Germans say 'Nein' to invasion by English words

Wed, Feb 17, 2010, 00:00

THE ROAD to German language hell is paved with pseudo-English good intentions. And as English continues its onward march as the world’s first language, German has suffered collateral damage from senseless Anglicisms.

National train company Deutsche Bahn (DB) is the greatest offender, filling its stations with so many English language signs that a passenger looking for an information counter (Schalter) is expected to know they were looking for a “Service Point”.

When the company introduced a “Kiss-and-Ride” service – allowing free 10 minutes’ parking at stations – residents in Bavaria complained at what they thought was the introduction of a drive-through red-light district.

Now, DB chief executive Rüdiger Grube has decided to ditch the policy.

“He asked whether all this English was really necessary, and whether we couldn’t use the good old German expression like before,” said a DB spokesman yesterday.

The move was welcomed by the German Language Association (VDS), which has fought a lonely campaign for years against wilful language pollution.

“Most Germans can speak English, often not as well as they think they can, but we are anxious to make a gesture to others,” said Dr Gerd Schrammen, head of the VDS. “But we believe it is perfectly legitimate to expect one’s own language to be used at home.”

German insecurity about the mother tongue is a long, sad tale, in which the Third Reich plays a starring role. Dr Schrammen doesn’t blame the Nazis for the current pseudo-English wave, but insecure marketing professionals anxious to display supposed cosmopolitan credentials.

The VDS names and shames the worst offenders, and would like to see Berlin get involved. While the federal government says it has no plans to adopt French-style language policies, the discussion has taken on a political edge. Transport minister Peter Ramsauer has banned from his ministry unnecessary English words like “task force” and “cluster”, for which German equivalents exist.

Foreign minister Guido Westerwelle has climbed aboard, too. He is still smarting from the public mocking he received last September when he declined to answer in English a question posed in English by a BBC journalist.

“I could have answered the question in simple English,” he said. “But why should I spend €300 million a year promoting German culture in the world and not speak German at home? German is a beautiful language: I am not ashamed of it, I simply speak it.”