Attitudes to the use of English in Swiss German advertising language.

Felicity Rash

Continued (page 3 of 5)


Question 13 of the introductory section of my questionnaire was designed to ascertain whether Swiss German dialects are more or less resistant to the influx of English vocabulary than the standard language. It was apparent from the answers and from the large number of English loanwords that informants claimed to use in daily communication that the Swiss German dialects are as open to foreign influences as the standard language. It was interesting to discover that people of different ages admitted to using different types of anglicisms, but that all were linguistically well-integrated loanwords. Members of Age-group 1 claimed to use few English words apart from sorry and O.K. Members of age-groups 2-4 each provided between 5 and 15 examples of anglicisms that they used regularly. Age-groups 2 and 3 described a vocabulary from the domains of business and technology, as well as from food and entertainment: nouns predominate. The young people of Age-group 4 use a body of anglicisms consisting largely of verbs, adjectives, interjections and expletives, these words belonging chiefly to the fields of sport and entertainment. The 100 anglicisms most commonly quoted as being used in the informants' idiolects are listed below (50 examples for Age-group 2-3 and 50 for Age-group 4, with the percentage of frequency of each word class given in brackets). Each word was attested at least twice, but usually many more times:

Age-groups 2 and 3

Nouns: Job, Jeans, T-Shirt, Computer, City, Hard Copy, Terminal, Troubleshooting, Feeling, Sandwich, Toast, Job-Sharing, Pub, Bus, Forecast, Business, Feedback, Insentive, Brunch, Jeans, Nonsense, Floppy-Disk, Marketing, Lift, Shopping-Center, Lunch, Swatch, Sound, Input, Output, Money, Job-Rotation, File, Freak, Live-Übertragung, Management, CD-Player, Recycling, Ticket. (78%)

Verbs: organizen, leasen, matchen, checken. (8%)

Adjectives/interjections: sorry, O.K., super, no-win, hi, happy, never mind. (14%)

Age-group 4

Nouns: Goal, Kids, Men, Hamburger, Make-up, Mister, Sweatshirt, Fun, Speed, Song, Sound, Police, Baby, Sugar, Lunch, Feeling. (32%)

Verbs: fooden, jobben, biken, snöben, smilen, jumpen, joggen, batchen, smoken, gamen. (20%)

Adjectives: heavy, easy, cool, mega, great, funny, flash, fresh, stoned. (18%)

Interjections (which may be verbal or adjectival in nature): jump, come on, hello, right, smile, action, take it easy, I don't know, relax, thanks, hi, by, let's go. (26%)

Expletives: shit, fuck. (4%)

The diglossic situation which pertains to German-speaking Switzerland appears to have no influence on the adoption of loanwords from English. People do not seem to accept anglicisms more readily if they are used in the written standard language, although one might expect this to be the case, as the standard language is considered as a foreign language by most Swiss Germans and one might imagine that people would be more willing to accept its adulteration. People are equally ready to admit loan vocabulary to their everyday spoken language, i.e. their local dialect, and young people in particular seem to use loanwords in an innovative way, creating derivatives from English words (for example snöben, which is barely recognisable as the original snowboarden) and adopting these as a part of their Jugendsprache.

Very few Swiss German translations were suggested as replacements for the 25 English words and phrases of the survey. Suggestions came from people of all age-groups apart from Age-group 1. Six members of Age-group 1 stated a clear preference for the use of the standard language in all written contexts, including advertising. Members of the Category A professions showed the most intellectual interest in the possibilities of their dialect. The small number of Swiss German translations can be listed: Schweizer Hacktätschli for Swiss Burger (two informants in Age-group 4), Komputerli for Laptop (one informant in Age-group 3), mit Iismöcke for On the Rocks (two informants in Age-group 2), Det hesch de Plausch for Fun 4 You (one informant from Age-group 2), wiisi Chatz for Whiskas (one informant in Age-group 3) [footnote 10]. The only expression which stimulated an enthusiastic response with regard to a dialect translation was Brunch: Twelve informants chose the Swiss German term Zmorge-zmittag (Swiss German for Frühstück-Mittagessen) or its abbreviated form Zmo-zmi, two people suggested Znüümi (a hybrid of Znüüni `a nine o'clock snack' and Zmittag).


