Denglish in the Information Age

English is ubiquitous in Berlin. Young people here seem to be in agreement that English words are ‘cool’. Using certain English words is the proof that you are current, hip, trendy, etc. In fact, the ‘Denglish‘ phenomenon, or the Anglicization of the German language, has some people in this country quite worried.

Information technology and the Internet have introduced a whole new slew of ‘Denglish’ words to the German language. The Internet cafes advertise their ‘scannen’ and ‘faxen’ and ‘mail’ services. Of course, ‘mail’ in this case refers to e-mail. Although it comes directly from the English, the German word ‘mail’ should not be confused with the English ‘mail’.

When used in German, the word ‘mail’ refers only to e-mail. For some reason it has adopted the feminine article to become ‘die Mail’. It is not used as a verb the way ‘e-mail’ is in English. If ‘e-mail’ were to slip out while speaking German, I find that most people will not understand you. The same would hold true if a German person speaking English said ‘mail’ – it would be understood to refer to a letter arriving in the mailbox or what is known as ‘Post’ in German, which is quite different from e-mail.

Another example are the short text messages so often sent via cell phone. In English these are referred to as text messages or even just text. The word ‘text’ is already a perfectly valid word in German and could seemingly play the same role as it does in English. Instead those short text messages are called ‘SMS’ in German, which stands for Short Message Service. Most Americans I know have never heard SMS, but of course when Germans say it they think they are speaking English (and are therefore cool). Just as text can be used as a verb in English, SMS is often used in the same way in German, as in ‘I’ll SMS you’.

Though English is ubiquitous in the German-speaking world, many Denglish words still require translation. In fact, those Denglish words can present some of the biggest challenges in a translation. While translating a software licensing contract I encountered a new Denglish word I hadn’t seen before: ‘Softwarestand.’ The meaning in this case was ‘version of software’.


10 responses to “Denglish in the Information Age

  1. No mention of Denglish Cool would be complete without Stephen Fry’s Mein Handy.

    • Thanks for sharing, Mago. I had never seen that Stephen Fry clip. The word ‘Handy’ is actually one of my favorite Denglish words; I am trying to think of how I could try to introduce it to the English-speaking world! Though I don’t think it would catch on if Stephen Fry has anything to do with it.

  2. “Mail” is actually a good example how imported words are supposed to adopt their grammatical gender – either by following the gender of their translation or by following the gender of words they resemble structurally. Die Post, ergo die Mail. Unfortunately, more and more words taken from English and other languages are simply “das” without regard to meaning or form.

    • Thanks for the info Michael! I had never thought about it but it makes sense. I notice most imported words seem to take ‘das’, which is why I found it so odd that ‘Mail’ was ‘die’. I feel much better knowing there is an actual method to the madness.

  3. hellos 🙂

    this post reminded me of two things:

    1) the Japanese, who call their mobiles their ‘handyphones’, they’re really such an odd and cool lot – my ex-colleagues used to crack me up whenever they said ‘banana’; and

    2) in Malaysia we speak what’s affectionately known as ‘Manglish’, and its close – but less funny, IMO – cousin, ‘Singlish’ (Singapore).


  4. Young people in Australia tend to used the word “text” as a verb, with past tense/participle “text”, which I find rebarbative. However, like a lot of other Australians, I still cling to “SMS”, both as a noun and as a verb. It is no better than “text” in some ways, but at least is unambiguous.

    BTW, there are some phones that announce the arrival of a text message with a beep in the form of the letters “SMS” in Morse code.

  5. Richard Benham

    One Denglisch word that is often overlooked is “Mobbing”. To genuine English speakers, pop stars may be “mobbed” by adoring fans, but the German word “mobbing” refers to phenomena such as collective office bullying. Apparently it was initially introduced in an academic psychology article written in English–by a Swede.

    • I would not classify “mobbing” as Denglish. It is used in this way English too, as well as being borrowed by other languages besides English.

  6. I meant to say “other languages besides German.”

  7. Surprisingly enough, Germany is not the only nation which refers to text messages as “SMS”. In Russia, it is not just the most commonly used term for the technology in question, but the official name. Even though cell phone menus and user guides sometimes read “text messages”\”short message service” translated word for word, as a native speaker, I consider the original abbreviation in Latin characters a most standard form. Obviously, when we speak it is difficult to render the character set (Latin\Cyrillic). 😉 The Russian for “to text someone” would sound approximately as “to send somebody an SMS”. No verbal derivatives are used, unless the environment is too relaxed and the speaker is to lazy to use traditional morphological\grammatical patterns.

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