Denglish – Will it Take Off?


German companies adopting English slogans is nothing new. The German Airline Lufthansa, famously adopted the slogan “There’s no better way to fly.” despite being a German company. Along with the globalization of English, its value in advertising has increased due to its status as an international language.

The particular interbreeding of German and English is often referred to as ‘Denglish’. It has multiple different definitions along with a very special relationship. Whether it be the use of English words in German, or German companies rebranding themselves with English words. We’ve all heard at least a couple sentences of ‘Denglish’.

For example, does the conversation to the right seem familiar to you? As a native English speaker living in Germany, I’ve often heard English words used in German and vice versa. I’ve noticed over time that people are very divided on this matter. Some choose to invite the new words into their vocabulary, while others remain definite that these words don’t belong in their language at all.

I consider myself in support of the evolution of English because first and foremost, we can’t prevent it. The ‘not so subtle’ integration of German words such as ‘Kindergarten’, ‘Waltz’ and ‘Rucksack’ forced their way into our language long before the term ‘Denglish’ had been coined. This was mostly for a lack of an alternative that suited the context and definition. But why not just create a new word in English?

In the early days, English was borrowing words from French, Greek and Latin and creating one of the most complex ranges of etymology. So it’s been normal behavior since the beginning. The language itself is an intellectually stimulating reflection of the social, economic and political context because it evolves along with culture. English was originally a grand summary of the imperialism and colonialism taking place in England.

Later William Shakespeare actually used only 29,000 different words in all of his work. I’m sure even his biggest fanatics would be surprised! Considering his sizeable contribution to the English language, the commoner’s vocabulary at the time would have been notably less, indicating a large increase in vocabulary since then.

However, the common English speaker has more power than they may know. Not all German words phrases are accepted into the language. A word has to gain a certain amount of popularity among its speakers, usually caused by not having an English equivalent. Sometimes, German words gain popularity in America, such as ‘Fest’ or ‘Gesundheit’, but will be ignored in other English speaking communities.

Even today, German words are constantly moving into the English language such as ‘über’, a slang term used mostly by teenagers to substitute a superlative, adding emphasis to an adjective. However, the English method of choosing from the buffet of language is gradually changing, as there has recently been a moderate downward trend of borrowed words in English.

English is now donating more words than ever to other languages such as technical words like ‘cell phone’ or ‘computer’ and scientific discoveries coined in English speaking communities. Even machinery and methodology are adding to vocabulary in the English language and being accepted by other languages.

Furthermore, English is constantly evolving making it extremely difficult for linguistic experts to measure the vocabulary. It fluctuates depending on words coming in and out of fashion. The current ‘unabridged’ dictionaries, such as the Merriam Webster dictionary, contain between 350,000 to 400,000 words. With newly borrowed words only accounting for 7.5% of the total.

On the other hand, Germany has seen a large increase in borrowed English words, especially since World War II.  In fact, it has borrowed more English vocabulary than any other European language. Perhaps because England now dominates science and technology, fields which Germany excelled in previously.

Some German speakers view this cross-pollination as a threat to their language despite the majority of German speakers using English words on a daily basis. In previous years, patriots of the German language have criticized German companies adapting their slogans to the English trend. President of the German institute of language, Wolfgang Kramer, was in fact so angered by the tarnishing of the German language that he founded a new society: The society for the protection of the German language. Members of this society share the fear that German may evolve into a dialect instead of a separate language.

However, most people would scoff at these societies and ‘most people’ are responsible for the evolution of the language, as they have the power to manipulate the words that come in and out of fashion.

Inevitably, words are seeping into German through slang terms such as ‘cool’, ‘sexy’ and ‘relaxen’. In the business world, words like ‘teams’, ‘workshops’ and ‘CEO’ will continually be used. With so many words ingrained in our vocabulary, the task of separating German from English seems like a waste of time. Wouldn’t they only seep back in again?

Overall, Denglish is more than just a trend. It is the cross-pollination of two languages spoken by millions of people. Denglish is evident in everyday life in Germany and in England. Regardless of critics, progress is unavoidable and despite the disagreement, it’s a process already in motion that will continue. Maybe in 100 years time, there will be a new language that is a mixture of the two, or different dialects will develop as a result of the invasion of Denglish. Either way as the languages glide through evolution, “There is no better way to fly.”