Can the German language still be saved?
English is the language of world communication. But we can prevent further destruction of our native language. Some clever minds are constantly proposing to consolidate the status of the national language for the German language in the Constitution. Let’s say it happened. What would that German be like?
Recently, the weekly Börsenblatt für den Deutschen Buchhandel published information about an editors’ meeting, which, among other things, discussed interpersonal relations in the production process, and the headline read: Der Wind of Change bläst durch die Branche (“The wind of change has blown in the industry”) … It is quite possible, but above all the so-called “wind of change”, or wind of change, blew in the German language. In its old building, where we have settled down quite comfortably, it shines through more and more. From all sides, strange words, absolutely meaningless expressions penetrate the language, and the ranks of the defenders of the purity of the language, once numbered among eccentrics and litigants, are all growing. German academies are worried, philological societies are being created, philologists are debating in the form of feuilletons, and Guido Westerwelle recently launched a campaign called “The German language – the language of ideas.”
Complaints about the death of the German language are as old as itself. They are unlikely to resist this “wind of change.” Therefore, you need to take a sober look at the state of affairs. The situation is not caused by the lack of dominance of the conjunctiva or the weakening of the productivity of the genitive, and not even by the widely ridiculed Denglisch hybrid language, but simply by the fact that the German language plays an ever-decreasing role in the most important areas of social life – science, economics and politics. Its place is taken by the English language.
The question of whether the associated political and economic benefits portend losses in cultural life, which, perhaps, would have buried the foundation of our language, is very controversial, and, naturally, the answer depends on the degree of emotionality. Contemporaries with an insignificant linguistic sensorium cope with this easier than those who use the German language not only as a means of communication, but as a form of thinking and writing. And whether the invasion of the English language is welcomed or deplored, change is happening gradually and with dramatic consequences.
First, let’s look at science. Linguist Ulrich Ammon, author of the fundamental work Die internationale Stellung der deutschen Sprache (1991; “The international position of the German language”), in one of his conversations reflected in figures the share of the German language in scientific publications around the world: in natural sciences – 1 percent, in public – 7 percent, there is no data on the humanities and exact sciences. As far as the area of our language is concerned, Ammon estimates that 80 to 85 percent of German natural scientists, 50 percent of social scientists and sociologists, and 20 percent of humanitarians publish in English. There is a widespread belief in the world that science speaks English. But in Germany it is becoming more and more Anglicized.
This is reflected in the functioning of our science. This is primarily due to the fact that publishers located in Germany are increasingly accepting magazine articles and book manuscripts in English only. On the other hand, the dominant position of English is manifested in the fact that the terminology of scientists is brought in line with the terminology of the anglophone world. This can be seen in the painful implantation of the so-called Bologna reform in the collection of texts for scientific research at a German university and in the example of the term Bätscheler (bachelor), which still looks unaesthetic in German (cf. English bachelor); however, this is even more pronounced in the fact that the majority of applications for assistance are made in English; and finally, there are almost 700 courses in English.
This process manifests itself most strongly in the natural sciences and in medicine, followed by economic and social ones. The humanities are on the defensive: German studies, archeology, theology and philosophy, as well as some minor disciplines, in which the German language traditionally still plays a certain role, has succeeded with varying degrees of success.
Secondly, the fact that the economy “speaks English” is quite obvious. When Thomas Middelhoff, the head of the Bertelsmann concern, forced employees, mostly of German origin, to communicate with each other in English, here and there he gained only annoyance. Meanwhile, many German firms that have entered the international level have designated English as their corporate language, or the so-called Corporate Language. The reason, according to Ulrich Ammon, was that engineers and scientists from third world countries, who studied German in order to achieve something in Germany, while working for Siemens, regretted not learning English.
And thirdly, the fact that politics is increasingly abandoning the German language cannot always be explained by the fact that English is the language of diplomacy. For example, according to tradition, the German Ambassador to the German Pavilion in Venice opens the Biennale with a welcoming speech in English, even if the majority of the guests are Germans or Italians. In the European Union, German is considered one of the three working languages, but is not used – in particular, because German politicians do not seem to attach much importance to it.
