Language focus | 28.09.2009

The influence of German on the English language

The English language is peppered with words and expressions from all around the globe thanks to centuries of trade. According to a study by the publishers of the Oxford dictionary, some 28% of English words have their origin in Latin and a further 25% in French. In addition, old German, Norse and Dutch have also influenced a quarter of English words and in recent years, we have seen an increase of German words in popular vocabulary.

In fact, there seems to be a Germanic influence in the vernacular of many areas of modern British life. We can see this in the world of food (Hamburger and Frankfurter), in cultural terms, relating in particular to music and literature (Glockenspiel and Leitmotiv) and historical references (Blitzkrieg and Realpolitik) to name a few examples. Some popular words of German origin are more abstract, such as Doppelgänger, Angst and Zeitgeist, and have introduced new concepts as well as words into the English language.

German words are also on the increase in the media, a fact that language experts are attributing to the way in which German compound nouns enable the author to neatly sum up the current climate. In fact, the use of the word Schadenfreude defined as the delight at the misfortune of others has seen a 30% increase in its usage in print in the last year! Other words, such as über as an exaggerator, have become fashionable with the blogging community.

Using foreign words is a common technique in literary translation, for example the characters in a translation of a German novel may be referred to as Herr and Frau to evoke a sense of foreignness. The Translation People has a network of translators who work both from and into German. Our translators are experts not only in their subject area and language combination, but also in the source and target cultures and therefore know when to use foreign loanwords to really make your text stand out.


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