All entries for January 2008
January 26, 2008
A phenomenon is sweeping Europe, well Germany at least. One can’t stroll through Berlin without being bombarded with a barrage of bizarre Anglicisms. Baeckereien (bakeries) are sometimes ‘Back shops’ and my pals are fond of ‘gutes Timing.’ Cafes no longer offer ‘Kaffee zum Mitnehmen,’ but rather ‘Kaffee to go.’ In a well documented case, one old lady misread the phrase and thought ‘Kaffee aus Togo’ (coffee from Togo) was being offered. Imagine her pain when she discovered that, far from getting some exotic variant of her beverage of choice, she received bog-standard Kaffee in a disposable paper-cup.
At the opprobrious ‘Fish and Chips’ stand at Friedrichstrasse station, they even display the entire menu in English. This might be acceptable – as one of the most important transport hubs in Berlin they could be excused for preferring English as their language – if, that is, they could spell or indeed use it correctly. Instead however, they offer ‘Potatoe Box’ (a word-for-word and wrongly spelt translation of the German ‘Kartoffelbox’.) The first time I saw it I wasn’t sure exactly what it was. A box made of potatoes perhaps? Each time I see it I’m tempted to point it out – only the desire not to appear as a pedantic dickhead holds me back.
Instead, when confronted with such phrases, I put on my arrogant au-contraire (forgive me…) hat and either reply: ‘to go where?’ Or, I simply use the German loudly and assertively. Why do these people seek to suppress their own language? It’s something to be proud of – they gave the world ‘Schadenfreude’, ‘Zeitgeist’ and a plethora of others we’re fond of lacing our conversation with.
Many German speakers with a predilection for this phenomenon think that they’re projecting themselves as urbane or cultured. Wrong. How does mincing your sentences with perfectly bland English words achieve this effect? More often than not, it just engenders confusion. It’s akin, I suppose to the journalists and academics who see fit to lace their work with French or Latinate phrases to assert their supremacy. You know what I’m talking about: ‘After their tete-a-tete, Blair and Bush agreed a quid-pro-quo agreement about de facto commitments on global warming.’ Ok, I’m exaggerating, but you get the picture.’
In some cases, Germans just take the word directly from the English. Often people speak of ‘Managers’ instead of the more German ‘Chef’ and the verb ‘managen’ has also gained common currency. Here one can legitimately ask: ‘what exactly is the point?’
Behind my abhorrence of such a trend is perhaps a fear of the homogenising nature of globalisation. Why, ignorant people ask, doesn’t the world just speak English? Lose your language and you’ll start to lose your culture – it’s a slippery slope. If we all spoke the same language, why should we not, by the same token, all eat the same food – McDonalds probably.
Some suggest taking the fascistic French approach of banning anything remotely English sounding. Computer – whilst recognised throughout the world by the same word – is ‘l’ordinateur’ in French. Slap a quota on radio play as well whilst you’re at it.
Such an approach, however, ignores the fact that languages develop on their own regardless of what a government says or does. My answer therefore, is to take the vigilante approach – and come up with my own German words for their anglicisms. My colleagues at school now know that I don’t start lessons with brain storms, but rather with ‘Gehirnstuerme’ (a cobbled-together translation which makes people laugh). Anyway, I’m off for a ‘Kaffee zum Mitnehmen….’