Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The König’s English

A while back, I caught part of a movie set in the techo-future, in which the lingua franca had English as its baseline, but was full of Spanish and Chinese words.

Since English is both the de facto language of technology, business, medicine, and popular culture, as well as an incredibly vibrant and protean language, if and when this happens it will be no surprise.

Just how protean is English?

Well, it managed to incorporate lingua franca and de facto pretty handily, didn’t it?

Personally, I like it that English is such a spongey tongue.

Although I would not want to see it fully devolve into text-speak only – IMHO this would be something that would not get me to ROTFLMAO – I like that it is so colorfully evolved.

It’s like one big melting pot, incorporating new words from all over the world.

Sure, we do some hemming and hawing about linguistic purity – with the pecksniffs among us bemoaning the fact that no one uses hopefully “correctly”  - but English just seems to go with the flow. Out with the old – when was the last time you heard the word pecksniff?  – and in with the new (smartphone, borrowing from ourselves from “smart” and “phone”; and did we talk taco 50 years ago? I think not).

Anyway, English is a gloriously rich and vibrant language.

To which I say, yippee! (Derivation unknown.)

Given how English has such a long history of absorbing words from wherever, and given that, at least for now, it looks like it’s going to be über alles, no one gets their shorts in a knot over the fact that our language is subject to change. (Even the pecksniffs.)

Europeans, on the other hand…

Deutsche Bahn, the state-owned railway, has issued a fatwa, a list of 2,200 English words that have crept into German, turning it into Denglisch. Among the words that, moving forward, will be discouraged, if not strictly verboten:

…bonus, business class, lifestyle, non-stop and package deal must be replaced by their German alternatives. (Source: The Economist.)

There are, however, other words on which the Germans are waving the white flag of surrender, conceding that they are now “sufficiently” embedded into the mutter/vater tongue.  On this list:

…brunch, container, sandwich and VIP.

The big offender in Germany is, apparently, advertising.

Advertising in Germany is particularly prone to Anglicisms. “There is the illusion that using English shows you are livelier, younger and more modern,” says Holger Klatte of the German Language Association, founded in 1997 to preserve and promote Goethe’s mother-tongue. Zalando, an online clothes shop, is a typical offender with its “Must-haves”, “Basics” and “Shop by Style”. Deutsche Telekom’s slogans include the baffling “Call & Surf Comfort via Funk”.

(Side note: I don’t think that the Deutsche Telekom slogan is all that baffling, given that “funk” means wireless to Germans. It could obviously use the word “in”  between “Surf” and “Comfort”, but other than that, any schnook should be able to figure out what they’re talking about. In any case, nothing to get in a funk about, that’s for certain.)

Even though Germany’s version of the Grand Funk Railway is trying to police the language, there are no national organizations set up to do so.

The French, on the other hand, have long waged a noble/futile battle for language purity, with big KEEP OUT signs and periodic campaigns to purge words like “weekend” from their national dictionary.

France, in fact, has two groups who see to their language, including one that reports directly to the prime minister and…

….monitors businesses and other organisations for neologisms, especially ones imported from English. Offenders are told to use papillon for flyer, tablette for iPad and vignette for widget.

Come on, mesdames et messieurs.

Papillon instead of flyer?

Isn’t a papillon a butterfly?

And iPad is a brand name for one tablet/tablette. So why can’t you just accept iPad, in the same way that we accept Louis Vuitton?

As for rejecting widget.

Methinks that it’s a made up word to begin with. And a perfectly good on for “thingy.”

While vignette, mes amis, is a perfectly good word for a little scene that captures something about an event or a character. It’s from the French for "something that may be written on a vine-leaf." Over here, we use it all the time.

Yes, widgets are definitely shorthand, but I don’t think that there are too many techies – here or in France – who would think of them as “something that may be written on a vine-leaf.”

What’s French for “oy”?

No comments: