The usage and integration of German loanwords in British and American English. How are different spelling norms applied?

A corpus based study

Term Paper, 2019
18 Pages, Grade: 2,7


Table of contents

1 Introduction

2 Theoretical Background
2.1 The definition of the term ”loanword”
2.2 History of German loanwords
2.3 Typical orthographical modifications of loanwords
2.4 Chosen loanwords and expectations

3 Methodology
3.1 Oxford English Dictionary
3.2 Corpora
3.3 Limitations of the research design

4 Results
4.1 Synchronic spelling differences of the chosen loanwords
4.2 Frequency of loanword spelling variations comparing AmE with BrE
4.3 Different phonemes and orthographical changes in AmE and BrE compared
to German
4.4 Other abnormalities

5 Discussion
5.1 Synchronic spelling differences comparing BrE and AmE
5.2 English spelling compared to German spelling
5.3 Differences in categories

6 Conclusion



Appendix 1: Table 5: Raw frequency spelling results of the loanwords

Appendix 2: Search strings for BNC and COCA

1 Introduction

The English language has a rich vocabulary with around 600.000 entries in the Oxford English Dictionary and is nowadays spoken in countries all over the world (van Gelderen 2006: 3). Therefore many languages have borrowed words from the English language and adopted them into their language. So did the German language accept anglicism in many aspects of everyday life and borrowed terms like baby or steak which are now fully adapted and a part of the German language (Viereck 1980: 56). However, there is also Germanism in the English language, or better said original German words appearing in the British and American English language today, called loanwords. When confronting people with the term “German loanword” they normally only come up with a few examples like Aberglaube or Bratwurst. But how frequent are they actually used in British English (BrE) and American English (AmE) and how are different spelling norms applied?

Loanwords might have gone through a process of different spelling variations during time. Nonetheless, this study will only focus on synchronic spelling differences in British and American English. The original German spelling will also be compared with the English one. It is a corpus-based study and the aim is to clarify the usage and integration of german loanwords in the British and American English language today. As there exist many german loanwords, after all, this study only takes a few loanwords into consideration. There are a lot of different semantic fields of borrowing, for instance, science, food, education et cetera. For my research I have selected a variation out of the following three categories: Food, Society and Music.

This paper is structured as the following. Firstly, the term loanword is being defined as well as previous studies regarding spelling modifications are given and the chosen loanwords are presented. Chapter three gives inside in the work with the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), the British National Corpus (BNC) and the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA) and mentions limitations of the research design. The following chapter four presents a clear overview of synchronic spelling differences for the chosen loanwords, which are then discussed regarding previous studies in chapter five. Finally, the last chapter summaries the findings of the paper while also adding some suggestions for future research.

2 Theoretical Background

2.1 The definition of the term ”loanword”

For a better understanding of what we consider as a loanword, it seems to be important to define the term. The english word for adapting a word from one language into another is normally called loanword, even though “the receiving language does not give them back” (Crystal 2003: 126). Other possibilities to call it are just loan or loan word, borrowing, guest word or foreign word. (Hughes 2000: 55). However, in this paper I will only use the term loanword.

Hughes (2000: 55) claims that we have to differ between loan translations and actual loanwords. The difference is that with the loan translations the morpheme is directly translated from one language to another (f.e. superman is a loan translation from Übermensch). Loanwords, on the other hand, borrow a word from another language with possible confirmation of some phonemes, so it fits better into the language system. Sometimes both actions of borrowing get combined which causes different spelling variation for instance apple strudel (Stanforth 1996: 30).

In addition, J. Allan Pfeffer has an interesting idea of different criteria for loanwords (1987: 4-6). He suggests that there are 8 different classes of loanwords:

1) “Foreign words” which are only used as quotation and written in italics or with quotation marks. (e.g. AE: Aberglaube).
2) “Not so foreign words” which are almost embedded into the new language and no longer specially marked (e.g. AE: Autobahn).
3) Foreign words which differ from a loanword only in some phonetic, morphological or orthographical details (e.g. AE: ablaut – GER: 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 GER: Bauer).
5) Part-loans or Part-Translations which consist of a German part and an English part (e.g. AE: concert stuck – GER: Konzertstück).
6) Loan translations (e.g. AE: academic freedom – GER: akademische Freiheit).
7) English transitions of an originally German word (e.g. AE: hockamore = a white whine – GER: Hochheimer).
8) Loaned meanings to enrich the semantic field of an English word (e.g. AE: habilitate oneself – GER: sich habilitieren – die Lehrberechtigung an einer Hochschule erwerben).

