The word “Ruckizuckifutti” is not only a mouthful — it doesn’t evoke a sense of American lifestyle like its English equivalent “fast food,” either.
But when the German Language Foundation called on Germans to find an alternative for the English term, “Ruckizuckifutti” was one uniquely German suggestion.
The campaign is one of several by advocacy groups who are intensifying their fight against the massive use of English and “Denglish” — a hybrid of the two languages — in Germany’s advertising, television and everyday parlance.
“We don’t want to be language purists, but we want people to be aware of how they speak and that certain linguistic imports just don’t fit into German,” said Cornelius Sommer, a former German ambassador and one of the leaders of the campaign.
Another advocacy group, the German Language Club, has called on telecommunications giant Deutsche Telekom to stop using terms like “Blackberry Webmail” and criticized national rail operator Deutsche Bahn for similar misnomers.
They face an uphill battle in Germany, where English is widely spoken and English expressions and Anglicisms are common.
For the past four years, Sommer asked the public each month to come up with one German equivalent for a borrowed English expression, with special focus on Anglicisms which use the original English incorrectly.
Sommer cites the word “handy,” which in Germany refers to a mobile phone, as a prime example of how the false Anglicisms not only harmed the German, but the English language, too.
“I’m not only trying to protect German, but English too,” Sommer said. “The English language is not just a pile of rubble from which we can pick and choose what we want.”
The wide use of English has social consequences, as large sections of the population — especially older generations who are less proficient in English — may feel excluded.
Sommer also criticised businesses and academia for adopting English as their lingua franca.
“University courses taught by professors with poor English to students with poor English — that can’t be good!”
The campaigns to name and shame linguistic miscreants have had some recent success.
Deutsche Bahn announced in February that it would refrain from using English at train stations, replacing the terms “Kiss & Ride” and “counter” with their German equivalents.
This came after German Transport Minister Peter Ramsauer banished Anglicisms from his ministry in January.
But academic linguists are still sceptical about the long-term success of campaigns to limit the use of “Denglish,” saying imports are part of the organic evolution of languages.
“No one cares about what groups like the German Language Club suggest,” said linguist Rudi Keller. “No one uses the German word “Klapprechner” instead of laptop — the suggestions are just silly.”
Keller points out that movements to protect German are nothing new, starting with attempts to minimize French influence in the 17th and 18th centuries. Certain French terms were adopted but the majority soon disappeared from the vocabulary.
Perhaps surprisingly, despite the drive to accentuate all things Germanic, language purification was not a part of Nazi rule, as Hitler encouraged the use of foreign words to give National Socialism international flair.
Keller sees subtle nationalism lurking somewhere in the language purity debate but said he was certain the people running the main lobby groups had no such motives.
English is a popular import because it is pronounced similarly to German and because it is associated with a cultural sense of coolness no other language possesses, Keller says.
“We try to impress with our use of language. Some people buy themselves a Mercedes, others use English words. That might be annoying, but it can’t be changed.”
Cornelius Sommer, who as an ambassador spent time in 40 different countries across the world, supports the adoption of certain English words, but says that the process is happening too fast for many people to catch up.
“Some English words like ‘film’ or ‘sex’ have become German citizens, and that’s fine,” he said.
“They have to be incorporated in a process which was slow and democratic, though, not one dictated by an advertising industry whose only innovative idea is to use English on a massive scale,” said Sommer.
But linguist Keller says these campaigns are bound to fail, pointing to Germany’s neighbour France as a failed example of language dirigisme.
“The French have all these strict rules about the use of French over English imports,” Keller argued. “But if a French youth likes something, he’ll say “c’est cool!”
(Editing by Stephen Brown)