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Campaign kicks off for German language revival

AFP · 25 Feb 2010, 09:09

Published: 25 Feb 2010 09:09 GMT+01:00

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But this is in fact Potsdamer Platz, in the very heart of Berlin, the scene for the launch of a new campaign on Thursday to protect and promote German, a move seen as a backlash against the growing use of English.

Spearheading the campaign – entitled "German, the language of ideas" – was Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, who found himself in hot water when he refused to speak English at his first press conference after being elected.

"I am not ashamed of the German language. It is wonderful," Westerwelle told foreign reporters recently.

He added: "German is the most spoken language in Europe. It is the native language of over 100 million people," spoken in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and some parts of the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg.

Westerwelle's campaign is being viewed as a reaction against the growing dominance of English in a country proud of its linguistic and literary heritage.

It can claim Goethe, the author of Faust; the poet and philosopher Schiller; and more recently Bertolt Brecht and Günther Grass.

Last July, the new version of the iconic Duden dictionary, the guardian of the language, came out with 5,000 new words.

But many were taken straight from English.

Germans can now officially have "der Babyblues" and go to "eine After-Show-Party" – hoping it is not "eine No-Go Area." "Der Nickname" and "Das It-Girl" are other words that crept into this year's edition.

In the corporate world, many German firms insist their executives speak English in meetings, even when held in Germany.

English is even making inroads into the German legal world.

Although it is enshrined in the German constitution that "the court language shall be German," a pilot scheme near Cologne is allowing corporate cases to be heard in English.

The increasing use of English prompted Erika Steinbach, a member of parliament, to fire off a furious press release.

"Millions of Germans are going through life having to guess rather than really knowing what is going on, because products, adverts and instructions are in a foreign language," she said.

The Association for the German Language (VDS) welcomed Westerwelle's crusade.

"It's high time, because English is taking over several tasks that used to be done in German," Holger Klatte, a VDS spokesman, said.

"This is shown in the fact that there are so many foreign English words in Germany – more than in other European languages."

Cynics might suggest that Westerwelle – uncharitably rechristened "Mr Westerwave the outside minister", a literal translation of his name and title into English – has a personal interest in promoting German.

His refusal to speak English and his invitation to the BBC journalist who posed the question to "take a nice cup of tea" sparked a vicious bout of mockery in the press and on the web about his language skills.

But it is not just politicians who are fighting the omnipresence of English in Germany.

Story continues below…

Deutsche Bahn (DB), the national railway company, has announced it is

dropping some of its English-language marketing terms after passengers complained they could not understand them.

"Counter" will become Schalter, "Hotline" will become Servicenummer and "Flyer" will become Handzettel.

But old habits die hard.

Soaring high above Potsdamer Platz, among the billboards – in English – advertising international companies, is the iconic Deutsche Bahn building, dominating the skyline with its red DB logo.

On the side of the building, in plain English, is the welcome sign.

"DB: Mobility. Network. Logistics."

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Your comments about this article

10:54 February 25, 2010 by Celeon
Yez vee need to kick zat vile englisch out ! :-D

No, seriously, i like the english language but i dont mind recent initiatives to scale back and limit the usage of anglicisms to a minimum.

Its no real problem that its used in public service instituations like the public transportation system etc., one must also think of tourism for which it is very helpful and makes sense.

But i dont like how it much too often does not stand beside german but instead replaces it as a whole.

I was more than one time in a situation where is saw elderly people being completely lost inside their own country with all that english around them, simply not understanding what other people are saying or writing on their stores anymore.

Just as people in english speaking countries would surely not like if now everything around them would suddenly start to turn into mandarin, just for sake of the ever growing importance of China in international business?

Surely not a problem if some big companies use it here and there for projecting a "international image".

But once it enters tv advertisments and your children suddenly start to use a growing amount of chinese words within their "youth talk" people would definitely start to feel uncomfortable and better understand the german intention to limit english and boost german once again.
10:58 February 25, 2010 by auniquecorn
Ok, Lets just follow Frances lead. Whats next?
11:09 February 25, 2010 by Steven Scott
I wish California would follow the German's lead. You can drive through many areas of L.A. and see not a word of english for miles. Which country are we in again?
12:17 February 25, 2010 by lilplatinum
If old people are "lost inside their own country" over the inability to read a billboard, perhaps its time to kick them out to das Altenheim.