Ammon says that although the French have not achieved much success with their language policy, they have achieved something that in the European Union you cannot pass by French. Even the British speak French, as well as Barroso, since he does not know German. “If some European federation ever appears, the government language will be English, possibly French, but certainly not German, and then the Germans will no longer be able to communicate with their government in German.” Meanwhile, even the last bastion of pure German speech – justice – is crumbling. The Bundesrat wants all civil proceedings to be conducted in English in the near future in order to exclude infringement of the interests of German courts in international economic proceedings.
And finally, fourthly, in addition to everything else, all spheres of our living space that are considered modern or promising have anglophone features: the Internet, computer technology, the sphere of consumption, youth subculture and pop culture. Almost all the Eurovision Song Contests this year were performed in English, and the host, of course, pronounced the name of the contest itself in the English manner – Jurovischen, but before that the word sounded with German or French pronunciation. The more English captures the scene, the more people need or want to learn English and the more fully they master the same scene. New EU statistics show that 90 percent of all schoolchildren in Europe are taught in English. This share is growing due to the decrease in the share of German and French. This also applies to our own schools. Although the first results of the PISA study showed insufficient language proficiency, education policymakers did not strengthen German language teaching, but decided to introduce English in primary schools. The number of English-language kindergartens is also growing, at present there are about four hundred of them.
This is the general situation. It is easier to describe it than to appreciate it, since linguistic patriotism very quickly falls under ideological suspicion or really becomes ideological. So, let’s try to consider the pros and cons from a pragmatic point of view.
Isn’t it a plus that, along with the mixing of languages during the construction of the Tower of Babel, there is an international language, which is understood by (almost) all taxi drivers or waiters, whether in Lima, Kathmandu or Gelsenkirchen? Undoubtedly you can. In world trade, international politics, science, as well as in culture, it is impossible to achieve success without this international language. That this language is English is due to America’s prosperity; and the fact that it is not German (and this could have happened at the beginning of the 20th century), – two world wars, which caused severe damage to the prestige of Germany. The destructive policy of the Nazis led, in addition, to incredible losses in the circles of the intelligentsia and scientists, which can be compared with such a phenomenon as brain drain (from the English. Braindrain – brain drain).
The question, of course, can be asked: is English really the ideal international language? The question is quite fair, since being fluent in English is not so easy. For example, you can master the Romance languages only by mastering their complex grammatical arsenal. Learning English, on the other hand, starts easily, but the deeper you penetrate into it, the more gaps in your knowledge. First of all, this concerns the mass of idiomatic expressions, in other words, expressions with a figurative meaning, the memorization of which is not easy. This is confirmed by the old aphorism: English is the easiest language to speak badly.
However, as has already been noted more than once, the international language of understanding in the literal sense of the word is not English at all, but rather a “global” language, or a new lingua franca, which Latin was for centuries, that is, a “free language” that does not belong to anyone, does not have territorial dependence and complementary native language of this or that people.
Comparison with the Latin language is considered by many to be inappropriate, arguing that there were no Romans for a long time in medieval Europe, while the dominant position of the English manner of expressing a certain linguistic imperialism was established, which guaranteed the speakers of the language an undoubted advantage. An interesting argument by linguist Barbara Seidlhofer from Vienna: “If a Portuguese and a Pole in Brussels communicate in English, an Englishman who has joined their conversation is out of work, since classical English and English“ lingua franca ”are to a certain extent two different languages. The British must understand and remember that the lingua franca is not their language, that it belongs not only to them, but to everyone. ” The requirement to learn more and more languages is impracticable, because, firstly, very few people will do it and, secondly, no one will ever be able to achieve the quality in a foreign language that its native speaker demonstrates.
