Deutsch 3.0 “The German language is doing just fine.”

German Language
© apops – Fotolia

Deutsch 3.0 is a series of debates organised by the Goethe-Institut. For one whole year about 40 events were held at which the future of the German language was discussed in great detail. What results did Deutsch 3.0 arrive at? An interview with the manager of the project, Rolf C. Peter.

Mr Peter, the Deutsch 3.0 project strove to come into contact with institutions that are involved with the German language. The aim was to ignite a debate on the future of the German language. At first the results were of secondary importance, but when the project year was over in December 2014, the question naturally arose – just how well is the German language doing?

The German language is doing just fine. It has developed much further than it ever has before. Its vocabulary range is larger than it has ever been at any point in its history, so we do not need to be worried in any way. Even the hotly debated fears of the influence of anglicisms proved to be unfounded – German is not being threatened by anglicisms. The absorption of loan words into German has a positive effect on our language, it is an enrichment. The most interesting conclusion Deutsch 3.0 came to, however, was the fact that the situation of German as a language of science is much more acute than was previously thought.

Multilingualism in science

A cinematic summary of the initiative Deutsch 3.0 (youtube.com)

In what way?

Particularly in the field of apprenticeships and training courses the question arises – what will happen if instruction takes place more and more in English? In the long term it will result in scientific terms no longer existing in German. At the moment in Leipzig there is a large research project working on this issue and, among other things, it has come up with the question – What role does language play when it comes to gaining knowledge – for example, in the field of the humanities? Every language, as we know, provides its own access to an object of research. We will be doing ourselves more harm than good, if we abandon multilingualism in the field of scientific research and only focus on one language. Producing evidence to support this argument is one of the desired aims that has become clear due to the Deutsch 3.0 debates. We have to critically analyse, whether there really is a gaining of knowledge due to multilingualism and what does it consist of. If it does exist – and of that I am convinced – how do we want to deal with English more and more becoming the language of science?

In future dialects will become regiolects

Although Deutsch 3.0 first and foremost intended to trigger a debate, it also came up with some tangible answers. Burning questions were collected in what was called the Sprach-Sprech-Fragen-Box (a kind of suggestion/question box) which was open to anybody interested all over Germany. What did the people want to know?

There was a strikingly large number of questions about the future of dialects. In the course of the events series I, myself, also learned that dialects are in fact undergoing change. Dialects are not disappearing, but transforming themselves into regiolects spread out over larger areas and they are adapted to the needs of the speakers. 

The language of text messages is ideal for the medium

Deutsch 3.0: Best of Sprach-Sprech-Fragenbox (youtube.com)

Another question from the “Sprach-Sprech-Fragen Box” was – What will German sound like in 50 years? The question stems from the fear that standard German is being greatly affected by the language of text messaging, Kiezdeutsch (the German spoken in multi-ethnic, urban communities) and “Twitterisation”, i.e. strongly abbreviated language as used on Twitter, where a Tweet may not contain more than 140 characters. To what extent are these phenomena changing the language?

What they call text-message language has adapted itself perfectly to a medium that only has a limited number of characters available. It has developed into a linguistic form that is geared to this medium in particular. In a different situation, however, its users avail themselves of a different form of language. For example, they would never use text-message language to formulate an application for a job. As long as this flexibility can be guaranteed, it really is a wonderful thing to command a language that is required for a special medium. Take, for example, the debate on anglicisms. At the moment it is in for Germans to speak English, whereas in former times it was the French language that had a great influence. The language is actually not the problem – if you want to do something for a language, you have to make the speakers of that language more sensitive to the fact that it is a wonderful language and inspire them to use that language.

For one whole year Deutsch 3.0 reflected on the future of the German language, discussed it and speculated on it. How is the project going to continue?

Our aim with Deutsch 3.0 was to ignite as broad a debate as possible. And fortunately we succeeded in doing this. What is to become of our language and what can we do to safeguard its future? We wanted to compile a kind of collection containing all kinds of perspectives, a description of what we, as a society, observe. Now, as the first step, we have to put together all the information and insights we have gained and then publish them. The next step will involve us getting together and thinking about the conclusions to be drawn, what can or should be done. The one thing, however, we have already managed to achieve is to set a clear signal – one that has been registered in other countries and by the many people in those countries who are learning German. We are taking care of our language, our language is doing fine, learning the German language is also going to be worthwhile in the future.