Hardly a requirement for everyday life.
13:33 February 25, 2010 by Frenemy

I think you're absolutely right.

I can empathize with the "elderly people being completely lost inside their own country" as you so aptly put it. And you Amis out there (especially Californians) should understand this better than anyone. I mean, I can't even begin to convey how pissed off it makes me whenever I'm in the States and get Spanish before English at ATMs or when I dial a 1-800 number :-/
13:38 February 25, 2010 by lilplatinum
Yes, that extra 8 seconds it takes for them to say press 2 for espanol is just life shattering, I am sure.
13:58 February 25, 2010 by Igelchen
German is in real danger of dying out in the next few centuries. Of course the government needs to do something now to protect it from wholesale replacement with English, or any other language. I would be shocked at anything less. There's a huge difference between neologisms drawing on foreign words and replacement of existing words and concepts, and the latter really ought to be discouraged in the strongest terms. It's a matter of life or death for the German language.
14:12 February 25, 2010 by lordkorner
All I wish is that they would stop dubbing movies,its one of the few things in this country that drives me mad...
14:25 February 25, 2010 by Brennie
It is very important to keep one's language alive and minimise the use of foreign words. Take my language (Irish) that was once almost extinct except for a few pockets around the country who continued to speak it. Thankfully it is getting a great revival and more and more are starting to speak in Irish.

I love the German language and it should be protected.
14:46 February 25, 2010 by Frenemy
@lilplatinum: I think you misunderstood me. I don't care if there are Spanish submenus or options, but it pisses me off when I get Spanish BEFORE English!

(or as @StevenScott pointed out, how you can " drive through many areas of L.A. and see not a word of english for miles.")
15:29 February 25, 2010 by lilplatinum

Maybe you should save your ire for things that effect your life? I'm from Houston which is filled with illegals and I know that the parts of the city where you don't see a word of English are hardly areas you would go if you didn't speak Spanish anyway.
16:26 February 25, 2010 by ovbg
When will some people learn that languages are fluid and evolving entities. Trying to control language evolution is counter productive and usually based on nationalist ideals.

Imagine how lost English would be if our language never evolved. You don't have to look to far to see the foreign influence. Last time I went to a restaurant in London, I never became confused to what the establishment was because the word "Restaurant" is actually French. I'm sure I can also grasp what a "Kindergarten" is without needing it translated into "Children's Garden".

If you have a few moments, listen to this fantastic podcast from the great Stephen Fry. His most recent podcast coincidentally is regarding language.

16:55 February 25, 2010 by tollermann
Another one in the long list of why Germans are so self destructive.

1. As usual Germans don't want to have kids but the vast majority dislike immigration.

2. Germans wonder why their scientists and technology are no longer the envy of the world? mmmmm, I think most of the best left when they could after 1933!

3. They talk about global warming but go all over the world on their 6 week vacations fighting with the British over spaces on the beach.

4. German cuisine? Please...

5. Modern Music? Please...

Don't speak english, I could give a rats ... ask!
17:31 February 25, 2010 by loz_adele
@don_riina: lol thanks for that, it made my day *chuckle*

and I completely agree with you by the way, I do love German and I'm glad the'yre getting rid of anglicisms but the whole gender thing is madness
17:43 February 25, 2010 by moreanon
When I shop in Lidl or Aldi, I often can't read the labels because they're in every language except English. I live in Ireland. And German is one of those languages.
20:35 February 25, 2010 by css1971
English (or some form of it) is going to replace German, French, Spanish, Indian and even chinese.

