Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Mangling the English language

If you’ve tried to learn French, or if you’ve visited France without trying to learn French, you will no doubt have heard of Franglais. Well, visit Germany and you’ll come across Denglisch.

In the part of Germany where I live, which belonged to the other side of the Berlin wall, most children  before 1989 and reunification learned Russian when they were at school, but not so many learned English. Which opens up a good market for the private English teacher here as there are a lot of older people who never learned any English and now find they need to do so. Whether it be for business, increasing amounts here being transacted in English, or for holidays (and it’s not in only English-speaking countries where they need it. Visit many countries like Greece, France, Egypt and more, and the second language there is English. So if you want to read the menu it’s the local language or English), I get adults wanting to learn my language. So I can keep on practising my mother tongue on a regular basis.

But even those who never learned English and never want or need to come across plenty of examples of what is perceived to be English. I’m not denying that some of it is, but a lot is English as you have never seen or heard it before. Of course some springs from American English (Wellness, for example, which is much used), but some is just a marketing ploy that has gone a little wrong in the translation. T-shirts bear incomprehensible slogans. Some English words have been imported into the German language and are used more or less side by side with their German equivalents. The pronunciation, however, can be a little unrecognisable. Hi-Fi is Hee-Fee when spoken. So not far from where I live is ‘Der Car Hi-Fi Spezialist’. In Erfurt, capital city of Thüringen, is a ‘Second-Hand Laden’ (Laden being the German word for shop. Some shops do call themselves a Shop instead of a Laden.) Another word which sounds the same but has a subtle difference from our usage in English is Kompetenz. This sounds just like ‘competence’ when spoken, but is used more as ‘expertise’ or ‘authority’. So while I would think of someone competent as being quite capable of doing a job, they might not be astoundingly special at it. Someone here who is ‘kompetent’ is the bee’s knees. Not a million kilometres away from the Car Hi-Fi Spezialist is another shop that has a proud sign declaring, ‘Celebrating Coffee Competence.’ Now, I don’t know about you, but do I need my coffee to be competent? I mean, I assume that the shop itself, or at least the people who own or work there, are meant to be the competent ones, but even so…

The trigger that prompted me to write this was a slogan I spotted on the side of a lorry this morning. The lorry belonged to a company that galvanises metal. And the slogan read, ‘It’s beauty and forever.’ Now intrinsically there is nothing desperately  wrong with this as a piece of advertising-slogan English at least it was spelled correctly - but it just doesn’t sound English. Well, not English as I would use it, anyway. It’s not as bad as the posters displayed on lamp posts all over here advertising ‘Life Music’ or ‘Life Musik’ for those who prefer their posters to look a little more German. I itch to change the F to a V when I pass those posters, but I’ve not yet given in to temptation. A DJ is a DJ. A computer is a Computer (note that German nouns start with capital letters; I am not using them merely for emphasis, in case you have been wondering).

Of course, not all German words are derived from the English. There are some that amuse me because they read like something entirely different from what they actually are if your brain doesn’t work primarily in German. So, again not too far from my other examples, there is an ‘Angel Shop.’ How sweet, I thought, until I found out that the German word Angel means angling or fishing in English.

I cannot finish this without commenting on German music radio stations. I’m not referring to classical music here, but those that play modern music feature a very high percentage of English language songs. (Which is nice for me as I can relate to them!) Some of those songs that are played regularly haven’t been played on English radio for many years, certainly not very often. And whether they know English or not, people sing along and ‘know’ the lyrics. That is, they have learned them phonetically and generally haven’t got a clue what the words they come out with mean. So when a friend sang along to Frankie Goes to Hollywood singing Relax, I asked him if he knew what he was singing. He confessed he didn’t. So I told him. He stopped singing.  

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