Many of the people questioned were surprised by the feelings that the questionnaire awakened in them. They had not realised how much English vocabulary is in daily use in German-speaking Switzerland, or how much of it they both understood and used themselves. 41 of the 85 informants believed that the German language in Switzerland is too heavily influenced by foreign languages, especially by English. These 41 people all belonged to Age-groups 1-3. Only twelve informants, all members of Age-groups 1 and 2, said that they would tolerate foreign words more readily if these were French - because Swiss German has traditionally borrowed from French, it is the second national language, and most Swiss Germans learn it as their first foreign language. Linguistic influence is frequently associated with cultural influence and although most of my informants felt that the massive recent influx of English vocabulary into German is due to the worldwide cultural, economic and industrial dominance of the United States, only seventeen informants (none from Age-group 4) felt that this was a negative development. Many informants felt that Switzerland cannot survive without America and some claimed that their language was enriched by English vocabulary. 54 people of all age-groups recommended that English should become an official lingua franca for Europe and four young people even recommended its use in Switzerland.

My informants expressed a wide variety of opinions as to the reasons for English influence on Swiss German. Approximately 30% admitted to feeling culturally and politically isolated from the rest of Europe and the world, and to wishing to appear cosmopolitan and open to the outside world by learning foreign languages and adopting foreign words into their own language [footnote 11]. A number of informants from Age-groups 2 and 3 claimed that they felt forced to use English vocabulary, because English terminology is indispensable in certain areas of science and technology, and in the business world. A number of informants were of the opinion that even if German equivalents could be devised, most would be more clumsy than the existing English terms, with which most people are already familiar. A few informants from Age-groups 1 and 2 felt that German equivalents could be found in many cases, but that people were too lazy (`bequem') to do anything about it. These opinions reflect a large degree of passive acceptance on the part of the Swiss German native speaker: English is used because no alternative is found, and because people see no point in resisting the influx of English words.

There are also more positive reasons for the use of English vocabulary and for the wholesale integration of English words into the German language. Over half of the informants, including nearly all of Age-group 4, claimed to like English. It was associated with American fashions and music, and with a free, relaxed life-style. A number of young people claimed that all new things come from America, and with the object comes the terminology. Members of Age-groups 3 and 4 admitted to paying more attention to advertising than the older informants: in particular they felt that if an American product is advertised, like Voyager, the use of an American English slogan such as Built to Set You Free is perfectly acceptable.

A small number of young people explained that peer group pressures play a significant role: English expressions are fashionable (in, cool, up-to-date, elegant). Young people claimed to use English words because everyone else does, because they thought them phonetically more desirable than German words (`English tönt besser'), and because they thought that other people liked to hear them (`es spricht die Leute mehr an'). Amongst older people slightly different social pressures apply: `man muss up-to-date sein' (? ironic). A number of informants from Age-groups 2 and 3 who admitted to using English vocabulary regularly wished to appear up-to-date and sophisticated (`weltoffen', `weltmännisch').

Overuse of foreign vocabulary was seen as elitist by many informants from Age-groups 1-3, and particularly the members of Age-group 1, 9 of whom had learnt no foreign languages: each of these 9 people criticised the media and contemporary advertising techniques, which they regarded as obscuring the advertising message.

From a purely linguistic point of view, English was described by some 20% of the informants from Age-groups 2-4 as an elegant language which is more descriptive and vivid than German. A number of people expressed the opinion that the German language is too complicated for the expression of modern ideas and that, although German has the internal resources to form new words to describe new objects and concepts, it creates words which are too long and difficult to pronounce. English words and phrases are considered to be short and catchy, succinct, precise, and particularly suitable for advertising (`werbewirksamer').

Overall, the 75 informants of Age-groups 2-4 seemed to accept the use of English loanwords as well as entire unassimilated English phrases. Two teachers and one lexicographer offered a historical explanation for this: one language always dominates a continent and in Europe this language was Latin first, later French, and is now English. Furthermore, Switzerland is a country with four national languages: it was felt that this factor influences the population's readiness to learn a second and even a third language, and that this in turn leads to an increased tendency towards lexical transfer between languages.


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