KRAMER v THE AGENCIES IN THE STRANGE CASE OF DEUTSCH ÜBER ALLES
English is spoken all over the world - or so
Anglo-Saxonia tends to think. As a lingua franca in the fields of
commerce, science and technology, English enjoys status unequalled.
As native speakers, however, we tend to be unaware of the passions
English arouses when it encroaches too far into another language.
There were always the French, of course, with their
Academie Française making French compulsory in all information aimed
at the general public - but, then, that's the French, n'est-ce-pas?
or quite, apparently. Next to the Poles, who recently passed similar
legislation, there is mounting
German protest at the tidal wave of English spreading
throughout the German language. Leading the attack against marauding
Anglicism is Professor Dr Walter Kramer, whose Society for the German
Language was first noticed two years ago when it gave German fashion
designer Jil Sander the Language Adulterator of the Year award for an
interview in a leading newspaper containing passages like: "Mein
Leben ist eine Giving-story. Für den Erfolg war mein co-ordinated
Concept entscheidend. Die Audience hat das alles supported",
meaning: "My life is a giving story. My co-ordinated concept was
crucial to my success and the audience supported all of that."
The society next took a pot-shot at Ron Sommer, head of Deutsche Telekom,
whose constant references to CityCalls, GermanCalls and GlobalCalls
earned him the 1998 award not least, says Professor Kramer, because
such terms are unintelligible to even native English speakers who refer
to the terms local, long-distance and international calls.
Kramer, a professor of economic statistics at Dortmund
university, is anxious to dispel any impression of fanaticism. "We're
not interested in legislation banning English or any other language from
public life here," he says. "We want consumer protection at
linguistic level. That means German in all communications aimed at the
public, especially advertising, which doesn't mean that other languages
cannot figure, too - but the German equivalent must be given."
Kramer's society, still a voluntary association staffed and run by people
with other full-time jobs like himself, has burgeoned from a small,
committed group of seven to a hugely popular organisation with 7,500
members in just two years. The association's campaigns and annual, awards
provide entertainment for the public as well as achieving results. Deutsche
Telekom now bills its customers in German after one man, emboldened by the
press furore surrounding Ron Sommer's "calls", paid his bill in
sterling as a protest.
Prominent admirers of Kramer and his industrious campaigners
include Ottmar Hitzfeld, Bayern Munich's trainer, Frank Schirrmacher,
co-publisher of the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, and a host of
politicians across the spectrum. Flush with members, the society now has
regional offices in each German Land which keep members informed about
protest campaigns against companies using too much "Denglish"
(a mixture of German and English).
Germany's C&A, for example, was forced to end widespread
use of English in its ad slogans after it was snowed under by protest
letters from Kramer's supporters. Each month, the group targets and exposes
an organisation. Hapless victims include the illustrious Deutsche Bank,
electricity supplier Yello Strom, and the perfume chain Douglas, whose
slogan "Come in and find out" dominates company advertising.
The society's members go into such stores and ask about goods and prices
- in English, to the embarrassment of the predominantly non-English
Although now widely taught in schools, nearly 50 per cent
of - mostly older - Germans speak no English at all, vindicating Kramer's
arguments for the use of German within Germany. After huge publicity
following this year's Language Adulterator award to Johannes Ludewig,
former chairman of the German state-owned railway Deutsche Bahn, for his
constant references to McCleans (pay-as-you-go toilets), service points,
ticket-counters and DB-lounges ("Why doesn't he just call it German
Rail?" muses Kramer) the society has entered a new phase.
Following its first general meeting recently, members
appointed a committee of experts - linguists and journalists - to
safeguard the interests of German which, they feel, risks drowning in a
sea of superfluous and often inaccurate Anglicisms. However, even Kramer
concedes that certain English words are permanent fixtures in the German
language, spoken and understood by everyone. "The term sex-appeal,
for example," he says, "cannot be improved upon German. Everyone
knows what it means, because it has been around for so long. Also the word
hobby -no-one would dream of using the German term. Everyone, from toddlers
to grannies, says hobby." Words like event, statement and highlight
have virtual cult status in German and arouse the professor's ire. "The
German equivalent for these words is every bit as good as the English one,
in most cases better!" he says, citing a long list. "We don't want
to attack every English word in sight," Kramer continues. "But we
object to pseudo-cosmopolitan English ad-jargon because it's incomprehensible
to most of the German-speaking public. German advertisers use more English
words than anywhere else in Europe." So what does the future hold for
Kramer and his followers as they pursue their mission to clear the (linguistic)
air for their fellow countrymen? "We hope, some day, that we can no longer
justify our existence because our job will have ended," he says.
"Until that time, we will speak up for their German language whenever
The Scotsman - United Kingdom; Dec. 10, 1999