Thursday, September 26, 2013

Farfromduden: German linguistic purism

Wow, wonders really never cease, I guess. Today's NY Times has a big editorial by Anna Sauerbrey, an editor at Tagesspiegel, called "How do you say 'blog' in German?" about purism in German, especially with regard Anglicisms. (Click on the link just for the graphic.)

The immediate issue is one that's known to people who deal with the German language: Duden, the publisher whose reference works define the standard language, just published a new edition, their 26th, with lots of new English loanwords. But I never figured it'd make the OpEd page of the Times!

The small industry of protectors of the German language have reacted, as diligently as Anglo-American stereotypes of Germans would lead you to expect them to be. In particular the Verein Deutsche Sprache (VDS or German Language Society, Germany's most established club of peevologists) has given Duden its Sprachpanscher des Jahres award, 'language adulterer of the year'.* Sauerbrey argues for what we linguists see as the obvious response to borrowing: Relax, it's fine, not gonna be a problem, language will continue to work just fine. It's a nice piece and worth reading.

Just a historical footnote from me. Duden's own page says this:
Der neue Duden ist mehr als nur ein Buch: Das umfassende Paket zur deutschen Sprache besteht aus Buch,Wörterbuch App für Smartphones und Tablets sowie dem Zugang zur elektronischen Duden-Rechtschreibprüfung. 
That is, "the new Duden is more than a book: The comprehensive package for the German language consists of a book, dictionary app for smartphones and tablets as well as access to the electronic Duden spellchecker."

The VDS guys surely had minor strokes on seeing those screaming anglicisms ... app, smartphone, tablet, with English plural -s tacked on. Gah!  Horrible. Destroying the German language. But if you know German and go back and read the whole passage where that occurs, you'll see more old and mostly non-English loans than new English loans. Paket is borrowed from French paquet like a number of other words in there (aktuell, for instance). Prüfung is formed from a verb borrowed from Old French. And elektronisch (and its many derivational kin) is ultimately built from Latin, while Markt is a Late Latin loan. Rechtschreibung 'orthography' is a loan translation from Greek orthografía. And on and on.

But it's not just that borrowing itself isn't new. If you go back to the Middle Ages, you have parodies of speakers (mis-)using Romance and other loanwords. In the Early Modern period, reactions to French borrowing were as hotheaded as the VDS's crusade today. Even discussions of German's linguistic prehistory have often wrangled over Celtic loanwords and the question of whether the Celts 'dominated' the Germanic peoples. Still, German hasn't borrowed anywhere near as many words from other languages as English has from French and Latin alone.

* You may recognize that the name of their signature award is itself built on a French loanword from the 18th c.: The verb panschen 'to water down, adulterate' (often spelled pantschen) is from panacher. It usually referred historically to watering down alcoholic beverages.

1 comment:

Bernard Finucane said...

I thought pantschen came from "punch", Hindi for a mixture of five fruit juices. Panache means a feather in your cap, or just flamboyance in general.