German is becoming part of the global „Zeitgeist“

8 07 2009

In the wake of globalization many countries noticed an infiltration of English words through marketing campaigns and as the language of big cooperations setting up branches all over the world. But English is not the only language that has gained popularity.

While some countries fear the infiltration of the English language there are further languages which gradually have made their way into everyday use even in the English language – such as German. Germany is not only the export “Weltmeister” (world champion) for all kinds of goods but a popular provider for new words in foreign languages.

Approximately 10.000 German words which are used in foreign languages are stated in a recently published dictionary (“Besservisser beim Kaffeeklatsching”) by Sven Siedenberg. In an attempt to explain this phenomenon the following reasons may be stated:
German tourists have continued to be the top spenders in 2007 for for the fifth year in a row (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tourism). Also the amount of tourists coming to Germany has continuously increased over the last years with Germany being in the top ten of the most visited countries worldwide (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tourism). The occupation of Germany after World War 2 can be seen as another reason for the spread of German words as well as German diverse and concise vocabulary, which is still commonly used in Germany (This of course is not a scientific fact but rather a speculation by the ‘German’ author of this article).

The export of German words is not a recent phenomenon and has already started with Luther’s translation of the Bible – the reformation – and the uprising of the new “Protestant” confession in the 16th century. While the French and Italians greatly contributed to the coffee house culture about 100 years ago, the Germans invented a word for the small talk in such establishments: “Kaffeeklatsch”, which is still popular in the US as “kaffeklatsching” or in a derived version as “Kaffeepausi” in Sweden and Finland. Other popular examples are the “Kindergarten” or “Weltanschauung” (which are even recognized by the spell checker at the time of writing).
In recent years it becomes more and more obvious that not only the English language has imported German words. The Italian “Wurstel con Crauti” (Sausage with Cabbage) is most likely a homage to the Italiener Wochenende at the Oktoberfest in Munich. The word “Ersatz” (replacement) is commonly used in French as well as le “rucksack” (backpack). The Czech use “ausgerechnet” to question decisions of others while the Polish have adopted the words “Leitmotiv” and “Müsli”. The Dutch “überhaupt” (at all) use German quite often and being Germany´s neighbours often speak it fluently. If you start looking at food not only the Portugese, Brazilians and Spanish know of the famous “Strudel” or “estrudel” (often apple strudel). In Spain, the “Frankfurt” refers to a place where you can buy any type of sausages leading back to the famous “Frankfurter Würstchen” home town.  Other food such as “baumukūhen – バウムクーヘン“ (Baumkuchen = Pyramid Cake) even managed to enter more exotic languages such as Japanese.

After all it may be time for a German language course these days ;-)  Or as John F. Kennedy said: “Ich bin ein Berliner” (An ambivalent phrase that can also mean: “I am a Jelly Doughnut“)

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