Denglish: A Language Made in Germany

by Rosa Teresa Fries

Unlock your next level of German.

Was ist Das?

Ever overheard a group of German-speaking colleagues discussing their latest project over a Feierabendbier? A wild mix of German and English will have reached your ears. Words that don't seem to make any sense in the context they are used, words that sound strangely mangled and maybe words that you as an English speaker have never even heard of. Well you've just had your Denglish introductory lesson!

This fairly new hybrid language is made up of German, anglicisms and most importantly pseudo-anglicisms. Yes, that's a thing! If you are living in Germany, you will see it all over the place, especially in advertisement, on the internet and on social media as well as in any workplace with a start-up vibe to it. People simply can't help themselves, it seems. Consider it both your saviour and a source of amusement if you are currently learning German.

Where Did It All Begin?

Languages have always been in contact with one another, be it by trade or through technology or music. As English is widely used as a lingua franca, it has a huge impact on German and other languages, so more and more English words have made their way into Germanic territory.

In contrast to its sibling Spanglish though, Denglish does not emerge as a fiesta of bilingual people, being rather linked to a desire to appear sophisticated and up to date.

Particularly the rise of new technologies and the emergence of products that the world has never heard of, have paved its way. A new idea caught on, a new service was offered, a new product went on sale, all with names that German-speaking people could more or less pronounce well. And so there was simply no need to translate those terms. German efficiency, right?

The End of German?

Denglish is sometimes used as a pejorative term by language purists who lament the downfall of the German language — hello, Duden! At closer inspection, we see that the English word gets simply absorbed into the universe of der, die, das. It has to comply with all the rules of the German grammar police in order to get its citizenship: No noun can be without an article and verbs get conjugated, regardless of how absurd it may sound. Not even adjectives get spared and this sentence would be perfectly acceptable: Das war echt eine awkwarde Situation, als die Chefin meinte, ich solle ihr mal die Email forwarden. (It was a really awkward situation when the boss asked me to forward that email to her.)

Handy Handy

Denglish is surely at its best when English words turn out to mean something very different compared to what they originally intended. Although there is a certain logic to some of these pseudo-anglicisms, it is not always apparent.

The example that always comes up is of course the word Handy, which is — well — quite handy as it's short and catchy. It originates from the word "handy-talky" a device used by the US military in the 1940s, a forerunner of the better known walkie-talkie. The word "handy" in English had already been taken, however, to refer to something that is practical. So when the new technology hit, people went for mobile or cell phone instead. German didn't have that problem, there was no meaning attached to the fancy sounding word, and so it was happily welcomed into the family.

Denglish is Your Friend

No matter how bizarre Denglish might sound to you as a native English speaker, it actually comes with some perks. You already have the vocabulary at hand to master most situations graciously. So whenever you struggle to find the right German word, use an English one instead and if it's a verb, throw in a little ending. You will sound like a native German speaker in no time!

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