A Dictionary of “Local English, German Version”

For dictionary entries, please scroll down

Some background information on

“Local English, German Version” or “German English”?

 Guessing in communication – the much touted new cognitive ability of the 21st century?

I hope not. My entire blog offers a deeper insight into the contributing factors to the prevailing pseudo-competence in English from a discriminating practician´s point of view. It is about the advantages of conveying information based on a tried and tested code of communication which Standard English is. Any deviation from this norm makes communication difficult as it is the case with any of the hundreds of Local Englishes or, in this instance, German English. Guessing becomes the major skill needed in any form of communication for the absence of said established code of communication, which requires clear and concise grammar, a sound vocabulary, logical syntax, and generally a good knowledge of the language.

“Everybody speaks some sort of English in Germany” (BFBS radio presenter)

Both terms describe the same phenomenon of the variety of “Local English” prevalent in Germany, which is some sort of surrogate Standard English. I, however, use these expressions with a different emphasis. The term “German English” is probably used colloquially by translators and other professionals working in languages, though that may  only be in private. Most German users of the English language are sublimely unaware that theirs is not Standard English. The notion that the kind of English taught and spoken in Germany must inevitably lead to Standard English is implicitly conveyed in all kinds of language classes and even at universities. A BFBS radio presenter once put it very succinctly when he said in Germany “everybody speaks some sort of English”.

The advantage over the term “Local English, German Version” is obvious because “German English” does not sound so clumsy. However, there may be a downside to using this term as it could be construed to denote that its largely low communicative value, in comparison with Standard English, is glorified or elevated to a higher rank than its scope for expressing ideas permits. The more natural term “German English” has a corresponding terminology in Microsoft’s word-processing (MS Word Office Pro and 2003) There is a list of 18 different Englishes in “Tools settings, language settings”), ranging from English (Belize) to English (Trinidad Tobago). Apart from the few “true” native speaking countries, all others are ex-colonial territories, in which at some time or other English was an official language.

Why should the English language take account of local language needs?

The term “Local English, German Version” or “Local Englishes, German Version” offers a different vantage point. Broadly speaking, in linguistics it refers to a certain version of English spoken in a specific geographic and linguistic community and in this context always means non-native-speaker English. What eventually lead me to use the term “Local English, German Version” was the prediction made on an Oxford University Press website namely that“[…] English develops to take account of local language needs, giving rise not just to new vocabulary but also to new forms of grammar and pronunciation”. This may seem to be an overly politically correct concession to “local needs” and the reason for choosing this expression is probably because the term “non-native-speaker Englishes” may sound too harsh for many ears. Incidentally, said website is no longer up.

Unfortunately, the author or authors of this website failed to specify what the elusive “local needs” and their justification might be. One is left to wonder if Standard English is not good enough and needs to be improved by non-native speakers with perhaps hundreds of varieties of local Englishes. Thus, aided and abetted by educators and native speakers alike, the most distinguishing features inherent in all aberrations of “Local Englishes” such as vagueness, all too often incomprehensibility, imprecision, and lack of subtlety surreptitiously transform into semi-official “Local Englishes” varieties.

The noddie-syndrome in foreign language education

This is, however, not an entirely natural process and it must be the first time in the history of language development that substandard language is, in most cases tacitly, consented to. Far too low standards in the classroom and in higher education at all levels , a noddie-style pedagogy that solely relies on nodding vigorously in agreement to all verbal outpourings and studiously glossing over all kinds of written material have led to a sort of local linguistic inbreeding.

Learners and students at all levels are not encouraged to train up to the standard that is actually achievable because there is no real incentive to become fully professional at it since the poor status quo is considered to be the benchmark and no pecuniary rewards are offered to those striving for more.

Translators suffer in silence

Unedited documents and other kinds of publications and websites, frequently of international validity, are written by non-native speakers of English and passed off as Standard English. Translators translating from non-native speaker English texts suffer in silence since the subject of mutilated, difficult, or hard-to-understand English is still a taboo subject and, having been made to believe that their English is better than it is, non-native- speaker-writers of text have no idea what problems they are causing.

I know from a reliable source that more than 50% of source documents to be translated into German have been written by non-native speakers of English. These unnatural local varieties of English look and sound like English, but they are not Standard English. They are often ambiguous and frequently resemble verbal puzzles, causing unnecessary extra work. In many cases, they are undecodable with the author being the only person to know what his “innovations” or conundrums are supposed to mean.

Another striking feature is the fact that specialised languages seem to be on the retreat. I have seen source texts in non-technical fields, also by native speakers of English, when the authors tried to “use their own words” to describe complex processes for the lack of what used to be considered indispensable knowledge and I still remember the mental pain when trying to make sense of those mostly inept and cumbersome descriptions.

Dictionary entries:

Self-educated material

(teaching material for BGE or Basic Global English)

The most striking word creation is the invention by the eminent linguist Dr Joachim Grzega, who also seems to have specialised in the linguistic branch of “word formation”. He has been flaunting his brain child BSG or Basic Global English for quite some time while pointing out that his Basic Global English is unsuitable for communicating with native speakers of English. For those not in the know, Basic Global English a runty and genetically modified language similar to Globish.

