The development of the German language

regarding foreign words from the French and English



The shifting from Latin and French foreign words to English ones in the German language


- - - -  Foreign words in the German language





In the 17th and 18th century foreign words from the French and the Latin were most common. In the end of the 18th century English rooted foreign words replaced those taken from the French and Latin. At the same time the Eurolatin cultural heritage won from the Greece, Latin and French became more and more fruitful within the German language caused by the increasing use and further development of foreign words in German language. Also, a big part of the Anglo Americanisms having spreat out due to the modern internationalisation of science, technology, economy, traffic, politics, and everyday culture has conributed to the strengthening of the Eurolatin basis of  foreign words in German language. Today English has become what Latin once was: a universal language in Europe and the whole world.


The fall of the French has to be regarded from different angles:

In the late feudal bourgeois high class in Germany and Austria French words and phrases and also entire situational registers remained in use up to the first World War, especially in the semantic fields of fashion, living and dining culture, distinguished behaviour and festivities  as well as a device of secret talk in the presence of  home staff. Both college lessons and practice in liberal arts at universities have contributed to the fact that a limited literary control of the French in  the educated classes of society remained that long as well, apart from the obligatory use of the French in diplomacy. In spite of the hostility towards the French since 1813 and 1871 (German-French war) a big part of  the French foreign word vocabulary was still used in all those semantic fields by eductated people who were trying not to integrate the writing and pronunciation into the German language.

This can well be seen regarding words beginning with the letter “C”, as there are Cabaret, Café, Camembert, Champagner, Chance and many more. Up to the first World War the cultural value of the French language which even had a social prestige independent from France after the Napoleonic time has also had an immense effect on German dialects, e.g. in the area of Berlin: inne Bredullje kommen.

Another part of the French was kept in an unrecognizable form and often hardly differentiable from foreign words from New Latin, Italian and English, e.g.: akzeptabel, Lektüre, Uniform. The number of foreign words coming from France in the time after the war is very little compared to the internationalisms and Anglo Americanisms. A well-known example is Pommes Frites.


Next to French and English and other romanesque languages German belongs to the “extroverted languages”, i.e. it is becoming a mixed language.


In the 20th century the English influence on the development of foreign words has permanently increased.  Since English has become a lingua franca, most of the anglicisms and Anglo Americanisms are primarily a modern part of the internationalisation of European languages.

In the first World War and the early Nazi time the English influence temporarily declined due to a pursitic attitude. But afterwards new waves of readiness to take up anglicisms and Anglo Americanisms followed, on the one hand being a reaction to nationalism and isolationism, on the other hand being a reaction to the economic influence of the US after the first World War. After 1945 English as an international language became more and more common favoured by the time of occupation in Western Germany and America related alliance politics. Its is hard to differentiate between the American and the British rooted foreign words because the British English was and still is influenced by America.

Lots of modern anglicism have already been common in the German language in the twenties, e.g. Film, Bestseller, Song, Pullover, Manager, tanken.

After the second World War the Anglo American influence even reached simple private everyday life. The internationalizing American language influence also affected higher cultural levels, especially by a high number of foreign words and technical terms from scientific, technological and cultural fields, e.g. Computer, Trend, Kybernetik, Linguistik.



Sources:           Deutsche Sprachgeschichte, Band 3, Peter von Polenz



By Michael Klencz and Torsten Walter