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Language campaigners say the use of English in railway stations poses a threat to German culture.
Language campaigners say the use of English in railway stations poses a threat to German culture.

German operator pressured to stop using English words

The German railway has promised to stop using such English terms as "Service Point", "Counter", and "Hotline" in a small victory for campaigners.

BERLIN // The German railway has promised to stop using such English terms as "Service Point", "Counter", and "Hotline" in a small victory for campaigners battling to turn back the tide of Anglicisation they say is threatening the proud language of Goethe. The railway operator, Deutsche Bahn, caved in after public complaints about its decision to call a new short-stay car park "Kiss and Ride".

"What right does the railway have to impose a language on us that isn't ours?" a former headmaster, Franz Aschenbrenner, wrote in a letter to his member of parliament. Not even English people understood what the term "Kiss and Ride" meant, he said. "Should the Bavarian town of Straubing really be expected to be more versed in English than England is?" The complaint was passed on to the head of Deutsche Bahn, Rüdiger Grube, who responded by giving an assurance that stations and trains will be made easier to fathom for Germans in future. "It's very important to us that we use the German language to ensure we're generally understood," Mr Grube wrote.

The railway's "Call a Bike" bicycle hire service will also be renamed, into the slightly less concise: "Das Mietradangebot der Deutschen Bahn". It is unclear whether the railway will find a new name for its night trains, currently called "City Night Line", or its discount ticket offer for Internet bookings, called "Surf & Rail". The German Language Society, a private organisation with 30,000 members committed to cleansing the Teutonic tongue of Anglicisms, welcomed Deutsche Bahn's decision, but said much, much more needs to be done.

"Germans don't value their language enough," said Holger Klatte, the society's spokesman. "It has become a trademark of the Germans to resort to English terms whenever they want to describe something that's trendy and modern. It's something that astonishes many English people, and it's completely unnecessary." The railway has been one of the worst offenders in recent years, Mr Klatte said. Deutsche Bahn's former chief executive, Hartmut Mehdorn, received the dubious distinction of being named Language Adulterator of the Year by the society in 2007.

The use of English words and phrases in German has spread dramatically over the last decade in marketing, business, finance, the media and among young people. Relax, brainstorm, job centre, chat, wellness, bodyguard, ticket, shop, event, highlight, even X-mas are just some of an estimated 8,000 Anglicisms now in everyday use, according to the German Language Society. "The number has increased every year for the last 50 years," said Mr Klatte.

Shops now commonly put "sale" signs up and sell "outdoor" jackets and shoes, or "anti-ageing creme". English is so ubiquitous in some streets that one has the impression of being in Britain or the US - until one spots a grim-faced pensioner walking his dachshund. The desire to converse in English is so strong that Germans have even invented new English words that baffle Brits or Americans. The best example is "handy", which means mobile phone. Others are "talkmaster", which means talk show host, or "dressman", which means male model.

Germans call the trend "Denglisch", an amalgam of Deutsch and Englisch, and tentative efforts are underway to reverse it. The transport minister, Peter Ramsauer, last month ordered his staff to drop terms such as task force and inhouse meeting. "I don't know any other country on this earth that treats its own language with such disrespect," he said. The minister welcomed the decision by Deutsche Bahn, saying: "I would be pleased if other state-owned companies were to follow suit."

However, the German Language Society says such efforts do not go far enough. It has long called for German to be enshrined in the Federal Constitution as the country's official language, a demand that has been criticised by representatives of large immigrant communities. The society also wants Germany to have a language-protection body as powerful as the French Academy, which has recommended replacing words like software and email with French terms.

An existing body, the German Academy for Language and Poetry, should be given more clout, said Mr Klatte. "They should organise commissions on terminology to think about developing the German vocabulary. That could help the language." German as a "cultural language" - one spoken by a large population, with a long history and its own vocabulary spanning all areas of science - must not become outdated through globalisation and Anglo-Saxon terms for high-tech innovations, said Mr Klatte.

"We need to convey to people that our language is just as lively and flexible as English." After all, he said, German has a key advantage over English in that it can join words together to describe the world with Teutonic precision. That facility has even helped some German words get accepted into English, such as Zeitgeist, Schadenfreude or Kindergarten. "It's not a one-way street, but the road leading into German is far wider, and we've got to change that" said Mr Klatte.

dcrossland@thenational.ae

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