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German in Contact with English

All immigrant languages in the United States borrow words and expressions from English. Language contact is a natural consequence of cultural contact that, contrary to popular stereotypes, does not reflect language loss, but is an effective way of enriching a language’s vocabulary. Pennsylvania Dutch, for example, has about 10%–15% English-derived words and many translated expressions.

Beer CoasterAt right is a vintage beer coaster from Reading, Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Dutch saying “Die Fraa weart die Hosse” is a direct translation of “The wife wears the pants.” The verb “weart” is based on English “(to) wear.” The original Pennsylvania Dutch verb “draage” used to mean both ‘wear’ and ‘carry’, parallel to its modern German cousin “tragen.” Today, “draage” means just ‘carry’.

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Last Updated: October 27, 2010

A number of words and phrases have been borrowed or translated from German into English. Well known examples refer to food-related items like

  • “sauerkraut”
  • “pretzel”
  • “brat(wurst)”

Others include

  • “angst”
  • “doppelganger”
  • “hinterland”
  • “wanderlust”
  • “wunderkind”
  • “dachshund”

“Fest” is an especially productive word, giving us coinages like “German Fest,” “gabfest,” etc.

German Fest Image


Regional expressions like “how goes it?” and “bring it with” are common Germanisms. One of the more recent borrowings is the prefix “über/uber,” meaning ‘over-’ or ‘super-’. Also, the expression “environmentally friendly” is a direct translation of German “umweltfreundlich.”

English has become increasingly popular in German media today, especially as a resource for advertising slogans. This ad for the street cleaning department in Berlin includes a pun on the verb “kehren” ‘to sweep’. Language contact is a communicatively enriching process that promotes verbal creativity in bilingual speakers.

We Kehr for You Poster

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