englishes,

both in Jenkins (2003: 16; 19).

[7] For more details see Viereck 2002: 243.

[8] Number referring to 1995.

[9] Some linguists use the term (Anglo-)Americanisms.

[10] For more details on the historical perspective, see Plümer (2000: 17ff).

[11] E.g. in Plümer (2000), Spitzmüller (2005), Glahn (2002).

[12] Cf. Kettemann (2002).

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Anglicisms in the German language - in spite of linguistic purism?
University of Frankfurt (Main)  (Institut für England- und Amerikastudien)
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Nina Jeanette Hofferberth (Author), 2008, Anglicisms in the German language - in spite of linguistic purism?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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