Sprechen wir Anglodeutsch?

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As I wade daily in the verbal streams that flow through Medialand, English seems to be getting more Germanic every day. Not that German is conquering English; overwhelmingly, English vocabulary is crowding into German, as into many other languages. For instance, when I spoke with Tom Bonfiglio of the University of Richmond in Virginia, he talked of "neue Anglodeutsch," a blend of German and American words that is widely used, especially in northern Germany, especially in computers and technology.

He gave as an example the term hypercard, a kind of software package. He demonstrated its pronunciation, giving it an accent that sounded lost somewhere over the North Atlantic.

There are a handful of German expressions in vogue in English now: "Uber," without its umlaut, as in "Ubermom," perhaps a more heroic (more Valkyrie-like?) equivalent of "supermom." Bonfiglio told of a colleague who reported finding a teaching job in the "Uber-suburbs," the spiffy ones. Then there's Fahrvergnügen, pleasure in driving, which Volkswagen tried and largely failed to graft onto English.

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While the influence of contemporary German on modern English is limited, Bonfiglio noted, there's plenty of evidence of the "persistence of a Germanic substrate in English." You might say, he suggested, that "English is rediscovering its Germanic roots." Consider compound adjectives like "cable-ready," "age-appropriate" or "gender-specific"; the words are English but the structure is very Germanic. The Romance languages express concepts like this with phrases like "ready for cable" or "appropriate for his age."

German is famous for its long words. Of them Mark Twain wrote, in his essay, "The Awful German Language," "These things are not words, they are alphabetical processions." But English does the same thing, just with different punctuation.

Bonfiglio pointed out: "The second baseman's baseball mitt," he said, improvising an example, "is basically all one compound term."

Both languages tend to pile up modifiers in front of nouns. And for informal speakers of both languages, a preposition is a word it's perfectly all right to end a sentence with. Temporal nuances are important to both, as well.

"Germans like to be oriented in time," says Klaus Jaeger, professor of German at Juniata College in Pennsylvania. So, it seems, do modern English speakers. I see a tendency to press temporal adverbs into service to modify nouns: "In 1981, then-President Reagan said such and such," for instance. In an earlier time, we might have assumed that "1981" took care of the "then" part of it.

But German has a nifty set of adjectives that cover a broad range of time relationships - the verbal equivalent of those deluxe sets of wrenches ("32 pieces!") for sale on eBay.

These adjectives would come in extremely handy if you were, say, the gossip columnist for the East Overshoe Overview and wanted to explain a situation like this: "When she was a student, she went to Europe with her of-that-time boyfriend [damalig, 'her then-boyfriend,' some would say today], and it was very awkward when they ran into her of-former-time [ehemalig, even further back in the past] boyfriend at the Louvre. The relationship was never the same after that.

"In fact, at the luggage carousel at the end of the trip back, she made eye contact with somebody new, her after-that-time [nachmalig] husband - who is not to be confused with her now-husband [jetzig], to whom she's been happily married for 10 years now. He's a three-time [dreimalig] mayor of East Overshoe, and he's quite a guy - one of a kind [einmalig, literally 'one-time,' but figuratively 'unique']." If English were to acquire its own version of this particular toolkit, a 21st-century Mark Twain might someday write an essay called "The Awful English Language."

• This appears with links at: http:// weblogs.csmonitor.com/verbal_energy

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