Loanwords in German/Lehnwörter in Deutsch

The Economist has an (anonymous) article on loanwords in German and the fury they arouse. It’s quite well informed, and reminds me of studying the history of the German language at university.

Germans have been resisting foreign words ever since they began writing, says Falco Pfalzgraf of the University of London. German is “watered-down and oversalted” with foreign words, said the founders of the Fruchtbringende Gesellschaft (“fruit-bearing society”) in 1617. Such groups taught Germans to prefer Abstand to the French Distanz and Augenblick to Moment.

It mentions Lena Meyer-Landrut (it appeared on May 27) and Walter Krämer of the Verein Deutsche Sprache, who I referred to at the end of my last entry.

A Neue Fruchtbringende Gesellschaft was founded in 2007. Mr Krämer’s Verein, with 31,000 members, publishes an index of 7,200 anglicisms, four-fifths of which, it claims, crowd out good German words. A pet hate is “blockbuster”, originally a 1942 coinage for city-destroying bombs. Mr Krämer, who lost six relatives to Allied bombing, prefers Kassenschlager (“box-office hit”).

Needless to say, the comments go mad. Criticism or comment on English or German is like a red rag to some bulls. (This reminds me of Christian Säfken’s entry on the ECHR Gäfgen decision, Das Schöne am Recht: alle sabbeln mit). GlobalHelen from Canada denies the Economist’s right to an opinion:

When Brits travel to Italy or Spain, they usually do not speak one word of the foreign language and stick in their British bars together with their fellow countrymen. As far as I know, this is very unique in most European countries. Italians, the French, the Spanish, Germans, they have a different attitude, their TV and radio is full of international and multicultural programs. The majority of these people learns and speaks at least one foreign language to some extent, something you can definitely not say about the British population.

So what exactly was it that makes the British believe they are able or entitled to write – let alone make a judgment – on foreign cultures trying to save their cultural heritage in times of globalization, increasing loss of identity and alienation?

I can’t agree with everything GlobalHelen says – for isntance, I am still looking for international and multicultural programmes on German TV (all foreign films are dubbed, and even in Britain I saw Wallender in Swedish with English subtitles this May), and even cable TV has hardly anything except CNN and BBC World News, OK some French and Turkish, but Italian is an extra subscription. But I think she may be right: we Brits shouldn’t express an opinion about anything, least of all language.

Speaking for myself, I see Walter Krämer trying to defend a language against a natural process. But then I’m not a linguistics expert.

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