Academic journal article Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies

Language Policy in Germany and beyond (1)

Academic journal article Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies

Language Policy in Germany and beyond (1)

Article excerpt


In Germany and Switzerland the world-dominion of English was already predicted in the 19th century. While today the impact of English on German has alarming consequences for many, English lexemes often fill a welcome gap in German. The role German politicians play in this field can at best be called ambivalent. Strongly negative is the part they played in the discussions about the reform of the orthography of German. The paper concludes with remarks on the language policy of the European Union for which a conscious policy of multilingualism is advocated.


Remarks on language policy in many countries must necessarily also include comments on the impact of English on the respective languages. I note with pleasure that among the many subjects treated by Professor Jacek Fisiak in insightful contributions, the Polish--English linguistic contact was among the first he dealt with. His Ph.D. dissertation "Zapozyczenia angielskie w jezyku polskim", Lodz 1961, must be mentioned here, to be followed by quite a number of studies, such as on noun gender assignment of loanwords, on the adaptation of English verbs in Polish or on the word-formation of English loanwords in Polish (on the last-mentioned aspect see Fisiak in Viereck--Bald 1986). Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm as well as Jacob Burckhardt were great names in the intellectual world of 19th century Germany and Switzerland respectively, the first philologists and the second a historian. Already in 1874 Burckhardt predicted the coming world-dominion of English with the alarming consequence: "The only rescue of books written in German is their translation into English" (Burckhardt 1874, translated from German). 130 years later this ingenious prophecy is no longer a prediction, but a fact. In 2000 German-speaking people translated 5,519 books from English, whereas English-speaking people translated only 248 books from German. Germans translated 2,058 belletristic works from English--English-speaking people only 38 from German.

Even a quarter century before Burckhardt Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm expressed a specific misgiving about German in Chapter 6 of their Deutsches Worterbuch: "It is the duty of linguistic research and, specifically, of a German dictionary to oppose the immoderate and unfounded penetration of the foreign word" (Grimm--Grimm 1854-1971, translated from German). A philologist called Grimm's dictionary a Pyrrhic victory of Germanistics. By opposing the foreign word, it was argued, words such as Kultur were missing in the dictionary. Such reproach, however, must be modified: The volume that was to contain the word Kultur only appeared in 1873, that is ten years after Jacob Grimm's death and fourteen years after the death of Wilhelm Grimm. (2)

During the Middle Ages the English influence on German was scarce. The few attested words belonged to the seafaring domain, such as Boot and Dock, and were originally only current in the Low German area. The 16th century is similarly negligible. From the mid-17th century the number of English loanwords or loan translations increased as a consequence of the beheading of Charles I (1649) and of English players who performed the works of Shakespeare and his contemporaries in Germany. (3) Apart from political and literary terms some scientific words also came into German, such as Logarithmus 1652, centrifugal and centripetal 1687.

The 18th century witnessed a strong increase of English words in German due to the completely different character of the relations between the two countries. They were now based on an intensive study of English literature, philosophy and medicine.

The 19th century saw the most important English impact in material areas. It was the time of great advances in technology and the natural sciences and with many loans the inventions themselves came into the country, thus underlining England's leading role in industry and the sciences. However, in social life England also enjoyed a high prestige, as can be seen by such loans as Dandy (ca. …

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