Even in this day and age of colourful pictures in textbooks with a lot of empty space to scribble onto, and whizzing sounds and fast moving animated objects in digital teaching material, high-quality pedagogy cannot do without printed material in foreign language teaching.

Therefore, Dr Joachim Grzega has, true to fashion, put a twist to this since he must have been unhappy with traditional dusty terms and has dubbed printed material suitable for self-study “self-educated material”. At least, this is what I make of it. But then, I may be wrong although I have become an expert at guessing what a writer may mean.

Some of you who are not used to guessing the meaning of words may think it is to do with AI (artificial intelligence) and self-enhancing software, the sort which gets better and better in time on its own by “self-educating” itself. But who knows for certain? Strictly speaking, this new term can also be classified as “neo-pidginicity”.

It would, however, be remiss of me not to mention that Dr Grzega may have borrowed his term “self-educated material” from Asian Local Englishes, as any check with search engines would confirm. It is however, a mute point to establish who came up first with this mind-boggling innovation unless of course, Dr Grzega wishes to take the credit for it. Dr Grzega, as a leading linguists of our times,  is an expert in “word-formation” and as such, he has a kind of “license to change” your language.

Wrap the body

was a text ad in one of Germany’s leading broadsheet papers a few years ago. It was not, what you may think. No horseplay, no rolling in the sheets involved. And it was not meant to be an appeal to the daring to get involved in learning some sort of Egyptian mummy processing techniques either. Rather, the ad was intended to promote the virtues of cosmetic pressure bandaging with exquisite aromatic ointments. What they meant was probably “Have your body wrapped in…”

Jobs for Future

If you find this piece of advertising written in child-like innocence on a letter head as part of the company logo, as I did, don`t be surprised. This German Local English phrase was used more than 10 years ago when one of the world’s largest temping agencies was recruiting staff for the Expo 2000.

 “card”

Traveller cometh thou to the beautiful town of Hannover and you want to get a season ticket for Hanover’s public transport service “Üstra”? Well, a season ticket in German Local English  or German English is a “card”. Admittedly, it may take some time to get used to saying it with appropriate aplomb. A good way of overcoming your inhibitions to use any form of mutilation of your native tongue is to practise saying it aloud with confidence in front of a mirror. If you wish to combine your linguistic exercises with work-outs, then strutting around your living room while painstakingly practising said bits of “Local English” vocabulary may help.

Now, go on practising, “I want a card for August” or “I want a card, starting tomorrow”. No, not like that. Are you the bashful type? You need to display more self-confidence. Incidentally, all tickets with validity of more than one day are called “cards”.

Enjoy your stay in Hannover!

easily to use”

Having been used for almost ten years in ticket vending machines called “tix” by Hannover Transport Üstra to encourage technophobes to use “tix”, this grammatical novelty is now spreading fast after a slow start. Although this creative use of language can no longer be found in ticket selling machines, Hannover Transport may lay claim to having been the first to have used it boldly and unabashedly for too long period of time. The usage of this particular expression is catching on fast, saw one on a Linux Website only a short while ago. Some software installation was easily to do…It only proves that when such items are made public, they are for anyone to pick up! For the benefit of all, so to speak.

Now then, in keeping with the state of the art theories of modern pedagogy not to learn words but just to use them, this dictionary of “Local English, German Version” is easily to use! No use just listing words in your diary, you must use them, too. However, I must confess I still have problems with these infantile sounding innovations. But washing out my mouth with chocolate after using any of them, does help a bit.

shrimps in “dowy”

Visitors to Hannover in Germany may come across the word “dowy” as in “Shrimps in dowy”. It has been boldly paraded on a menu for almost ten years now so food-wise it must be quite a success. You will have no chance of finding out what this dish may be if you don’t know any German or Spanish and can gather its meaning from the German or Spanish source text. If you are allergic to flour, milk, beer or wine, you may be in for a nasty surprise. What the owners of the Spanish restaurant actually mean is “Shrimps in a batter” or “Battered Shrimps” or “Shrimp fritters.”

Maybe the translator picked up this term while working as an au-pair and was asked by the little ones to experiment with some sort of dough when making pancakes. Learning by playing could be one way of increasing your word power as advocated by modern pedagogy if it weren’t for the complete absence of seriousness.

Anyway, this is no doubt a doughty attempt to enrich the English language.

…just can’t wait until tonight for being with you…

(taken from the original song lyrics)

A few years ago one of the most popular TV presenter in Germany, wrote a song  to be performed at the annual Eurovision Song Contest. More than 100 million spectators were witnessing a linguistic novelty while singing along silently. The TV presenter, who is also known for his lumber-jack sort of humour, had “inadvertently” changed bits of standard English grammar. This was because he wrote a song in  a language which is not his own and with which he does not seem fully conversant.

