IN THE fight against English, France is famously out in front. Now Germany is joining in.
The second world war stripped Germany of its cultural defences, allowing English to infiltrate unopposed. Sat.1, a broadcaster, is “powered by emotion”; Audi, a carmaker, “driven by instinct.” Even scholarship succumbed. Archaeology, a bastion of German-language research, is buckling, lament scholars at the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut. So have teenagers, who now chillen and smsen. When Germany’s Lena Meyer-Landrut takes to the Eurovision stage on May 29th to sing “Satellite” in English, purists will cringe.
Since reunification in 1990, Germany has pushed back. A Neue Fruchtbringende Gesellschaft was founded in 2007. Mr Krämer’s Verein, with 31,000 members, publishes an index of 7,200 anglicisms, four-fifths of which, it claims, crowd out good German words. A pet hate is “blockbuster”, originally a 1942 coinage for city-destroying bombs. Mr Krämer, who lost six relatives to Allied bombing, prefers Kassenschlager (“box-office hit”).
After reading this, I then began watching Ken Burns’ latest documentary, which calls the American’s national park system the country’s “best idea” in part because of how it has protected and preserved America’s natural beauty. One weakness in both these positions is that they assume what’s being preserved is static and pristine.
It’s not as if, for example, that Deutsch has ever been a closed system, free from external influence. Language is constantly evolving, incorporating and discarding various linguistic bits. A broad and more correct viewpoint could never see a language like German as pure, but always as an alloy of sorts. And isn’t an all-knowing authority’s pushback just another bit of meddling?
Similarly, America’s national parks have not preserved and protected nature so much as they’ve attempted to place various ecosystems into a certain equilibrium perceived to be superior by man. I did not rejoice when watching to hear of bison populations decimated or lumber mills working overtime in Yellowstone, but one has to keep in mind that at one point Yellowstone had no bison or trees. Indeed, if one wants to get really absurdist, at one point Yellowstone was very naturally under water. Too bad no one was around to preserve YellowWater, I suppose.
I’m being a touch obtuse, of course, but the irony remains: by attempting to remove the messy influence of man, these preservationists are just reinserting him in a different way.