2.2 History of German loanwords

English Language has borrowed many words over time and still does. A study from Garland Cannon (1987) shows that there are more than a thousand loanwords adapted into English from 84 different languages. Although 25% of all these loanwords are from French origin, German is with 6% the sixth biggest origin (Jackson and Zé Amvela 2007: 50).

The first German loanwords appeared in Great Britain around 1520 via writing (Stanforth 1996: 9). However, the first German loanwords in North America were noticed a little later in the late 17th century. The reason for that late discovery of German loanwords are the German inhabitants escaping from the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) (Garcia 2002: 74). Those immigrants have passed on the german words to English speaking habitants via conversation (Stanforth 1996: 9). This kind of word borrowing is called „intimate borrowing“ whereas borrowing via writing is specified as ”cultural borrowing”. It helps us to understand the development of German-British English influences compared to American English. Cultural borrowing is more likely to keep the same spelling whereas the pronunciation may differ from the original source. Compared to intimate borrowing, where the spelling adapts to the pronunciation which can be seen as a reason for the appearance of spelling differences. An example would be the loanword swine hound, derived from the German word Schweinehund (cf. Bloomfield 1933: 461).

Today, German loanwords are in fact very common, and that not only in English language. There are many German terms adapted into other languages all over the globe (f.e. Zeitgeist) (Limbach 2007: 3). Also Stanforth (1996: 132) adds, that German loanwords might be exotic at some times, but they give the text a certain touch.

2.3 Typical orthographical modifications of loanwords

In most cases a loanword goes through morphological processes, so it would adjust to the British and American language system (Stanforth 1996: 11). However, Pfeffer (1987: 6) claims, that most of the German words that were published in the Oxford English Dictionary, kept the German spelling norm. The only exception being nouns, which were written in lower case, as a part of adapting to the English grammar. Nevertheless I believe that there are actually a lot synchronic spelling differences, and one aim is to prove that Pfeffers findings are not up to date anymore.

Due to differences in the sound systems there has occurred some phonetical modifications of English language to embrace the German loanwords.

For example is the german < ß > transformed to < ss > (weissbeer), the umlauts < ä > < ö > and < ü > are mostly just written < a > < o > and < u > (fraulein instead of Fräulein),

< y > is n some cases written instead of < j > (yager instead of Jäger) and the same goes for < c > instead of < k > (clavier),

< z > is rather represented by < tz > (schwartzbrot) and < u > becomes to < oo > (noodle) (Stanforth 1996:184)

2.4 Chosen loanwords and expectations

In total this study focuses on nine loanwords. They were taken from the Oxford English Dictionary, while the German origins have been found in Grimm's ”Deutsches Wörterbuch”. The following three semantic fields were taken into consideration: Society, Food, Music.

Category Society:

double-ganger (Doppelgänger), fräulein (Fräulein), kindergarten (Kindergarten) Category Food:

pretzel (Bretzel), beer-garden (Biergarten), delicatessen (Delikatessen)

Category Music:

concertmaster (Konzertmeister), waltz (Walzer), glockenspiel (Glockenspiel)

Regarding previous findings, phonetic rules and English spelling norms I expect a lot of synchronic spelling differences for the chosen loanwords. My prediction is that most of the loanwords change their spelling to fit better into the English language. However I think some loanwords also keep the German spelling norm in a small amount. Apart from the OED findings, the following three tables show other expected spelling differences:

Table 1: Expected spelling differences for the loanwords in the category “Society”

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Table 2: Expected spelling differences for the loanwords in the category “Food“

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Table 3: Expected spelling differences for the loanwords in the category “Music”

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten


Excerpt out of 18 pages


The usage and integration of German loanwords in British and American English. How are different spelling norms applied?
A corpus based study
University of Bonn
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
German Loanwords, british, microlingustics, American, english, linguistics, Corpus, COCA, BNC
Quote paper
Anonymous, 2019, The usage and integration of German loanwords in British and American English. How are different spelling norms applied?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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