He must have thought that none of the non-native speakers would notice thanks to the ubiquitous decline in standards and that the English would be too polite to object to this “novel” or “different” composition. And right he was! Not one single word of protest was uttered at his valiant misapplication of English grammar rules, and, in all likelihood, all 100 million spectators were silently singing along.

It`s “just can’t wait until tonight to be with you” instead of “just can’t wait until tonight for being with you …”, of course, at least in this context, my native speaker friends assure me.

I know a sad case of an eight grader who picked one of this Un-English lines of Local English, German Chapter. He was severely punished by a bad mark when he used the very same expression in a school essay. Protesting his innocence and referring to his famous role model did not help at all.


Do you fancy spending a weekend in “Colon”?

A few years ago, German marketing experts tried to “reinvent” the English word for the city of Cologne by substituting “Colon” without consulting a dictionary. It was part of a campaign intended to brush up the image of this lovely city on the river Rhine. All promotional material for the advertising campaign had already been printed before this “lapse” was realized and thus rendered useless. Not surprisingly, this incident was a great embarrassment to the marketing agency in charge and to no one`s surprise this bold invention was eventually “dropped”.

What a shame! So much creative effort had gone into this project and there comes some nitpicker fussing about petty details.

I am hesitant to use the correct word “coinage” instead of “invention” here. To me, coinage implies a kind of natural assimilation of a word into common usage while my choice “invention” only appears to do so, and therefore, describes this occurrence more accurately. In fact, the Internet facilitates the dissemination of just anything and there are a many gullible people around who may pick up new words unthinkingly, uncritically and use them themselves.

Cloth by Cerutti

The famous designer Cerutti is now

a)      into “robes for the clergy”?

b)     or hair shirts, perhaps for investment bankers?

c)      or selling designer floorcloths?

d)     none of these

“Cloth by Cerutti”. “Anzüge zum Schnäppchenpreis” [Translation: Men’s suits at a bargain price] This apparent contradiction may grind your data processing brain to a halt. Saying that it is a typo would, in principle, be correct, but it would not capture the copy-writer`s  frame of mind.

Folks, now you are in the know. Or aren’t you?

prices are based on the volume and perplexity

Screenshot of a translator`s website: “perplexing” meaning here: complexity

You may rightly ask what the base of calculating a translation job may be. Have you ever heard of a case where the client would have to pay for the service provider’s incompetence?

Or is it simply a warning to potential clients not to submit overly difficult text.

Well, you guess it, don’t you? It`s “Prices are based on the volume and complexity

If you happen to stumble across the website of this translator, you may wish to procure the services of a more competent translator.

I wish to hardly welcome you

Hardly welcome or heartily welcome? The adverb hardly has acquired a new meaning in the realm of Local English kings. In the Local English Chapter of Germany it simply means, I wish to heartily welcome you. Heard it on the radio.

A piece of advise taken from modern pedagogy:

Never ever correct any speaker of Local English even  if you don’t understand a single word. In time, he or she will learn and overwrite the ingrained wrong version with the more natural and understandable word or expression.

And from my vast experience with non-native speakers of all languages, this piece of advice:

If you don’t understand anything, never ask. Just nod him or her off or say yes in the right places. You will be surprised that both, that is, you and your interlocutor may actually believe that you have had a meaningful conversation.

It is the act of communication as a social function that counts, not petty and irrelevant details only you may care about.

Chick and Chips

Traveller, cometh thou to Germany…you might care for a new dish called “Chick and Chips”

On spotting this hilarious dish on the menu,  my host inquired cheekily how old the girl to be served with the chips would be. And would she be served on a huge tray among a pile of chips and could he, alternatively, have her rolled in puff pastry?

Apart from this perfectly acceptable addition to Local English, they also offer the exotic variety “Chick Hawaii”, which would, however, entail eating loads of pineapples in addition to a colossal heap of protein. But I wasn’t up to that on that particular day so I went for “Shrimps in dowy”.

Perfect German Local English!

If you like with kids please call…

Wanted Ad in a weekly paper:

“Engl.Teacher / Native Speaker for our playgroups wanted. If you like with kids please call…” This is no joke. This ad was placed about 10 years ago in a weekly newspaper in Hannover, Germany. I take it that the vice squad immediately stormed the office of the kindergarten operating company. Many Germans are known to have problems with the gerund and, if in doubt, they omit it altogether, as it happened in this instance. If you like working with kids please call… is what was probably meant.

To be on the safe side, I still got the original clipping of the ad!

More interesting German English terms for the discrimating traveller:

A timetable in German Local English can also mean „calendar of events“

top prices are actually “rock-bottom prices”

“course of life” found on a translation agency´s website for “c.v.” This is a literal translation from the German “Lebenslauf”.

A sign flashing the word Dart at you is no warning to run off at breakneck speed. It simply denotes that Darts can be played there.


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3 responses to “A Dictionary of “Local English, German Version”

  1. Pingback: Dictionary of Local Englishes – New entries « Sanchopansa's Weblog

  2. Pingback: A Licence to kill Standard English? « Sanchopansa's Weblog

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