Patterns of variation in the participle formation of English loan verbs in German

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2007

31 Pages, Grade: 1,3



1 Introduction
1.1 Previous Research
1.2 The Past Participle in German and its Application to Verbal Anglicisms

2 Empirical Study on Variation Patterns
2.1 Methodology
2.2 Presentation and Analysis of Results
2.3 Interpretation of Results and Comparison to Scherer’s Study

3 Conclusion

4 References

5 Appendix

1 Introduction

In the last decades, modern English has evolved into one of the dominant world languages of science and technology, sports and pop culture. In that it also has a growing influence on other languages such as German. Recent linguistic research has not yet been able to come up with the actual percentage of anglicisms in modern German. Linguists like Zifonun and Kirkness do however estimate that 11-40 % of all neologisms that enter the German language are of English origin (see Zifonun, 2002:3). The biggest word class among these are nouns because their morphosyntactic integration into the target language does not pose too great a problem for speakers of German. This is different with verbs: their morphological structure is more complicated than that of nouns due to their wider system of inflectional paradigms. In comparison to German, English syntax is much stricter which results in different syntactic treatments of verbs in both languages. Besides, nowadays the only productive class among these consists of the regular weak verbs. All new loans are incorporated into this class and must therefore rigorously follow its inflectional paradigms (see Geller, 1983:255f and Römer, 2006:87). In that, the integration of verbal anglicisms into German is different from the integration of nouns which provides a fruitful area of linguistic research. After all, they account for 10-20 % of all anglicisms, as linguist Stephanie Bohmann is said to have found out (see Scherer, 2000:37).

The aim of this term paper is to take a look at variation in the formation of the past participle (“Partizip II”) of English verbs in German. For that purpose I will start with an introduction to previous research in that specific field, answering the general question how the past participle is formed in German and where problems may occur with verbal anglicisms. In a next step I will present the empirical study I conducted and the results collected from it in order to get a deeper insight into morphosyntactic variation in the process of word integration. Further remarks about the methodology and aim of my study will be made in the relevant chapter.

1.1 Previous Research

As has been adumbrated before, there is still quite some uncertainty about the actual share of English loan verbs in modern German. While linguists have paid great attention to the investigation of the integration and the sociolinguistic effects of the growing number of anglicisms, this seems to be only true for nouns which comprise the largest number of lexical borrowings. Verbs on the other hand, have therefore been mostly neglected in previous research and their investigation mostly emanated from popular culture.

The first linguist to explicitly deal with this word class on a more scientific and profound level was Ewa Geller who, in 1983, investigated the processes of morphosyntactic, phonologic and orthographic assimilation of verbal anglicisms in German (see Geller, 1983:255). Further research in this linguistic field has been conducted by Carmen Scherer and Alexander Onysko, the two most prominent examples of the last decade. In her MA-thesis Vom Fremdwort zum Lehnwort, Scherer examines the processes of morphological, phonological and graphematic integration of anglicisms into German. Besides nouns and adjectives she pays special attention to the word class of verbs and touches topics such as inflection and subsequent variation (see Scherer, 2000:37-48). Some recent updates to this initial study of hers can be found in the accompanying paper to a talk she gave at the 38th Poznan Linguistics Meeting 2007 (Scherer, 2007). Finally, the chapter about verbal anglicisms in Alexander Onysko’s book Anglicisms in German primarily deals with the inflectional paradigms of German and the question of how these function with English loan verbs in order to promote their integration. Besides that, he also goes through the field of assimilation by means of affixation which he presents as a chance of making verbs of English origin more compatible to the German language (Onysko, 2007:229-248). Due to their topicality and profound disquisition, the works by Scherer will serve as the primary basis for this term paper. Other pieces of research literature, such as the Onysko book and Geller paper, will be addressed in the text and can be found in the references.

