As you may already know, German is one of the parent languages of English. English traces its roots to the West Germanic branch which then goes back to the Indo-European major language branch. Because of this relation, English is often considered a “Germanic” language; indeed, many words have found their way from German to English over the years. Let’s examine just how close the relationship is between English and German.
The language exchange between German and English has occurred in a few different ways. First of all, there are many German words that have been absorbed directly into English. Some of these words, when taken from German to English, have lost their original meanings and come to mean something related to the original word (and sometimes they mean something totally different). Some German words were the root of their English counterparts, so the words are very similar, but have a different spelling in English. You may be saying German words every day and not even know it! Let’s take a look at some of the many words that have made their way from German to English.
Words that have come from German into English are known as “loan words” because they are not technically English words. The German words angst, aspirin, apple strudel, fest, frankfurter, and doppelganger are all great examples. Let’s look at these in more detail.
The English word “angst” is spelled the same way as the German word “die Angst,” but it carries a slightly different meaning. In German, “die Angst” means “fear.” In English, it usually refers to feelings of anxiety and depression. The word “aspirin” comes directly from German because it was invented by a German chemist. “Apple strudel” was originally “der Apfelstrudel.” The meaning is the same, and the spelling is very similar. The pastry was named for the German word for “apples” and “swirl” because of the look of the treat. “Fest” kept its meaning when it transitioned from German to English. We often use this word as a short version of the word “festival.” “Frankfurter” and “doppelganger”, although used in the English language, are a little less common. “Frankfurter” was “Frankfurter Wurst” in German. This was the name of a German sausage. In English, it simply means “hot dog.” “Doppelganger” is spelled the same way in German and in English, minus the umlaut (two small dots) over the “a.” The word literally means “double goer” in German, but the meaning stays the same in both languages since it is used for “look-a-like.”
There are plenty of other common words that we English speakers have borrowed from German. Diesel, deli, bratwurst, and blitz have all been borrowed into the English language.
Rudolf Diesel is responsible for our word “diesel” which came from the German “Dieselmotor.” The shop name “delicatessen” (often shortened to “deli” in America) came from the German “das Delikatessen” and the meaning carried over from German to English. For anyone who loves German food, the next word will look very familiar. “Bratwurst” was the term for spiced pork or veal fried into a sausage, and we call it the same word in English. “Blitz” also kept the same spelling in both languages. The original meaning was “lightning,” but after World War two took place, the English language adopted this word to mean a sudden attack or fight. This word is often used in American football.
There are also some more specific terms that have been adapted from German to English. These include Alzheimer’s disease, hinterland, and iceberg. The latter two words related specifically to the study of geography and geology respectively. “Alzheimer’s disease” comes from the German “Alzheimer Krankheit.” This disease was named for the German neurologist who discovered it in 1906. “Hinterland” is spelled the same way in German and English. The original German meaning was “the land behind,” but this was adapted to the English definition of “countryside” or “backcountry.” “Iceberg” came from “Eisberg” and identifies the same ice formation in both languages.
Likewise, some names of dog breeds have come directly from German to English. Some examples include “dachshund” and “doberman pinscher.”
There are also some words that just look similar between English and German, even if they were not actually absorbed into English. For example, the English word “kindergarten” was taken from the German words for “child” and “garden.”
The language borrowing actually works both ways. There are plenty of modern English terms that have now been absorbed into the German language. Some examples include “das Baby,” “der Babysitter,” and “babysitten.” The last word was formulated from the English verb “babysit” to make it sound more German. Other examples include: “der Manager,” “managen,” “das Musical,” “der Rum,” “der Teenager,” “der Killer,” and “killen.” The absorption of English loan words into German has most likely occurred because English is a world language and spoken in many more parts of the world. English was influenced by other languages, and still is to this day, but it also goes the other way by influencing many languages around the world.
Not only were there plenty of words transferred from German to English, the sentence structure and grammar were also partially transferred. In grammar, both languages conjugate their verbs depending on the subject of the sentence. For example, in English we would say “I go” but “He goes.” In German, this pattern is the same: “Ich gehe” for “I go” and “Er geht” for “He goes.” In English, the subject is in first place and the verb in second place, just like in German.
As you can see, there are many similarities between German and English. This is one reason it is very easier for a native English speaker to learn German and vice versa. When languages have structural and grammatical similarities, they are much easier to learn for foreigners. The next time you study German, be alert! See if you can spot words that have been absorbed into the English language, or even words that look similar to English words! You will come to see just how closely related these two languages really are.