German Business and English – No “Denglisch”

Willkommen to linguistic purity

ET 430 der neue Zug für die S-Bahn Stuttgart

Deutsche Bahn

TRAVELLERS on Deutsche Bahn, Germany’s state-owned railway, are used to being addressed in a peculiar language peppered with ponderous English words and phrases, such as Neue Snackbox für Kids. But rail bosses have decided that this creeping use of Denglisch has gone too far. They have issued staff with a glossary of 2,200 Anglicisms which they are henceforth discouraged from using.

Words such as bonus, business class, lifestyle, non-stop and package deal must be replaced by their German alternatives, though some are deemed to have been sufficiently absorbed into German to be acceptable: brunch, container, sandwich and VIP, for instance.

Germany has no official guardian of linguistic purity; the very idea of it would bring back unpleasant memories of the 1930s. France has two: the Académie Française and a separate committee, reporting directly to the prime minister, that monitors businesses and other organisations for neologisms, especially ones imported from English. Offenders are told to use papillon for flyer, tablette for iPad and vignette for widget. However, Germany’s transport minister, Peter Ramsauer, has appointed himself German shepherd. For the past three years he has been gently guiding firms like Deutsche Bahn back on to the path of linguistic fidelity.

Advertising in Germany is particularly prone to Anglicisms. “There is the illusion that using English shows you are livelier, younger and more modern,” says Holger Klatte of the German Language Association, founded in 1997 to preserve and promote Goethe’s mother-tongue. Zalando, an online clothes shop, is a typical offender with its “Must-haves”, “Basics” and “Shop by Style”. Deutsche Telekom’s slogans include the baffling “Call & Surf Comfort via Funk”.

Most English slogans used in Germany fall flat because they are so garbled, says Bernd Samland of Endmark, a brand consultancy. A recent survey by his firm showed that only one-quarter of the English slogans used to advertise cars were understood by those polled. Most bewildering was Mitsubishi’s “drive@earth”. Ironically, among the reasons for the worldwide success of Audi, a German carmaker, is its slick marketing, which even in English-speaking markets features a German slogan, Vorsprung durch Technik.

– The Economist