[lg policy] Germany: No more English signs in Bundesbahn stations

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Thu Feb 18 15:45:41 UTC 2010

Language moves

It was the ‘Kiss&Ride’ that did it. The vacuous English-language sign
that broke the camel’s back. Clearly, it means a short term carpark.
But who could have known that the locals (in Bavaria) would think it
has seedier connotations? A flurry of letters to the local politician
ensued. A brief wander through a German train station will see you
directed to “Service points” (help desks) and “Counters” (ticket
desks) after which you could “call a bike” or opt for “car-sharing”
but perhaps not before having called some “hotlines” or being handed
some “fliers.” Fine (just about) if you speak English but too much for
those who do not. Now Germany’s railway company (Deutsche Bahn) is
taking a stand against the plethora of English-language signs in its
stations that confuse and irritate ordinary Germans. The policy is to
be dropped. Much to joy of the German Language Association whose
website dolefully notes that there are over 7000 English words in the
German lexicon

Many of these must surely be in business German which is littered with
Anglicisms either adopted as is or partially Germanified. Something
can be ‘gemanaged’ or ‘upgedated’, for instance, while you are in
‘einem Meeting’ or take ‘ein Conference call.’ Ordinary German too is
full of English words such as ‘second hand’ or ‘outfit’ or the
ubiquitous ‘cool.’
So is a German language academy in the offing? An institute that like
its French counterpart would defend the home language against the
English creep? Probably not, Berlin has stayed out of it so far. But
it is interesting (and good obviously) that Germans are taking more
public pride in their language. When the country held the EU
presidency in 2007, it made it a policy to speak German (and not
English) wherever possible. An offshoot of the generally more
political and mentally confident nation perhaps. (This is a country
where to speak of being proud of being German, or display the national
flag was until very recently considered a taboo.)

The language issue has become more politicized now. German foreign
minister Guido Westerwelle made headlines last year when he refused to
answer a question in English at a press conference shortly after he
took up the post. Meanwhile, transport minister Peter Raumsauer has
banned unnecessary English words such as “taskforce”, “Knowhow” and
“Travel Management” from his ministry. Still whatever about giving
priority to German in train stations and being more assertive
generally about the language, Germans are merciless with their
political representatives who they feel should speak English well.
Germany’s EU commissioner Guenter Oettinger, who speaks both heavily
accented German and English, has been subjected to a ladleful of scorn
in the media.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, February 17th, 2010 at 5:06 pm and
is filed under EU. You ca


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