Could anything stop a global language

On the supposed decline of the German language

"German language, difficult language" - that was already known by the American writer Mark Twain, who was convinced that a gifted person could learn English in 30 hours, French in 30 days, but hardly German in 30 years: "It is quite obvious that the German language has to be trimmed and renovated. If it stays the way it is, it should be gently placed with the dead languages, because only the dead have enough time to learn them, "wrote Twain in his book" Bummel through Europe "(Original:" A Tramp Abroad "). German public broadcasting is currently also devoting itself to the topic of language and education. The ARD theme week "Education Future" deals from November 9th to 16th with everyday educational life, diversity, digitization, language and education in comparison.

"Recycling language of the new media"

In 1897, Twain called for a radical simplification of the German language - which, in the view and to the chagrin of many, has long since occurred. Because as early as 2008, two thirds of Germans were of the opinion that their language was going downhill rapidly. Internet communication, reading abstinence, Anglicisms and youth jargon were named as reasons. In 2012, the then chairman of the Spelling Council, Hans Zehetmair, complained that the decline in language affects the younger generation in particular. The vocabulary of young people on SMS and Twitter is generally very simple: "German is becoming impoverished in the new media into a 'recycling language', is being shortened and simplified more and more and is being chewed on again without creativity."

Language has to adapt

Andrea-Eva Ewels from the GfdS is not worried about a lapse in language

Everything half as bad, Andrea-Eva Ewels, managing director of the Gesellschaft für deutsche Sprache (GfdS), puts the downfall scenarios in relation to DW: "No, our language is not going under, it is just changing constantly - if only because the world is in Changed to a previously unknown extent and pace, "she says. "We no longer speak the way we did in the 6th century or in the Middle Ages." Language, Ewels continues, must constantly adapt to new living conditions so that it can serve people as a means of reflection and communication.

And so, in their opinion, WhatsApp or Twitter messages do not mutilate the German language, as is so often claimed. Reduced grammar and little space to present content in detail: none of this is new, according to Ewels. Today people use their smartphones, in the past they used to send telegrams to each other and also kept them brief.

Get to the point quickly: Because telegrams were paid per word

Youth language as a demarcation


She cannot share the criticism of youth language either: "From a linguistic point of view, there is no evidence for the assumption that youthful language use is one of the causes of linguistic decline," said the managing director of the GfdS. "Young people have always had their own language, which they mainly use among themselves. They have a great deal of creativity, spontaneity, directness and flexibility. Young people see their speaking style as a way of differentiating themselves from adults, as freedom for linguistic innovation and loose parlance. "

The fact that schools and universities are sounding the alarm and noticing a lack of spelling and grammar skills among young people is nothing new for Ewels. The GfdS has received complaints from teachers for decades. But she sees a natural development especially with regard to neglected dative or subjunctive: "Language change always leads to a simplification of the language structure. Grammatical functions that are superfluous because they merge with other already existing functions are slowly disappearing from linguistic usage."

Young people have always cultivated their own language

The linguist Aria Adli from the University of Cologne sees it similarly: "If the generation of parents complains today that the boys no longer speak the language properly, then one could turn the tables and say: The generation of parents did not learn to speak like that how people actually speak these days. "

"Methodically operated ruin "

Complaints about the decline in language have a long tradition: Princess Lieselotte of the Palatinate wrote to a good friend as early as 1721: "Is it possible, dear Louise, that our good, honest Germans have become so foolish as to completely spoil their language that one can no longer understand them?" And in 1852 the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer complained about a "methodically operated mischief": "Sudlers should take their stupidity out on something other than the German language."

Arthur Schopenhauer was already worried about the German language

Even against foreign words, people went to the barricades in earlier centuries. In 1617, when it was customary to speak French in the better circles of Europe, some aristocrats founded the "Fruitful Society" in Weimar, Thuringia. "Its purpose is to preserve the High German language in its right nature and status as much as possible and as far as possible without the interference of foreign foreign words and to diligently use the best pronunciation in speaking and the purest way in writing and writing rhymes," it said in the company's articles of association.

Language purists versus Anglicisms

This is exactly what the German Language Association (VDS) aspires to be four centuries later. The language purists vehemently oppose Anglicisms and demand loyalty to the German language. The VDS is undaunted by the anchoring of the German language in the Basic Law.

At GfdS you just shake your head about it. They don't believe in the laws of language there. "We take the complaints of the population seriously, but consider foreign words that do not have a congruent equivalent in German as an enrichment for our vocabulary," says Andrea-Eva Ewels.

English as a worldwide means of communication is becoming more and more important in Germany too, but the supposed threat posed by critics through language contact with English is roughly comparable to the discrepancy between scientifically measurable air temperature and the so-called "perceived temperature" in meteorology.

From a purely statistical point of view, every third to fifth word is borrowed from a foreign language - and mostly of Latin-Greek origin. Only one to two percent of general vocabulary is based on English loanwords. By the way, the most widely used Anglicism is "okay" - and according to a study by the polling institute YouGov from 2016, 90 percent of those who actually reject Anglicisms use this word very often.