English-ifying the World


Group post by Carolin Lehmann, Angie Pi, Connie Liou, Sara Bechtold, and Sam Roth

Communication is one of the most fundamental tools of human existence, and stretching back to the days of Babel, humanity has struggled to fully understand the ideas and intentions of the fellow man. In today’s globalized community, many are experiencing heavy Western influences, particularly the spread of the English language throughout the world. Along with more people learning the language, English words are finding their way into foreign languages. Among those under this “English-ification”, countries in Europe and Asia have expressed strong reactions to the spread of the language.

English is sneaking into the German language, and the criticism is hard to ignore. Many Germans are set on protecting their language, and are not impressed by English words like “cool” being thrown into the mix. New “German” words are even being made up, based off English words. For example, the English word “austerity” has been turned into “austerität” – a completely made up word. The correct German term would be “haushaltskonsolidierung.” To take the issue even farther, Germans like Matthias Nöllke find these English words being said in an American accent even more horrendous. According to Nöllke, Germans who throw an English word with a strong American accent into a sentence want to sound worldly, but really just sound pretentious and laughable. German words are notoriously long, but that may soon be a thing of the past. Words are becoming faster, shorter and more English. “Kontaktieren” has turned into “kontakten.” The infusion of the English language may be thanks to America’s presence in Germany after World War II as well as the popularity of Hollywood worldwide. The American’s role in the creation of the new German government may be one cause of the resentment. The German youth want to sound like their favorite American celebrities, but the older set are still bitter. Apart from this bitterness, many place value on protecting the many different languages found around the world.

English is not the only language sneaking into the German language. In recent years, Western Europe has seen large increases in their immigrant populations, which also plays a factor in changes in the standard language. Many immigrants come from Turkey, Russia, former Soviet Bloc and Arab nations. Immigrants’ native languages play just as big a role in influencing modern German as English by mainly simplifying German grammar. It is not uncommon to also see words from an immigrant’s native language sprinkled in German too, but English words find their way into other native languages as well.

There is huge controversy and discrimination towards immigrants in Germany and other dominant Western European nations. For a long time European nations have always been pretty homogeneous: in Germany they speak German and in France they speak French. German speaking people feel that German has adopted so much English that they feel like they must also learn English to understand what’s happening in the media, advertising, economics and politics. European natives feel, with globalization and multinationalism on the rise, that the uniqueness of their nation is at risk.

The English language did not sneak into the Japanese language. It was invited inside for a drink or four and asked to stay. The Japanese language is no stranger to loanwords, or words that are borrowed from other languages. Japanese can be broken down into three categories: wago (words native to Japan), kango (words native to China), and gairaigo (words native to all other foreign countries. Although gairaigo are originated from many countries such as France and Germany, the Japanese foreign loanwords dictionary is completely dominated by English.
Prior to World War II, Japan lived in isolation. Following the war, Japan opened itself up to trade in the West and became occupied by Americans for the next seven years. Upon doing so, Japan took this as an opportunity to modernize their country, with the United States as one of their models. This sparked Japan’s love of American culture as well as a heavy influence on the Japanese language. Because of Japan’s isolation, they did not have the modern terminology simply because they did not know such things existed. The country adopted English words for compensation.

Since then, the list has spread not only to words out of compensation but words that were already wago. For example, words like “milk” has both the Japanese word gyuunyuu (牛乳) as well as the loanword miruku. The language has also evolved to include tons of loanwords that translate into something completely different from their English origins. For example, the Japanese word for “air conditioner” is kuuraa or “cooler.” This makes translation and understanding of certain words much more confusing, but it also shows that the Japanese language’s influence spread farther than necessity for the word. Some believe that because speaking English was associated with a certain prestige in Japan, using English loanword terminology brought on that same effect. Others may believe that using the loanwords for humor or to lighten the mood of certain subjects.

Although history has shown us that the Japanese very willingly adapted English into their language, today there are more people coming out to criticize the increase of English loanwords for being too overwhelming or for generating confusion. The complaints have gone from blogger digs at the usage of loanwords up to a man suing NHK, Japan’s national broadcaster, for distress due to the large usage of English loanwords in their program and thus making Japan more Americanized.

A modern Japan, illustrating American influence (http://dexomega.kinja.com/cultural-diffusion-between-the-united-states-and-japan-1484640071)

A modern Japan, illustrating American influence (http://dexomega.kinja.com/cultural-diffusion-between-the-united-states-and-japan-1484640071)

Similar to Japan, South Korea also uses loanwords. They say “ai syopping”, or 아이 쇼핑, to say “eye shopping” which refers to window shopping. A popular term used by South Koreans that some non-Koreans may recognize is “paiting” or “hwaiting”, a loanword from “fighting”, which is a term South Koreans use to encourage someone as they’re going through a difficult trial. For example, that would be our way of saying, “You got this!” or “Go get ‘em!”

Not only are South Koreans using loanwords, a great number of them are learning English. On the English proficiency index, South Korea is categorized under moderate proficiency, ranked number twenty-four amongst non-English speaking countries, and number three amongst Asian countries. To put it into perspective, China is categorized under low proficiency, ranked number thirty-seven amongst non-English speaking countries, and number eleven amongst Asian countries. What this shows is that South Korea’s English proficiency is much greater than most of its neighboring countries and even those with greater economies and globalization.

So how did South Korea get to this level of English proficiency? It can be attributed to South Korea’s obsession with the attainment of education. This goes back centuries and has ties to Confucian attitudes about education. South Koreans believe that education is a means to status and power and is the most powerful way to achieve upward social mobility and economic prosperity. Being educated in the English language gives Koreans a more advanced education which they believe will have benefits later down the road, so Korean parents are emphasizing, even imposing, English education for their children.

There are people in South Korea who oppose such an emphasis on English. Those who are against it fear that Korea will lose its culture and national identity, especially with the rapidly growing, global economy of South Korea. Discussion about the use of English in Korea is tricky and surrounded by conflict and debate, but in the end, few would argue against its necessity for South Korea’s rapidly expanding economy.

What do you think? Is the English-ification of many countries an acceptance of a global community and cooperative environment, or is it a detriment to the preservation of culture and identity? Comment below.

This entry was posted in Culture.