Barbara Seidlhofer’s area of study is spoken English, lingua franca. She organized with her colleagues the Vienna-Oxford International Corpus of English, aka Voice, which stores recordings of conversations in cafes or conferences conducted by citizens of non-English-speaking EU countries in English. If you pay attention to some carelessness in these conversations, you can understand the thesis of Mrs. Seidlhofer: “In the lingua franca, it is not the correctness of what is said that is important, but the adequacy.” “We use different languages for different purposes. We form communities whose members share a common goal, and in the lingua franca it is especially important to be understood, despite the mistakes that only an Englishman can notice. ”
Thus, there is no reason to be jealous of the English for the dominance of their language. Rather, they should sympathize, as the incompetent global use of English will change it, perhaps even more than German under its influence. Also, there is absolutely no reason to regret the lost world significance of the German language, because it has never been international. Although it is ranked tenth or eighth among the most spoken languages, which is a decent enough position against the background of an estimated total of 6,000 languages, it is not good enough to allow an optimal scientific exchange in German. The more research groups, the more productive the exchange of information. This should not harm humanities scholars if they are forced to explain their sometimes florid syllable by translating it into English. However, according to one survey, a quarter of German scientists avoid conferences, and a third of them refuse the opportunity to publish their works if English is required.
Are these transient shortcomings and weaknesses, or an obvious principled opposition? Florian Koulmas, director of the German Institute for Japanese Language in Tokyo, recently told the Neuen Zürcher Zeitung newspaper: “Swedes, Bengalis and Chinese have no problem using English to expand their knowledge and experience. They readily take part in international scientific activity and related processes. ” In Germany and Switzerland, slightly dusty ideas about the native language still play a role. However: “It is customary among scientists that one should think first and then speak. On the other hand, there is a stable idea that it is not we who think, but the language thinks for us. ” And Colemas refers to philosophers like Wittgestein, Carnap, and Popper – German-born, published in English. “True, because at first they thought and then wrote.”
Here Colemas showed an uncharacteristic thoughtlessness: the named philosophers chose English not of their own free will, but because they were forced to emigrate. In addition, his thesis on the philosophy of language “First thinking, then language” is just as true as its opposite. We are talking, most likely, about some kind of interaction, alternation: language and thinking influence each other, and the significance of both depends on the subject. When carrying out an experiment, I first plan the setting of the experiment and then describe it, no matter what language. In literature, I immerse myself in the language and do not know where in the end the way out. This is typical for quite a few areas of the humanities. The philosophy of Kant, Hegel or Heidegger would have turned out differently if they had been forced to expound it in English.
So, if there were areas where language performs the function of controlling consciousness (which is undoubtedly the case), then the monoculture of the English language would be associated with significant losses. The novelist Jurgen Trabant in the FAZ newspaper objected to Colemas: “There are such scientific manipulations that do not silently form scientific knowledge from something imaginary, measured, weighed and calculated, but generate scientific knowledge into language. Scientific works in the so-called humanities are not created in such a way that the researcher first thinks about the results and only then must describe them and publish them. With the help of language, he creates an object entirely and completely consisting of language. ”
And if this language can no longer be his native language, the humanist will suffer a heavy loss, the loss of the homeland of his thought. This damage increases if the object itself consists of language, in particular in literature. Novelists complain that only English is increasingly spoken at international conventions for their specialization. Germanist and Scandinavian Heinrich Detering reports that speaking at Norwegian Ibsen conferences is only allowed in English, and Ibsen himself is mostly quoted in English. “If the scientific dialogue about Ibsen declares insignificant or even ignores the fact that this poet composed dramas in Norwegian, then what in some scientific sense can still be described as something hermeneutic will lose ground.” This feeling, when the soil leaves the feet, is experienced by a significant number of the humanities.
