Debate over purity of German language re-opens – Feature

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Berlin – If he were alive today, US humorist Mark Twain would have been amused at efforts by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party to have the German language officially enshrined in Germany’s constitution. Twain never ceased to poke fun at “Die Deutsche Sprache” after struggling to master the language during a visit to Heidelberg in the 19th century.

Posted : Tue, 23 Dec 2008 02:12:04 GMT
Author : DPA
Category : Europe (World)

“My philological studies have satisfied me that a gifted person ought to learn English (barring spelling and pronouncing) in 30 hours, French in 30 days, and German in 30 years,” he wrote in a humorous essay titled “The Awful German Language” after a visit to imperial Germany in the 1880s. “It seems manifest, then, that the latter tongue ought to be trimmed down and repaired. “If it is to remain as it is, it ought to be gently and reverently set aside among the dead languages, for only the dead have time to learn it,” he wrote tongue-in-cheek.

Not that members of Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) paid any thought to Twain’s caustic observations, made 120 years ago, at their recent party conference in Stuttgart. Overwhelmingly, they approved a resolution – despite Merkel’s reservations – calling on the German parliament to enshrine the German language in the constitution.

Article 22 of the constitution already states that the nation’s capital shall be Berlin, and the flag shall be black, red and gold, but hitherto has made no reference to the German language. That will change if the CDU’s proposal wins approval in parliament and the sentence, “The language of the Federal Republic of Germany shall be German,” is incorporated in the constitution. German has never been a very popular language, despite the efforts of its classic writers Goethe and Schiller.

Its popularity plummeted after two world wars, but in the early 1990s German enjoyed a temporary renaissance after German reunification. Of 20 million people learning German around the world, two-thirds of them were to be found in Eastern Europe and the former republics of the Soviet Union. In Poland, the number of German students tripled from 500,000 in 1988 to 1.5 million by 1994. Now, there is less zeal to learn German. In Britain, the number of students studying German has been on the wane for years. Instrumental in the push to have German enshrined in the constitution is the fact that Germany today is “home” to more than 3 million people of Turkish descent.

Overall the country has has more than 10 million immigrants, almost double the number found in Britain. In Berlin’s huge Turkish community, you still find many people experiencing difficulties speaking German. The language of school playgrounds often remains a foreign one. This is a point taken up by Peter Mueller, the premier of Saarland state, who speaks of the CDU needing to clarify “what the nation stands for.”Where people failed to speak German, the promise of social mobility was an empty one, he claimed. CDU member Annette Heubinger agrees. “It’s absolutely normal that the German language should be written in to the constitution,” she says. “Learning and mastering a national language is the key to successful and sustainable integration.”The conservative party’s move may also be aimed at guarding against the rapid spread and corruption of the German language by “Denglish” – English-based words and phrases such as Coffee to Go, Fast Food, Babysitting, Breakfast, Sixpack and Let’s Go, which have found their way into the German language in recent years.

Herr and Frau Deutsch round up “die Kids” to catch an InterCity at the station, after having found the train times at a Service Point. Linguists are alarmed. “Will we all be speaking Denglish soon, or will it be Germeng?” wrote professor Rudolf Hoberg in an anthology of essays on the state of the German language at the turn of the century. Popular New York born entertainer Gayle Tufts, who has made her home in Berlin, delights in teasing German audiences with her own strange mix of German and English which she calls “Dinglish,” rather than Denglish. In 1998, she even wrote a book in Dinglish called Absolutely Unterwegs (Absolutely on the Road), increasing her popularity still further among “The Krauts.”Tufts whimsically insists her Dinglish was an invention of necessity as she could not wait to learn the grammar. The CDU move to amend the constitution triggers unease among immigrant groups, left-wing Social Democrats and members of the Green Party.

“This kind of thing is not necessary. I don’t know what kind of signal they are trying to send,” argues Gerd Pflaumer, a spokeman for the anti-discrimination group Action Courage. Aylin Selcuk, a Turkish community youth leader who has advised Chancellor Merkel, agrees that immigrants need to get ahead in life, but questions the CDU’s true motives in wanting German included in the constitution.

Cem Ozdemir, the new co-leader of the Greens, called recently for the introduction of optional Turkish-language courses in public schools – a proposal that outraged some conservatives. Ozdemir is of Turkish extraction but was born and educated in Germany.

Officials at the Goethe Institute, which promotes the German language abroad, say there is always an on-going enrichment of the language, which involves absorbing words from several languages, including English, Latin and also Turkish. But they say things get ugly in everyday language use when foreign words get shoved into a German sentence, or vice-versa. “We are not language purists at the Goethe Institute, but we do have respect for the English language, as well as our own. “The language gets polluted when foreign words are popped for no reason into German sentences, simply because they are considered ‘attractive, trendy or cool,’” complained a Goethe Institute official.


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2 responses to “Debate over purity of German language re-opens – Feature”

  1. I used to think the same of Turkish! Trendy Turkish bimbos running around Bagdat Cad., Nisantasi, Beyoglu, saying “Bye, Bye, Thank You” or other English words irritated me to no end. So tackey and cheesey, such wanna bes, sellouts …did they know these words? Turkish is a n old, rich, colorful language with a practical vocabulary.
    Then I started to realize that its unavoidable to have words seep in, especially technical terminology, plus it does make you more, much more competitive and a more global society. Look at India a county that was on the verge of impovrished servitude pulled itself up and up with bit of education on top of the English base it had to become a world economy? It makes you more competative and allows a nation to advance more rapidly, more open to foreign investment if you can readily communicate. And quite frankly as all language adopt new English or other language words we are sort of developing maybe a world language like the proposal of a common tongue Espiranto that was introduced long ago to allow a common world language. Think about the power in everyone being able to understand one another, everywhere at anytime? Efficiency and Peace on Earth? Still am animatel against the Turkish Bimbos and their annoying impersonations of Beverly Hills 90210?

  2. Eric Shriver Avatar
    Eric Shriver

    I’ve loved everything about Germany and the German language and culture ever since I can remember. I’ve never completely mastered it, but when I learned as an adult I was saddened by the unnecessary use of English. Such a beautiful, strong, poetic language that has the ability to easily create it’s own words for the ever changing world. Germans should be proud of their language and I agree it should definitely be stated as official in the constitution, as should all languages. Lang lebe die deutsche Sprache!

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