This is a good thing, but it's going to take a while.
21:16 February 25, 2010 by MaKo
They don't have to "fight" English. They just have to speak Deutsch, just like I do when I leave my miniature Amerika Haus here. Nobody's twisting anybody's arm.
21:31 February 25, 2010 by brnskin2010
I believe that the German language should be preserved in their country, but I also believe that the english translation should be next to it in all public places. The United States out of courtesy to all foreigners translate english into spanish, german, dutch, italian, etc. for all foreigners that live and conduct business in the U.S.
22:51 February 25, 2010 by Fredfeldman
I have an idea. Germany could adopt America's illegal immigrants, most of whom speak spanish and have a hard time with good english. Then the land of Wagner, Beethooven & Nietzsche can preoccupy itself with poor spanish rather than flagellate its people for trying to get in step with the rest of the world which is busy trying to learn english.
00:22 February 26, 2010 by Mellymac
The European Commission has just announced an agreement whereby English will be the official language of the European Union rather than German, which was the other possibility.

As part of the negotiations, the British Government conceded that English spelling had some room for improvement and has accepted a 5- year phase-in plan that would become known as "Euro-English".

In the first year, "s" will replace the soft "c". Sertainly, this will make the sivil servants jump with joy.

The hard "c" will be dropped in favour of "k". This should klear up konfusion, and keyboards kan have one less letter.

There will be growing publik enthusiasm in the sekond year when the troublesome "ph" will be replaced with "f". This will make words like fotograf 20% shorter.

In the 3rd year, publik akseptanse of the new spelling kan be expekted to reach the stage where more komplikated changes are possible.

Governments will enkourage the removal of double letters which have always ben a deterent to akurate speling.

Also, al wil agre that the horibl mes of the silent "e" in the languag is disgrasful and it should go away.

By the 4th yer people wil be reseptiv to steps such as replasing "th" with "z" and "w" with "v".

During ze fifz yer, ze unesesary "o" kan be dropd from vords kontaining "ou" and after ziz fifz yer, ve vil hav a reil sensi bl riten styl.

Zer vil be no mor trubl or difikultis and evrivun vil find it ezi tu understand ech oza. Ze drem of a united urop vil finali kum tru!

Und efter ze fifz yer, ve vil al be speking German like zey vunted in ze forst plas.

If zis mad you smil, pleas pas on to oza pepl.
03:29 February 26, 2010 by CalBill
I agree with Germany trying to preserve it's cultural identity but I think that (from a practical point of view) there are a lot more English speakers traveling and doing business in Germany than there are German speakers traveling and doing business in English speaking countries. Just a thought.
05:23 February 26, 2010 by Der Grenadier aus Aachen
Damnit. Everytime I decide Westerwelle is an idiot, he goes and does something to redeem himself.
15:35 February 26, 2010 by DepotCat
Yeah and English should abandon all words that can be traced back to Indian origins...

Now we just have to think of alternatives for:








The list goes on....

Then there are words that have a French, Spanish, Greek and goodness me German origin.

As ovbg wrote "...languages are fluid and evolving entities". And yes that has always included the English language too.
17:12 February 26, 2010 by slingshot
"2. Germans wonder why their scientists and technology are no longer the envy of the world? mmmmm, I think most of the best left when they could after 1933!"

This is definitely an Ami with projection problems.
18:52 February 26, 2010 by Nancy Hewett
Can Germans ever evolve and adapt?
19:02 February 26, 2010 by Gretl
Good luck with that, Westerwelle! The entire world is learning English as a second language, and you are promoting de-anglicizing Germany. So when tourists come from all over the world, empowered with their knowledge of the universal language, they will be lost. Bayern already pisses me off with their "no-English tours of castles". So you go to Prague where you can get a tour in whatever language you want. More importantly, this guy is the Foreign Minister? Way to reach out and promote international understanding.

