Germans fight rise in 'confusing' English language – by rewriting the constitution

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ALARMED at the increasing use of English in everyday life, Germans are debating whether to enshrine the national language in the country's constitution.

Last week, Germany's federal consumer advocacy and protection body held a symposium in Berlin to discuss the issue. It condemned advertisers who use English, saying it made Germans who didn't understand it "feel inferior" and led to confusion.

Members of the ruling Christian Democratic party agreed at a recent party conference to seek to "anchor" the German language in the nation's constitution, citing the "encroachment" of English into the language as one reason for "ring-fencing".

Their proposal envisages a phrase being added to the 22nd article of the constitution, which already stipulates Berlin as the capital city and the German flag as horizontally striped black, red and gold: "The language of the Federal Republic of Germany is German."

With its four cases, three genders, maze of clauses and propensity for hanging verbs at the end of unusually long sentences, even Germans poke fun at their native tongue.

The American writer Mark Twain, in his 1880 essay "The Awful German Language", wrote: "Surely there is not another language that is so slipshod and systemless, and so slippery and elusive to the grasp."

At that time, German Romanticism was the world's dominant cultural movement and the German language was linked to the great "Dichter und Denker" ("Poets and Philosophers") such as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel.

But by the end of the Second World War, Adolf Hitler and the Nazis had given the language a bad name and English was on the rise.

However, some of the strongest support for the German language proposal has come from Germany's Central Council of Jews.

Stefan Kramar, the council's general secretary, said: "The German language is part of the national identity. It is not exclusive, but is part of the identification with our country."

The Christian Democrats' resolution – which Chancellor Angela Merkel opposes – also comes as Germany debates ways to better integrate its millions of immigrants, many of them Turks who moved to Germany as so-called "guest workers" in the 1960s and still struggle to speak German.

Ms Merkel's government has stressed the importance of assimilating its more than ten million foreign nationals and immigrants, including ensuring that immigrant children learn German in preschool.

Christian Democratic legislator Anette Hbinger said: "Language is our cultural identity and the basis of our mental existence. Consequently, learning and mastering a national language is the key to successful and sustainable integration."

Some lawmakers have called for a bill to be drawn up, which would then have to be debated and voted on by parliament.

Party conference resolutions are not binding and the CDU's junior coalition partners, the Social Democrats, as well as leading members of the opposition, have opposed the proposal.

Law experts say a constitutional amendment would have no immediate legal implications.

For many Germans, enshrining the language is more about strengthening the country's image on the international stage rather than fears about foreign influence.

"It's about our self-confidence in Europe," Volker Kauder, head of the Christian Democrats' faction in parliament, told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

Some 17 EU states guarantee their native tongues in their constitutions, including France and German-speaking Austria. German is also a national language in Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Luxembourg.

Confused? You will be

HERE are a few examples of "German" English that have led to confusion:

&#149 "Come in and find out" – the slogan for a chain of perfume stores – was taken to mean "Come in, but then go back out again."

&#149 The Vodafone slogan "Make the Most of Now" has weird associations with a fruit juice called Most for most Germans.

&#149 "Welcome to the Beck's Experience" didn't work so well because consumers believed the last word meant "experiment" and thought they were being used as lab rats.

&#149 German TV station Sat1, which used the catchphrase "Powered by Emotion" was taken to be a modern version of "Kraft durch Freude," the Nazi party's leisure organisation, often translated into English as "strength through joy".

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