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March 8 1998

Now you're talking, Hans
The sun never sets on the empire of the English language. Today it emerges that German firms have told their executives to forget their native language and switch to English for business dealings. British holidaymakers beaten to deck chairs by our early-rising German cousins may in future therefore have the consolation of being told "sorry" instead of a cumbersome "Es tut mir Leid, Englšnder". Or perhaps the Germans will retain their compound nouns when speaking business English: "The Danube-boat-going-upstream-captain you have just missed, Hans"; "Yes, to the conference of people's-economists-active-in-the-public-sector he has gone, Hermann". Of course, some Germans will rage against English linguistic domination. But they will not be half as cross as the French. For the once-proud empire of Francophone is crumbling faster than a madeleine cake.

Even their Brussels colony is falling to the Anglo-Saxon. As late as 1995, French domination in its corridors was upheld by the requirement for Eurocrats to address journalists at daily briefings solely in French. Since then it has been down-colline all the way. French has been ousted as the language of the commission. Most of its interminable documents are now produced in English. You would have thought that might have been a blessing in disguise. Paris ignores instructions from Brussels anyway. But no, the French are now threatening to block the appointment of the next president of the commission if he or she cannot speak French, so scuppering the ambitions of Neil Kinnock, our linguistically challenged commissioner.

They should accept defeat. One billion people will speak English by 2000 as a first, second or "foreign language", according to the British Council. A recent poll in Switzerland, for instance, showed that the majority want their children to learn English as a second language. If all the German-Swiss take up English instead of French, and all the French-Swiss give up German, it could lead to the break-up of the country. English is already the language of higher education in Holland, and an English "Drang nach Osten" (push to the east) is vanquishing the Teutonic tongue in eastern Europe. For you, Fritz and FranÁois, ze language war is over.

This is a welcome development. Globalisation needs a global language, and English will do very nicely. However, that does not mean other tongues should suffer back home. More disturbing are developments in Italy where parents are christening their children with names culled from the worlds of showbiz and fashion, which tend to be dominated by Anglo-Saxon influences. Kevin (after Kevin Costner) and Sharon (after Sharon Stone) are especially popular. A Sharon Loren, a Tracey Lollobrigida, a Bert Bertolucci or a Fred Fellini do not have quite the same ring. And when an Anglo-Saxon female bottom is pinched, will the outrage be as great if the crime has been perpetrated by a Wayne instead of a Luigi? Enough of this. Viva la differenza, say we. 


English takes over in the boardrooms of Germany
by Jonathan Leake

SPRECHEN Sie Deutsch? Not any more. Top German companies have decreed that executives should adopt English as their internal language because German is too difficult and cumbersome.

Siemens, the electronics giant, Hoechst, Deutsche Telekom and Commerzbank have decided that English is far easier for communicating complex ideas. In future they want it used in executive meetings and memos even when only Germans are present. The companies believe they are leading a trend towards Anglicisation which is also needed to take advantage of the globalisation of markets.

Executives have been told that unless they become totally fluent in English their careers will be blighted and they could even be dismissed. Leading the trend is Siemens, where almost every department has adopted English as the official internal language.

The change contrasts with earlier attempts, pioneered by Adolf Hitler, to protect German and make it a world language. Hitler banned English words including television (Fernsehen) and telephone (Fernsprechen). Nowadays, however, many Germans have switched back to the English; experts say it requires 30% more words to express an idea in German than in English.

Many English managerial buzzwords have been adopted by companies such as Volkswagen and Mercedes Benz, including "lean management" and "continuous improvement", both catchy phrases which have no real equivalent in German without becoming cumbersome. Even ordinary Germans find it easier to say "sorry" rather than use the German: "Es tut mir Leid."

Now, however, the process is being taken much further. Dr Felicitas Feick, of Hoechst Marion Roussel, which employs 40,000 people worldwide with more than 6,000 of them in Germany, said: "We have three cultures in the company, English, French and German but it is English that dominates."

Not all Germans are happy about the spread of English. Three months ago Walter Kramer, professor of sociology at Dortmund University, started a club for the preservation of German, which claims to be recruiting 100 applicants each week. He said (in German): "The influence of English is getting worse the more we become a global society."