5/04/2006

Come in and find out - 'D-English' at its best

Says German newspaper SPIEGEL Online in this article: Phrases like "Nothing between us" or "Come in and find out" don't tell the average German consumer a thing. 'Unispiegel', targeted at German university students, continues to quote scientific findings which claim that advertising in English fails to speak to the German consumer. It just doesn't work for the intended audience.

One reason for this apparent failure may be found in the fact that the majority of the target group simply don't understand above claims. A German undergraduate student proved by measuring skin resistance that a great many of the candidates didn't show any physical reaction to phrases like "Fly high, pay low", "Designed to make a difference", Have a break, have a KitKat".

Does that mean we'd have to sum up above findings by attributing advertising companies a 'Spend much, win nothing'-attitude?

By contrast, Philipp Lenssen of Google Blogoscoped, who inspired and contributed to this post, sees a different tendency in spoken German language: He comes to the conclusing that many 'modules' of special terminology as e.g. in advertising undergo a development he coins as 'Englification'. According to this, you see a - false - decomposition of compound nouns, as in "Wir waren im Fisch Restaurant" or "Der sportive Fahrer Sitz..." (where his original quote named a famous German sports car brand for 'Fahrer'; apparently, the manufacturer meant to stress the brand's name here by separating the compound noun).

He finds more examples, e.g. a false apostrohpe as in "Tina's Kneipe" or the possessive where a plural is expected as in "Handy's" (actually this spelling reveals two mistakes: The false apostrophe as well as the missing morphological marker 'ie' for the plural). A very krass phenonemon is the arbitrary mixing of English and German into a 'new media melange' as in: "Laßt uns asap meeten, um uns zum täglichen daily business zu committen" - an almost incomprehensible phrase, don't you think?

Another interesting development is the superimposing of English Grammar on formerly German expressions, as in "Ich nehme eine Dusche" - apparently a literal translation of 'I'll take a shower' or "ein Foto schießen" for "to shoot a foto".

In light of these almost helpless efforts to comply with formerly perfectly logical grammatical rules (where the various renditions of the German Rechtschreibreform add to the general insecurity with regard to grammar), it's probably not too bad an idea to simply do without translating at all and keep the English original - or a simplified version instead, e.g. in movie titles such as 'Miss Congeniality', which was translated to 'Miss Undercover' in German theatres. Most technical terms aren't translated anymore, either, which is probably a good idea, too. For what you get in trying to convert them all into the target language can be seen in French: "L'ordinateur" for computer, "logiciel" for software a.s.o., making it an almost complete new 'language in the language'.

Philipp closes in stating that according to his view there are two opposite tendencies: One being the above mentioned 'Englification' in order to - supposedly - make rather mundane things sound more interesting as in 'Eat & Drink', a neon ad in a bakery's window. On the other hand there is an almost compulsive effort to synchronize most anything in the media: Movies, TV series, the news a.s.o. Especially movies and TV series suffer substantially, e.g. with falsely translated metaphors or puns on words that lose their original punchline when being translated literally.

With the linguistic fact of language being subject to change by its speakers, it will be interesting to see, whether we'll succeed in striking a balance between 'borrowing' words and subdue it to the target grammar or whether 'Englification' will lead to a rather unusable mix of expressions, grammatical rules and meanings.

I suggest: Come in (this blog) and find out ... ;-)

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