April 2, 2015 10:00 am
English is a West Germanic language that is spoken almost everywhere. It was first spoken in early medieval England and now is a global language, official of almost 60 sovereign states and is known as the most common language spoken around the world. It is widely learned as a second language and is an official language of the European Union and of the United Nations, as well as of many world organisations.
But how has English become widespread globally? What has been its interaction with other languages and which of them has enriched English, turning it into a language with one of the biggest vocabularies?
In every language many words have their roots in other languages. Cultural links, historical events, the dominance of some cultures may all influence vocabularies. It is known that there are many terms borrowed from Italian in classical music, and a lot of words in the field of medicine originate from Greek and Latin. But another language which English has borrowed words from is German. Certainly, there are German loanwords that are being used daily in the English vocabulary. Actually, ‘loanword’ itself is a calque or loan translation of the German Lehnwort (Lehn from leihen= ‘lend’ + Wort = ‘word’).
Some of the loan terms may be better known than others and many have become a natural part of everyday English vocabulary. Some of them are more obvious than others. It is the case of ‘muesli’ and other foodie words like ‘pretzel’, which is originally German but while any German will know what you mean when you ask for a Pretzel, the German standard spelling is actually Brezel. Other popular German loanwords in English are lantern, cockroach, kindergarten, or more recent borrowings from the last century, linked to the history of countries and which reflect the traumatizing experience of the Second World War. It is the case of führer (now used to describe a tyrannical leader) and blitzkrieg (literally “fast war”) to explain the systematic bombings of cities in World War II.
More classic examples of words of German origin commonly used in English would be:
–wunderkind: (Wunder + ‘wonder’ + Kind = child) for some reason ‘wunderkind’ is used instead of ‘wonderchild’.
–schadenfreude: pleasure derived from another person’s misfortune.
–zeitgeist: spirit of a period in history to explain social norms, trends and beliefs of the time.
–weltschmerz: feeling of melancholy and word-weariness.
–achtung: Attention! Watch out!
Also the word über, which means above or over, is sometimes used in English to mean ‘extremely’ or ‘too much’ as an adjective, as in for example: ‘über intelligent’.
Anyway, Hamburguer may be the best known German loanword to the English language in the world. This term comes directly from Germany’s second city of Hamburg, where at the beginning of the 19th century thousands of Germans emigrated to the USA, taking food delicacies with them, including the ‘Hamburg’ steak, known now as the popular ‘Hamburger’.
In contrast, the German origin of the word ‘noodle’ could be not so easily recognizable. It did enter the English language in the late 18th century via the German Nudel, but unfortunately the origin of the German word in unknown.
On the other hand, some loanwords are primarily from professional, scientific, literary and intellectual fields (Waldsterben, Weltanschauung) or used in special areas such as gestalt in psychology or aufeis and loess in geology.
In addition, other interesting German loanwords are:
– feierabend: (literally ‘party evening’). It means the time when you finish work, as well as the rest of the evening after you’ve left work. It’s also used colloquially to say I’ve had enough / enough of this: Jetzt ist aber Feierabend!
– fachidiot: A ‘subject idiot’, someone who knows an awful lot about one subject, but doesn’t have too many capabilities outside this particular area.
– Doppelgänger: It is an identical double of an individual with no relation to each other. Doppelgänger is German for ‘double walker’ which in folklore is the paranormal double of a living person; in English it literally maintains its meaning without the folklore.
– wanderlust. It means ‘yearn to travel’. A modern German equivalent for wanderlust is fernweh, that means ‘crave for travel’.
– Diesel: The fuel Diesel is derived from the German ‘Dieselmotor’ named after its German inventor in 1892. This term would then go on to power much of the world’s transport including cars and trains.
The loanwords work in the other way around as well, and the increasing borrowing of words from English shows the enormous importance of the English language in today’s globalized world. This happens especially with English business terms and technology terms, which are used in so many languages (in case of German an example would be brainstorming sessions). Here are some examples of English terms adopted around the world like Internet, email or login (we hardly know them if not in English!).
However, it is advisable to be careful with some of these words because they might not mean exactly the same. An example of a false friend would be the German use of Handy for ‘mobile phone’. German learners of English could fall into a trap like this.
By Lidia Capitan Zamora. Journalist, web editor and social media expert.
Communication Trainee at TermCoord
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