Barbara Geier – The ‘Anglicism of the Year’
Text & Photo: Barbara Geier
Ever heard of the ‘Anglicism of the Year’? No? Well, you have now. And let me enlighten you even further: the German ‘Anglizismus des Jahres’ initiative was launched in 2010 by Prof. Dr. Anatol Stefanowitsch, a linguist at Freie Universität Berlin who also acts as the head of an expert jury choosing Germany’s anglicism of the year. For all native English speakers, the whole thing does, of course, not make any sense. However, it definitely does from a German perspective, because no language influences German vocabulary the way English does. More and more English words creep in all the time and often, they are re-appropriated in a German way, i.e. native English speakers would not understand them in the context they are used in Germany.
According to the Anglizismus des Jahres crew, English as the global lingua franca currently plays a key role as a ‘donor language’ for all major languages. Great German term here – ‘Gebersprache’ – a language that gives its vocabulary away. They go on to say that their independent initiative has since 2010 been “honouring the positive contribution English has made to the development of German vocabulary”. Lovely, isn’t it? Using a word of another ‘Gebersprache’ that has left its mark on German, I’m not entirely ‘d’accord’ with this positive contribution thing. Not because I have a problem with English words being used in German, not at all. It is sometimes just the way they are used that I find, as a language and writing person, slightly toe curling. Take the first anglicism of the year from 2010; ‘leaken’. Here, we have the English infinitive ‘to leak’, which has been turned into a German infinitive with the en-ending for the integration of the word into German. Not to talk of all the other inflections then needed to make it work with German grammar, such as ‘geleakt’ (leaked). Can’t help it, somehow it annoys the hell out of me and just sounds – wrong.
Ok, moving on from my tendency sometimes towards language policewoman-ship and onto the 2020 anglicism of the year, which is a really interesting one, I find: the jury chose ‘… for future’, because of its key importance for the climate protection movement and for its ‘creative diffusion’. ‘… for future’, or ‘… für die Zukunft’ in German, is a ‘Phraseoschablone’ (no, me neither and couldn’t find an English word for it), which is a figure of speech with a blank space in which different words can be inserted, and this particular one is now being used in Germany in ways that go beyond the original Greta Thunberg coined ‘Fridays of Future’.
Upon announcing the decision, jury boss Anatol Stefanowitsch said something about the English language which I find to be very true: “The fact that a native speaker of Swedish has coined an English slogan that is then taken up around the world and used as a template for creating names for climate change movement to the extent that in German, it has become a general term for expressing climate-conscious behaviour, shows that the English language has long stopped belonging only to the countries where English has traditionally been spoken, but that it now belongs to all of us.” Indeed, a language can belong to anyone, across every border. And given the ever-increasing amount of ‘Englishness’ in everyday German language, it somehow seems that Germans are particularly keen on exercising this ownership.
Barbara Geier is a London-based freelance writer, translator and communications consultant. She is also the face behind www.germanyiswunderbar.com, a German travel and tourism guide and blog that was set up together with UK travel writer Andrew Eames in 2010. Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Discover Germany, Switzerland & Austria.
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