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Words & Wörter: The Denglisch “Language”

‘Spanglish’ was a term coined way back in 1940 to refer to a sort of hybrid language that incorporated aspects of both Spanish and English. It appeared around about the time that the United States welcomed more than 50,000 Caribbean natives striving to take advantage of post-war economic growth, and it’s still used today, most notably in border states such as California, Arizona, and New Mexico which have large numbers of Spanish-speaking residents from Mexico, and Central and South America.

Today, however, Spanglish is old news. ‘Denglisch’, which is a blend of German and English, is the latest hot topic in the linguistics world. In terms of Spanglish, it’s simple to see how and why the pseudo language was formed – immigration – but why Denglisch? There are really a number of different reasons why the two languages have begun to blend together. Firstly, there are a number of similarities between English and German, as both languages descended down through the same linguistic family tree. Secondly, there are a large number of British military bases across the country, and thirdly, we have the fact that many American TV shows and movies are hugely popular in Germany, giving greater exposure to the English language.

Changing Meanings

Despite a very high level of English fluency among Germans, particularly in the younger generations who learn the language at school, Denglisch really does exist. There are a number of humorous attempts to borrow words from English that have come to mean something else entirely. ‘Smoking’, which we’d use to refer to the actions of someone with a cigarette, is used to describe a formal jacket, for example. Similarly, ‘body bag’, which we’d expect to see in a funeral home, instead refers to a messenger bag. The word ‘handy’ is used in German to describe a ‘cell phone’.

It’s often said that German is quite a harsh language, and while it does have some very lovely sounding words, like ‘liebe’ for love and ‘glücklich’ for happy, we can’t deny there’s a definite touch of severity there, especially when compared to other European languages. Take ‘doctor’, for example. In German, it’s the rather stern ‘doktor’ or even ‘Arzt’, which in French it’s the much softer, gentler ‘docteur’. This harshness is definitely something that translates over from German to Denglisch. For example, the movie ‘Horrible Bosses’ was released in Germany under the English title ‘Kill the Boss’. A touch extreme, don’t you think?

Will the Denglisch trend last? Well, it’s difficult to tell. Spanglish had a ‘need’, a ‘purpose’, a longevity due to immigration, but there’s much less of a need for Denglisch; it’s more of a desire for Anglicization. This happens to be a desire that many are very openly and very vocally opposed to. Just last year it was reported that German politicians were angered by the use of English in official EU documentation, and requested a translation of documents in a bid to protect the language. However, with more and more young Germans wanting the opportunity to expand their language skills, it only seems natural that Denglisch, in one form or another, will continue, especially if the desire for Anglicization increases.

(Illustration: Oleksii Sidorov/Shutterstock)

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