The second and more significant loss is that scientists in a democratic society are obliged to influence so that their work can be accepted and considered by the interested public. Their chances are diminishing with the spread of the English language. There is a danger that without this it will be impossible to build bridges over the significant gap between the scientific elite and the population of the state. It seems that this problem is not well understood. In general, representatives of the elite are becoming more and more interested in the English language, albeit for objective reasons, but at the same time with the aim of achieving personal success. Among the well-to-do and ambitious burghers, it is considered good form to send children to English boarding schools. In addition, representatives of the upper circles prefer private German higher schools, where, of course, English is spoken.
And here this dependence is increasingly manifested: the more often in the highest circles of economics, science or politics (and what good, soon the justice) will sound the English language, the more reasons the parents have, who, in their opinion, skillfully prepare their offspring for a professional career and can afford it, choose an English-speaking education for their children, which will again and again maintain the predominance of English in the offices and conference rooms. Unfortunately, as a result, this can lead to a decrease in the ability of lower social groups to communicate through language – of course, this is about German – and this will not only affect the children of immigrants.
Jürgen Trabant recently concluded, which was published in the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper: “While on one side of the social scale a sufficient proportion of people show their inability or dissatisfaction with joining the German language community, the other part – the top of society – invests heavily and efforts to get out of it. ” And he asks the question: “Why should the children of immigrants learn German if the working language of this country is English?” Thus, he quoted Gunther Oettinger, who once said that German remains the language of communication in the family circle and in free time, and the “working language” is English. According to Trabant’s gloomy predictions, the German literary language as a whole is under threat, because it is crowded out from below by penetrating dialects and rudimentary languages, and from above by English.
But is he right? His statement about “the end of the German language community” is exaggerated. So far, almost every taxi driver speaks German, and at debates in the Bundestag, on television and in cafes, they argue in German, it does not seem at all that anything will change anytime soon. The German language is, of course, changing on its own – and faster than ever. No wonder. And why should language remain intact under the influence of universal acceleration? Precisely because language changes occur rapidly, becoming tangible within one generation, a certain allergic nervousness is growing among those who are not indifferent to the state of the language. The question is whether Dieter E. Zimmer, who feared already in 1997 (in his book “Deutsch und anders”), that the system of rules of the German language would be shaken as a result of the “English invasion” from the point of view of the language will disappear completely. In any case, this will lead to the fact that the past states will become alien or incomprehensible to us.
Undoubtedly, the further we go from the previous forms of language, the more alien they become to us. Recently Grimmelshausen’s Simplicius Simplicissimus was translated from 17th century German into 21st century German. And the works of such a great writer as Christoph Martin Wieland, who in the 18th century was considered one of the founders of the German literary language, are just as difficult to read today. However, in his works it is noticeable how skillfully he accepted and developed the strong influence of the Latin and French languages. And we must not forget that the German language, as the language of a geographical center, has always been subject to foreign influences, and mostly for the benefit of itself. However, it is impossible to know for sure if today’s changes mean some kind of erosion. Perhaps, it will not pass without a trace for the development of the German language, if everything that is considered modern, either chic or innovative and sets the tone, will have anglophone features, – whether “down” – on the streets, discos, on the Web, “up” in economics, science, politics. Everything seems to be heading towards the end of an era that lasted for about 250 years, when German was the language of the best minds.
Of course, one could take comfort in the fact that, using the example of small languages, it is obvious how insignificant the dependence of the spiritual or literary life of a country on the spread of its own language is, if you look at Hungary or Finland. However, this is little consolation, since, according to Ulrich Ammon, “it is more difficult for a rich man to endure his impoverishment than it is for a poor man to remain poor.” And from the realization that the rich man willingly makes himself poor, one becomes ashamed. German literary language in the 18th-19th centuries acquired world significance, and politics and economics have nothing to do with it, the main thing is that some of the brightest works of literature and philosophy, which are still of international importance, were created on it and with its help. The fact that some members of our elite no longer understand this language and do not speak it is almost not connected with objective necessity, but has to do with vanity and carelessness. The elite behaves irresponsibly in the matter of language, while the state or status of the language depends mainly on those who have power and influence. Their attitude to the language is equal to those who are still below and want to get up.