Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Why English is Borrowing from German


I read a good bit on the lexical influence of German on English this morning. It felt a bit like a switcheroo since it was just the other day I talked about the active English presence in German.
I'm in the habit of peppering my daily speech with German words. But that's to be expected. Obviously, I use it daily professionally.
And I use it personally, daily too.
I tend to use German with a couple family members. Just like I only choose to use English with my niece and nephew, but Albanian with their Canadian father. And then comes the seasoning. The dish might be English but the seasons hail from all over. The spicier the dish, the better the taste. Or so I'm told. I get stomach cramps every time I get too experimental, though.

Right. Complicated.

Back to the article I just read. A paragraph says:

"In showbusiness anyone who has not earned the title of an über-agent, über-director, über-publicist, or über-whatever should probably be seeking career counselling. In politics, real players are über strategists, those who don’t make the cut “über goobers”. Global warming must be serious: commentators call it the über issue. Leonardo DiCaprio’s house goes on the market not as an ordinary domicile, but as an über home. Finance has not been spared. Market pessimists get to be “über bears”. Warren Buffett is, predictably, the über investor. Über is über all."

Reading this was no news to me as it's part of my quotidian linguistic reality. However, something bigger is happening here.
Could this extensive use of German by English speaker have anything to do with the state of the economy?
It would not be the first time, after all, that lexical borrowing is informed by the economy.




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9 comments:

Sra said...

It is an interesting question: what causes lexical borrowing? I don't know, I feel like über has been used in English long before our current economic troubles, but maybe it's become more prolific in recent times. I don't know.

The only other German word that I see a lot in English is Zeitgeist, and usually it's used redundantly, as in "the zeitgeist of our times," or "the zeitgeist of that era," both of which are phrases that I read in this year's Sundance Film Festival film guide. It's like nails down a chalkboard to my ears.

liam said...

whenever i catch myself saying "über-" to my german friends, i always feel like i have to let them know that it's now a commonly accepted prefix in english and that i'm not just saying it for their benefit.

tina said...

I love German borrowings. I loved them even before they were 'kosher' to love.

Anonymous said...

Totally. Zeitgeist gets misused ALL THE TIME.
Economy of speech, people, economy of speech.

dana said...

It makes sense that good economy serves as language-influencing. German's gotten its fair share from English, though.

Mar said...

Like Liam I feel a little self-conscious when I use German words on German who use English.

Mar said...

Like Liam I feel a little self-conscious when I use German words on German who use English.

Anonymous said...

To me, also, lexical borrowings make sense. The culture that undergoes certain experiences comes up with certain lexemes, I suppose.

Becca said...

A presence of resources means a presence of a variety of lexical options.
Once I felt I could understand German solely due to the many English words that were incorporated....