1.2 The Past Participle in German and its Application to Verbal Anglicisms

Since the topic of this term paper adverts to the formation of the past participle, I will now proceed by presenting the theoretical background associated with it. The past participle in German, also known as “Partizip II”, is used whenever an action has been completed and the condition resulting from that action is to be expressed (01, 02). As such it poses an anteriority to the rest of the statement (03).

illustration not visible in this excerpt

(Jude, 1980:85)

The participle often has a passive meaning with transitive verbs (04) and may appear as an attribute. The past participle of intransitive verbs has an active meaning if it is used with an inflected form of sein (‘to be’). As such it indicates the condition of the respective noun and is mostly used predicatively. It may also occur attributively and complementary but only if it clearly expresses a completed condition (05). This type of participles in German is inflected like adjectives, especially when it is substantivized and used as a noun (Jude, 1980:85 and Scherer, 2000:39).

The German language knows the principle of stress on the stem syllable (‘Stammsilbenbetonung’). According to this rule, native German word roots are mostly monosyllabic or disyllabic. In the latter case, the second syllable contains a reduced vowel which must not be stressed. As a result, the word may only be stressed on the first stem syllable (Scherer, 2000:8f). This leads me to the formation of the past participle. There are three basic morphological classifications of verbs to be differentiated. The first verb type is quite simple in its morphological structure. The verb stem consists of the root and is mostly monosyllabic. They are often referred to as simplex verbs. Type two includes verbs whose word stem is composed of the root and a prefix (prefixed verbs). Finally, when the stem comprises the root and a particle which is mostly in word initial position, we speak of particle verbs.

illustration not visible in this excerpt

(Scherer, 2000:40 and Scherer, 2007:2).

Verbs presented in (06) have their word stress on the stem syllable and form the past participle simply by adding two affixes to the stem, namely the prefix ge- and the suffix - (e)t. Prefixed verbs as in example (07) are also stressed on the stem syllable, the prefix being neglected and therefore unstressed. Their stress pattern and inflectional paradigms correlate with those of the simplex verbs they have been derived from. The only difference is that the prefixes prevent the formation of the past participle to take place like with the words in example (06). Instead, the prefix ge- is omitted and only the participle suffix –(e)t is added to the stem. The prefixes that make up the verbs in (07) are mostly bound morphemes which means they cannot be separated from the verb in order to be used independently. This includes be-, emp-, ent-, er-, ge-, ver-, and zer-. In addition to that the rule stated above also applies when the prefix is an unstressed preposition or adverb, e.g. wieder- or hinter-. Finally, the particle verbs in (08) present another picture. Their particles consist of free morphemes which means that they can be separated from the root, being of mostly adverbial, prepositional, and adjectival origin. Such a separation happens for example in some forms when the verb is inflected (Zifonun, 1997:2209f):

(09) anfragen: ich frage an, du fragst an, er fragt an, wir fragen an, ihr fragt an, sie fragen an.

The majority of particle verbs as presented in (08) have the main word stress on the particle itself. Then, these “loose compound verbs” are inflected just like the verbs they were derived from. The only difference is that in the past participle, the ge- prefix is often realized as an infix that is inserted between particle and root. The inflectional suffix –(e)t remains unchanged and is added to the stem accordingly (Jude, 1980:90ff). As Scherer points out, there should be made a further distinction as the inflectional paradigms presented above are only valid if the particle verb has a simple stem. If the stem is however prefixed, as for example in the words abverlangen and zubereiten with the primary word stress on the particle, the past participle is formed following the pattern of prefixed verbs. In that case, the affix ge- is omitted and only the past participle suffix –(e)t is added to the verbal stem (Scherer, 2000:40 and Römer, 2006:116f). Table 1 illustrates the principles addressed so far:

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Table 1: Past Participle formation in German (Scherer, 2007:5f)

