Posted on by Peter Rettig

Deutsch & English: "Denglisch" - and other Language Evolutions

Particle CollisionAn excellent About.com article by Hyde Flippo, Denglisch: When Languages Collide, made me think about how all our languages are constantly evolving.

As we look into our European past, we obviously have to note first the tremendous influence that Latin had, not only on forming the Romance languages but by impacting the Germanic languages as well.

Norman French + Middle English = Modern English

Modern English, in fact, was greatly affected by William the Conqueror's victory in 1066 and the Normans' rule for several hundred years.

Geoff Boxell's article All is the same - All is changed: The Effect of 1066 on the English Language gives an interesting account of how Old English, Middle English, and Norman French merged into the English we know today.

Many language changes were initiated by edicts and policies of the ruling class, others evolved over hundreds of years. (See also our 2012 blog post The “French Connection” of 1066.)

Deutsch + English = Denglisch

What is different from the above example is not only our short time horizon, but also the fact that incorporating English words into the German language does not presently occur under English-speaking occupation or governance.

Rather, Germans use English words because they see them as practical and/or “cool.” Hyde Flippo describes five different definitions of Denglisch, which capture well how and where they occur. 

He then describes in some detail the various aspects of how English influences the German language; he also notes that “there are several small language organizations in Germany that see themselves as guardians of the German language and try to wage war against English — with little success to date.”

The article should be of interest to German expats and German language learners alike: Both will find English expressions they can use while still being understood when speaking German.

History will tell whether the numerous changes described in the about.com article will be permanent and taken over into the “Duden,” the authoritative German language dictionary.

And, if the comments on various language forums are any indication, German is not the only language which experiences English “intrusions”: All Romance languages are affected (although the French may be more resistant than others), as are the Nordic, and other European languages.

One can bemoan, as some do, the changes to one's native language. However, as long as such changes are not forced, but occur “naturally” by common consent or use, they seem to me to be part of the evolution of a language.

Let's also not forget that what's "cool" today, may not be so tomorrow, but what's practical may indeed endure.