Last night, The Bavarian and I went to a terrace party in the Bundestag. At some point, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle showed up. Someone suggested that I should go and talk to him – in English. The joke being that Guido’s English is nicht so gut. Here’s a clip of him trying to answer a question in English a few years ago:
Did I mention that he’s the Foreign Minister? Then, at the end of last year, he was asked a question in English by a BBC journalist. This was his response:
Now, this man has turned his little insecurity about his ability to speak English into a political campaign to promote the German language and purify it of anglicisms. According to a recent article in The Economist, Guido would like the European Union’s diplomatic service to hire German-speakers, probably so he’ll finally be able to understand what the hell is going on.
Transport Minister Peter Ramsauer also jumped on board, saying that he would replace English words like ‘brainstorming’ and ‘meeting-points’ with ‘Ideensammlung’ and ‘Treffpunkte’. According to him, there is “no country in the world where people treat their own language so disrespectfully.”
He obviously hasn’t been to England. The English language is about as pure as the Gulf of Mexico right now. I’m pretty sure that English is polluted with more German words than vice versa: angst, kindergarten, sauerkraut, hamburger, lager, zeitgeist, schade, blitzkrieg, schnapps, schadenfreude…
If I were to get as touchy about my language as dear Guido seems to be about his, I would say that Germans are actually perverting English rather than the other way round. The use of ‘Handy’ to refer to a mobile phone, for instance. Or that jerky idiot Lena winning the Eurovision Song Contest by singing “Like a satellite I’m in an orbit all the way around you” with terrible pronunciation. But I won’t, because the English model of openness has proved more successful than the French protectionist model that Guido would like to imitate. Sure, it leads to a lot of messed up English, but this gives entire blogs a reason to exist.
(And why are the French and the Germans always so concerned about anglicisms? Why not go the whole way and say you’d like to purify the language of Italian and Russian words too?)
Languages are alive; they grow and evolve organically through usage. To try and curb that is futile, not to mention anti-democratic. The state has no business interfering with this process. The last time Germany tried, with the orthography reform of 1996, it proved disastrous; there were many opponents, including Günter Grass, Siegfried Lenz, Martin Walser, Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Walter Kempowski and Christian Wulff, and the issue was taken up in the courts. Many editors refused to implement the new rules, and only very recently have newspapers incorporated them into their in-house orthographies (and not all of them at that). Most German people still disagree with the reform.
So, Guido, if you would like English lessons I’m available…