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Word! The Language Column
How do Foreign Words make it into the “Duden”?

Illustration: Une bouche ouverte avec une pilule sur la langue.
How does the German language integrate foreign words? | © Goethe-Institut e. V./Illustration: Tobias Schrank

English has a considerable influence on German vocabulary, confirms Kathrin Kunkel-Razum. But she still finds questions like “Are we all going to be speaking Denglish anytime soon?” exaggerated. Kathrin Kunkel-Razum on the inclusion of loanwords in the “Duden,” the premier reference work on German spelling.

By Kathrin Kunkel-Razum

Even if words drawn from English have become permanent fixtures of spoken and written German, loanwords of Latin origin still predominate in the Duden dictionary of German spelling, and while Anglicisms abound among the new additions to its latest edition, they’re still outnumbered by Latinisms. So most of the loanwords in the dictionary have Latin roots, followed by those of English, Greek, French, Italian, Arabic, Spanish, Hebrew, Dutch and Russian provenance.


The assimilation of foreign words is an exciting process. My favourite example is fluffig, from the English fluffy. In stress and spelling as well as in terms of part of speech and its associated inflection, fluffig is now German, though it doesn’t deny its origins, so I’d say it’s a very successful example of assimilation. Here’s another example: we were recently asked how to write Instagrammer – with one or two m’s. Both spellings can be found on the Internet. Based on the English form, which is far more firmly established, we favour the double m. What’s more, this spelling also corresponds to German orthographic conventions.
Examples like these go to show that including loanwords in the dictionary invariably involves a whole bunch of lexical, orthographic, grammatical and sometimes phonetic questions.  


Naturally, as for lexicographers in other non-English-speaking countries, our lexical discussions are primarily about how many of these words we want in our language and, consequently, in our dictionaries. Unlike France or Spain, for example, Germany doesn’t have a national institution like the Académie Française or the Real Academia Española that vehemently opposes the inclusion of Anglicisms and aggressively promotes the use of French or Spanish equivalents instead.
The lack of any such centralized linguistic institution in Germany is one reason why Anglicisms are adopted far more liberally here. To be sure, initiatives to curtail the use of Anglicisms have been launched in Germany, too, though to negligible effect. Here at the Duden editorial office, however, we see no cause for alarm. So our answer to the frequently asked question whether we’ll all be speaking Denglish soon is a clear-cut “no.” For the problem is not the acceptance of individual English words, but their massive and unconsidered use in a great many German texts. So we focus more on providing tips for textworkers on how to use loanwords appropriately, in a manner tailored to their target readership.


We editors sometimes have a hard time deciding which spelling(s) of loanwords to include in the Duden. For the latest edition, we spent a long time considering the term “fake news” and, after in-depth deliberation, we decided to include all three possible German variants: Fake News, Fake-News and Fakenews. We recommend the first, but we’ll be tracking written German usage closely to see which spelling actually prevails.
When the word Uluru was entered for Ayers Rock, the famous mountain in Australia, on the other hand, our main concern was its pronunciation: How do Australians say it? The same way native German speakers would?
So the inclusion of foreign loanwords is always an edifying and enriching experience for us. By the way, my favourite new loanword in our 27th edition is hyggelig: the Danish word for “cosy” – or, to use a loanword in English from German, “gemütlich.”