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Teutonisms as Barbarisms

English may be a Germanic language, but aside from words borrowed long ago (like kindergarten) there seem to be very few outright Germanisms in the language today (not counting Yiddishisms, hence the use of the term “Teutonisms”), although quite some time ago Marianne Shapiro (with her acute sense of such matters) noticed the penetration, into ad-speak particularly but not only––perhaps as latent typological atavisms––of such constructions as doctor-tested and even user-friendly (which latter formation doubtless derives from computer lingo) as evidence for a plausible Germanic substratum in contemporary American English.

Recently, in American media language, the German preposition/prefix über has cropped up as a prefix with all form classes, signifying (apparently) some sort of extreme degree of whatever is designated by the base. How über- came into English is not clear to me; it is not attested in either the Oxford English Dictionary Online or any American dictionary. Needless to say, journalists who use this prefix appear not to have any German. I consider it a fatuous barbarism.

In that vein, this morning (9/18/08) I heard a reporter on the radio (Stacey Vanek-Smith, “Marketplace Morning Report,” American Public Media, KPCC-FM 89.3, Pasadena) read the words Sturm und Drang (”Storm and Stress”) as [stɜrməndrɑŋ], where (1) the vowels of the first and last words–-the two nouns–-were those of English term and wrong, respectively, and the consonant of the first word was [s] rather than the correct [š]; and (2) the conjunction was unstressed, elided the final consonant [t] (German lenis obstruents being realized as fortis in syllable-final position), and had a schwa for the German [u].

Now, a radio announcer reading from a text that she probably had very little to do with writing may certainly be excused for not pronouncing the phrase for an eighteenth-century German cultural movement in a way that conformed in every detail with German phonetics, but there is, after all, The American Heritage Dictionary (4th ed., 2006), which lists Sturm und Drang and gives the pronunciation as (shtoorm unt dräng), so why not look it up––especially since it is more than likely that the utterer had no German and no knowledge of what this phrase meant, even in context? Here the mispronounced Teutonism is a barbarism.

When native speakers of American English habitually pronounce Köchel (the abbreviated form of G Köchelverzeichnis, used to designate Mozart’s oeuvre after the surname of his cataloguer) as [kɜršəl]–-thus mangling the original language’s phonetics with an epenthetic [r] and an alveolar instead of a velar fricative-–one has come to expect it as the usual anglicized version. Moreover, pronouncing it in the echt-German way would now doubtless itself be evaluated as a barbarism as well.

MICHAEL SHAPIRO

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