Multilingualism & Identity

“He Alder, hassu Ei-Pott bei?”

Dragan & Alder in 'Scheißendreck Klingelton'. Album: alles inklusive. Capitol Music. A Division of EMI Music Germany GmbH & Co. KG. Foto: kick-media ag
Dragan & Alder in „Scheißendreck Klingelton“
MP3-Datei, 1:16 Min.
For just under two decades now, the often very creative “mixed languages” developed by young immigrants have been part of everyday spoken German.

The best-known of these is probably “German-Turkish” or “Turkish-German” (“He Alder, hassu Ei-Pott bei?" - "Klar, is in Auto, Mann!" - "Krass, kannssu rübbabiemen meine Sonx!”, i.e., “Dude, got i-pod with you? – “Sure, man, is in car!” – “Crass, can you beam my songs over!”). But variants of standard German based on Arabic or Russian may also be met with. The phenomenon of the mixture of two or even more languages, familiar from the U.S.A., can now also be observed in most Western and Central European countries. It often indicates a situation of multilingual contact in which the speakers can draw on no common language. In Germany, the growing influence of English, especially among younger people, is also a factor.

The development of “mixed” or “hybrid” languages is often triggered by the rather playful, sometimes deliberately provocative, need for a demarcation from the (linguistic) majority. Mixed languages signify for their speakers (linguistic) self-empowerment and symbolise a new or original acquisition of identity. Finally, through their external manifestations (for instance, the use of original locutions), mixed languages are the verbal expression of a clearly shaped membership in one’s own “scene”. In due course, “mixed languages” are detached from their original contexts, become independent and are established within the surroundings of the “scene” and taken up by various media. Today school-children and adolescents who are native speakers of German adopt expressions, sayings and structures from “mixed languages”. Singers and rappers, comedians and film-makers, make at least some of these locutions known to the broader public – and so make them a manifest cultural phenomenon that is now the object of exact study in linguistic research.

Inter-cultural communication

Erkan und Stefan 'Fitamine'. Album: endskorrekt krass. 2005. Sony BMG Music Entertainment (Germany).
Erkan und Stefan
MP3-Datei, 1:28 Min.
Compared to the native language of the speakers, distinguishing marks of a “mixed language” are, as a rule, a clearly reduced grammatical structure (loss of inflections, syntactical simplifications, reduction of the tense and mood systems), a greatly restricted vocabulary, fewer stylistic resources (tendencies to periphrasis and metaphors) and a simplified phonetic system. After a time, independent grammatical-structural developments in these languages, which can no longer be understood as mere simplifications, are possible and even probable. Intercultural communication that has been essentially influenced by “mixed languages”, and may be seen as a public conversation among members of diverse “scenes” or “subcultures” with various “sociolects”, is quite normal at least in complex (linguistic) cultures. As a rule, non-verbal signals (body language, gestures, mimicry, the way one is looked at, the distance that is maintained, voice, manner of speaking, and clothes, etc.) complement the effectiveness of a “mixed language”.

Deliberately chosen slang

The contemporary “mixed languages” in Germany are hardly related any longer to the variants of German that were shaped by the first and perhaps still the second generation of immigrant workers and that have been known colloquially since about 1960 as “Gastarbeiterdeutsch” (i.e., guest-worker German). In contrast to the early immigrant workers, many of the contemporary speakers of mixed languages grew up in German-speaking surroundings and have for the most part received some degree of organised instruction in the German language. Contemporary “Turkish-German” or “Russian-German” is less an extension of the former “guest-worker German” than it is a deliberately chosen and independent slang which often stages ethnicity as masquerade and role-playing.

German Turks who were born after 1960 and are culturally active in Germany have played an important part in helping to provide speakers of variants of everyday German with self-confidence. This is true above all of the cabaret artists Erkan & Stefan, who have become known throughout the Federal Republic thanks to their television appearances, of the comedy duo Dragan and Alder and, in a degree, of the comedian Kaya Yanar, the film directors Fatih Akin, Kutlug Ataman, Yüksel Yaruz and Yilmaz Arslan, and of the circle round the writer Feridun Zaimoglu. The phrase that serves as the title of the latter’s book Kanak Sprak (i.e., Kanake Speak*, 1995; audio book, 2000), a linguistic impersonation that does not shrink from obscenity and the rhetoric of violence, soon became a popular term with increasingly positive connotations (Abschaum [i.e., Scum], 1997, filmed by Lars Becker in 2000 under the title Kanack Attack; Koppstoff [i.e., Head Stuff] 1998; Kopf und Kragen (i.e., Risking One’s Neck, 2001). Younger authors like Yadé Kara (Selam Berlin, 2003) have definitively achieved for “Kanakisch”, which is often used with parodic intention (as, for instance, in Süleyman and Sauter in the book Hürriyet Love Express by Imran Ayata, 2005), the status of literature. Artists like Wladimir Kaminer (Russendisko, i.e., Russians’ Disco, 2000) have done something similar for “German-Russian”, which emerged after 1990 in train of the increasing immigration of Russians of German origin and is sometimes also called “Quelia” and written in a mixed Latin-Cyrillic alphabet. Altogether, the extremely heterogeneous immigrant literature in German is a rich source of examples for contemporary “mixed languages”.

* “Kanak” derives from “Kanake”, a derogatory term applied to immigrants in Germany; hence also “Kanakisch”, the language of Kanakes. (Translator’s note)


Michael Freidank: Grund- und Aufbauwortschatz Kanakisch (i.e., Kanakisch: Basic and Developed Vocabulary), 61 pages, Eichborn Verlag, 2001, ISBN 3821820837

Michael Freidank: Kanakisch – Deutsch. Dem krassesten Sprakbuch uebernhaupt (i.e., Kanakisch – German. The crassest speakbook of all), 63 pages, Eichborn Verlag, 2001, ISBN 3821820632

Michael Freidank: Wem is dem geilste Tuss in Land? Märchen auf Kanakisch un so (i.e., Who’s the Hottest Babe Of All? Fairy Tales in Kanakisch and stuff), 92 pages, Eichborn Verlag 2001, ISBN 3821835834

Dr. Klaus Hübner
is a publicist and the editor of the journal Fachdienst Germanistik. He lives in Munich.

Translation: Jonathan Uhlaner
Copyright: Goethe-Institut, Online-Redaktion

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May 2006

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