As can be easily seen in the examples given in (06)-(09) and table 1, categorizing native German verbs into one of the three basic verb types that I talked about before should be no problem for native or advanced speakers of German. But what happens when verbs of English origin are used in an all-German context? One should think that a speaker would unconsciously analyze the verbal structure and then apply one of the patterns to correctly inflect the foreign verb. In her study from 1983, Geller realized that all verbal anglicisms are assigned the German inflectional paradigm of weak verbs as the only productive verb class today, no matter if the original word followed regular or irregular inflection in English (Geller, 1983:264f). Moreover, in matters of the different verb types that are shown above, Scherer found out that English simplex and prefixed verbs do not cause too big a problem when being integrated in German sentences. Their morphological structure is similar to the structure found in German verbs of those classifications. Monosyllabic lexemes such as to chat (‘plaudern’) or to mail (‘verschicken’) can therefore easily be identified as simplex verbs, resulting in the German infinitive forms chatten (orthographic consonant reduplication!) and mailen which – apart from inconsistencies on the orthographic level – do behave like German simplex verbs.

The formation of the past participle does not pose a problem here either. Simply by adding the respective prefix ge- and the suffix –(e)t we receive two proper inflected forms: ge-chatt-et and ge-mail-t (Scherer, 2007:3). Onysko lists a number of verbal anglicisms that follow the same pattern. Most of these forms have been a part of German for so many years now that their English word origin may often be hard to tell:

illustration not visible in this excerpt

(Onysko, 2007:230f)

A similar situation is given with the class of prefixed verbs. Due to the uniform stress pattern with the primary stress not lying on the prefix but the word root in most of the original English words, an integration into German is made quite simple. Scherer refers to the two verbs to design (‘entwerfen’) and to relax (‘sich ausruhen’) in her 2007 study. Again, we receive two adequate and grammatical participle forms when applying the inflectional paradigm for this verb type: design-t and relax-t (Scherer, 2007:4). In that, the first two verb categories have not caused any irregularities.

But what about the third type of particle verbs? As has been stated before, the primary stress in these words lies on the particle itself, the first syllable of the word that is. Looking at hybrid forms such as einscannen and abchecken, derivations where a German particle and an English root are compounded, it quickly becomes clear to a profound speaker of German that these verbs must be treated like native particle verbs. The separability of the German particle is beyond question. The participle should thus be formed once more according to the rules: insertion of the past participle affix -ge- between the German particle and the root and suffixation of –(e)t to the stem. But this is different with verbs that comprise an English particle and root. Especially computer language and the business world are full of these challenging verbs:

(11) to download > downloaden to upgrade > upgraden
to outsource > outsourcen to downsize > downsizen

The question to be asked in this context is how speakers of German will inflect these verbs that cannot be categorized as easily as verbal anglicisms of types one and two. The problem here is not posed by the primary stress which perfectly lies on the particles as would be expected. It is rather that the morphological structure of these verbs is more complex and may therefore not be as discernable as those of simplex and prefixed verbs. In order to be able to form the past participle by the model of native German particle verbs, the speaker must first of all analyze the verbal anglicism to be complex. In a second step he must detect the particle as a free morpheme that can be separated. If he succeeds in both analyses, he will likely apply the paradigms that are valid for native German particle verbs. In that case, the verbs in (11) would be inflected like this:

(12) downloaden > down-ge-load-et upgraden > up-ge-grad-et
outsourcen > out-ge-sourc-t downsizen > down-ge-siz-t / -ed

If the speaker does however fail to analyze the anglicism properly, he should treat the examples in (12) like simplex verbs. This would mean that the particle is not correctly identified as such and – as a result – is no longer seen as a separable element of the word. Instead, it will likely appear to be a part of the root of the English verb. So the participle would then be formed following the simplex verb pattern, i.e. circumfixation of ge- and –(e)t to the stem (Scherer, 2000:40ff).


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Patterns of variation in the participle formation of English loan verbs in German
University of Marburg  (Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik)
Contrastive Linguistics
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"A well-written paper based on a very advanced experiment and analysis" - Schriftlicher Kommentar des Dozenten
Patterns, English, German, Contrastive, Linguistics
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Roman Büttner (Author), 2007, Patterns of variation in the participle formation of English loan verbs in German, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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