I will not miss the "Engrish" of DB, although it is a heck of a lot better than in Japan. But I see this as cutting of one's nose to spite one's face.
21:37 February 26, 2010 by greattoucan
I'm on Westerwelle's side on this one point. All the Americans on here bitch about Spanish at home, and they don't even understand that language. Most Germans get 9 years of English, and usually have some ability in another language as well. Germans have a right to have a place to be German. The world ought to be able to understand each other to some extent, but not at the expense of the local languages. I personally find it convenient to go to a place where English isn't spoken well or at all, and where George W. Bush can remain as the ultimate object of derision that he is and should stay. Thank God Germany didn't hie off to Iraq with the rest of the world.
08:07 February 27, 2010 by ColoSlim

Resistance is futile, you will be assimilated

The funny thing is, no single entity is responsible for language sharing, but it can usually be attributed to INTERNAL usage not external influences. In other words, its Germany's fault for normalizing the use of English in media and in business. No American asked DTelekom to create a product called "Company Connect." They did it because it sounded cool and cool is marketing. When the German people respond to marketing in Denglish or English, they encourage it.

Sehr lustic, oder?
18:26 February 27, 2010 by Bushdiver
@ tollermann

2. Germans wonder why their scientists and technology are no longer the envy of the world? mmmmm, I think most of the best left when they could after 1933!

Does that include all the ones the US Military confiscated at the end of the war?
19:58 February 27, 2010 by gagaou
plus the ones in the USSR. What did all have in common?
02:59 February 28, 2010 by Ich
I love German, but it's slipping away after my tour in Germany, although I do try to keep it up.

I'd get frustrated when, after a few minutes auf Deutsch, a German would say "Are you American? Why didn't you say so? I speak perfect English!"

Hard to learn German, that way.

But languages do evolve, and government social engineering always back fires. Guaranteed, as soon as they put all the pubic signs in German, someone will have a fit and they'll wind up with Swahili or some mc doofus thing.
05:45 February 28, 2010 by RHS
I understaand this reaction against english ,especially if the english words are used to the extetn that many germans do not understnd them. At least in Germany the banks do not ask you if you want ot speak english first and german second. In the US it is presumed that all americans prefer only the spanish language. I would love it if the bankmachines woudl say "select your language" and the list would have english along with seven or eight other global lnguages, including, of course, the German language.

In the US spanish has become completely poltically correct. I would urge the german embassy and others to educate the american government to promote other foegin languages, including, of course the German language.

It is interesting that in my state of Pennsyllvaia, German was the second most dominent language until 1905 or so, Many schools in the rural areas taught in german.T hen the State passed a law stating that all public school instruction would be in english. Our state governmeent had to institute a special board whose job it was to integrate the german speaking minority into the dominent english culture. This would never happen today with spanish.

MY great grandparents spoke at germanic palatinate creole dialect as their first language. My father could speak some of iot as well it as well,although not as a first language. I know only a few words -Grumbeera not kartoffeln for potatoes in Pennsylvania Deutsch, although there is a little bit of an accent left. My kids do not know any of the dialect and they have no accent. It is a shame that so many amereican childrten are taking spanish and that schools are dropping other languages, including german and french.

All of us should be encouraging intercommunications and travel ease for tourists and business people, but nto at th expense of loosing our own language as we are her in the US with spanish. Aslo we are teribel in terms of accomodating. I have no diea where a tourist would go here to exchange euros for US dollars. In europe it is easy and conveninet to do currency exchange. Most americans have never seen a Euro.
08:10 February 28, 2010 by biker hotel harz
I'm all for getting as many English words into the German language as possible and here's the reason why. Most of my daughters friends can hardly string a sentence together in English, not helped by germany's rediculous insistence on doubing everything in the cinema and TV into German! My daughter is helping one of our neighbours girls cos she's getting '6' in English at the age of 12. I was listening in, and it's no surprise why. She can't even manage the alpabet In English ........... she was getting stuck at C.

I love the German language but english is the international business language and kids need it. I recently had a discusssion with the head at my daughters school in Clausthall Zellerfeld and he told me my daughter (and two others) were the only pupils who could 100% hold a conversation in both languages ie, converse and understand. Fcuking rediculous!
16:22 February 28, 2010 by yg7575
Guido Westerwelle is wrong. The most spoken language in Europe is Russian. Russian is spoken in Russia , Ukraine, Belarus and partly in Latvia. Only in Russia there are at least 148 million people.
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