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A global or international language is defined as one
language used as a way of communicating with citizens from all over the world (Sharifian,
2009). German’s position as an international language is a well-researched
issue, as it had changed significantly over the past century, particularly
since World War Two, which is said to have unleashed a “trauma” on the language
(Trabant, 2007). The issue at stake here is how and why the language’s position
currently differs so much from its previous position(s) that it has held over
the last one hundred years. This essay will focus on answering these questions,
and focus on what has brought about these highly substantial changes.

 

Firstly, a way in which the position of German has changed internationally
over the past century is in the scientific field. It appears that it holds no
great significance at all in either chemistry or biology. In a table about languages
that appear in journals which form part of various fields of study, found in
‘Status Change of Languages’ by Ulrich Ammon and Marlis Hellinger, German
represents 5.8% for chemistry and 2.8% for biology, compared to 43.2% and 56.4%
for biology and chemistry in English. However, figures are slightly higher for
humanities subjects such as theology, with 12.3% for German. (Ammon and Hellinger,
1992). This is still very low in comparison to English, with 44.9% (Ammon and
Hellinger, 1992). It has also been noted that many items of scientific literature
published in German are not accepted and that English is now dominating the
world of publication (Stefan Michels, cited in Ammon and Heilinger, 1992). The
amount of scientific publications in German rests at about 1% (Ammon, 2009).

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Despite the fact that the position of German as an
international language is highly negative in the scientific field, it has been
much more positive in the field of education since 1983, when approximately
only 88 countries taught German as a foreign language, compared to 114 in 2005
(Ammon, 2009). In saying this however, it is also well-known that German has
decreased dramatically in education since then, as since 1998, half of
universities that were proposing degree courses in German have now completely
stopped doing so, as the demand for learning German has reduced significantly
(Scholz, 2015). In addition to this, German has been reducing as an
international language since 1920, along with its influence (Goethe Institut,
2013). Furthermore, contrary to popular belief, German is not actually
acknowledged as one of the certified languages of the United Nations (UN), and
does not play much of a contributing role in conferences (Ammon, 1991, cited in
Clyne, 1999). Over the last century, there was a reasonable amount of migration
of people who spoke German to other parts of the world, e.g. to North America
(Stevenson et al, 2018). The use of German was very common during this time,
but since the twentieth century it has lost influence as a language (Stevenson
et al, 2018). Additionally, German has not been recognised officially by any
authorities. In contrast to this, several German-language signs and posters
have been seen in America since then (Stevenson et al, 2018).

 

Let us now proceed to analysing the reasons for the
declining position of German as an international language over the past
century. One reason can be traced back to the rise of English as an
international language of publication, trade, and English becoming the new
lingua franca in the world (Khordorkovsky, 2013). This is due to the norm of learning
it from an early age in other countries (where the official language is not
English). The number of English speakers who have learned English as a foreign
language now considerably outweighs the number of native English speakers (Smokotin,
Alekseyenko and Petrova, 2014). In terms of German, this means that fewer
people learn it as a foreign language due to the rise of English, leading to
natural declines in use of German in business and trade, resulting overall in a
much lower position as an international language.

 

A second reason is the decrease in the popularity of the
language over the past century. Many learners of German give up as they feel it
to be a very difficult language to grasp, and this is also one of the reasons
why many never take up German in the first place. (Dillon, 2012). In the United
States, many pupils have negative perceptions of Germany and the German
language, e.g. that German is a highly aggressive language; such negative
perceptions stem from Germany’s dark history of the wars, Holocaust and Third
Reich (Dillon, 2012). Before the war, there were undoubtedly none of those
connotations to be made, whereas nowadays, and certainly within the years that
followed immediately after the war, the country and language would have
developed a stigma amongst other nations, particularly nations affected
directly by Germany’s involvement in the war. German has some words that
initially appear innocent but actually have morbid meanings with references to
the events of Nazi Germany, with two examples being ‘Endlöser’ (final solution)
and ‘Sonderbehandlung’ (special treatment). These words were actually two
codewords used to refer to execution and Jewish mass murder (Constanze, 2016).
From these observations, it can be obtained that negative perceptions of German
and the complexity of the language have contributed significantly to reducing
its position.

 

In
conclusion, it can overall be obtained that the position of German as an
international language has reduced over the past one hundred years,
particularly in the scientific field, where its international status has
dramatically reduced and been taken over by English, which as we have seen, is
becoming the new lingua franca of the world. The key factors include the rise
in popularity of English, and the developing distaste for the German language
due to its rich and complex grammar. It appears that German’s international
status will continue to be overtaken by that of English, but it is highly
unlikely that German itself will die out as a language due to the high numbers
of people learning it (Edwards, 2015). 

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