Blog: Glenn BrooksThe rise and rise of Globish

Glenn Brooks | 20 September 2012

Two days in Germany this week have reminded me how the creep of Globish (Global Business English) is replacing native words in so many European countries.

We all know the situation - you're in a meeting with colleagues or clients and someone who has a language other than English as their native tongue will use a Globish word. If there is no context, the native English speakers will sometimes be unsure of its meaning and then try not to appear impolite by asking for a translation. That's how I learned, for example, what is meant by 'beamer' - it means projector in Dutch and German, and has become the standard term in Euro-English.

In fact, I like beamer and I am also fond of the German for classic car: 'Oldtimer'. Furthermore, I adore 'unclearity' which a Dutch-Swedish friend has used in an email to me.

Which brings me to the strange, sadder situation I keep noticing on my trips to other parts of Europe. Yesterday, smiling, helpful souls with the legend 'Check-In Assistant' emblazoned on the backs of their smart yellow polo shirts were aiding passengers at Lufthansa's automated boarding pass machines at Munich airport. As I walked through to my gate, I saw the German national carrier also has a 'Tickets' desk. I hasten to add, in neither case were there any German words underneath the English.

I was in southeastern Germany for the European markets launch of the Honda CR-V. After a morning's driving, the SatNav told me to seek out the 'Rental Car Returns' and so I saw a sign in English (again, no German) as I approached Munich airport to guide me to where the CR-V could be dropped off to Honda Europe's people.

I know what you'll say - it's an international airport and so it makes sense to have signs in English, and I agree. It's just that I also saw an advertisement for the neue Volkswagen Passat Allroad, but with the campaign slogan in English. BMW takes it a stage further: its ongoing pre-promotion of its plug-in cars, the i3 and i8, extends to posters all over Europe which declare the cars to be 'Born Electric' which looks decidedly odd in markets where English is the default language.

One of the perhaps amusing aspects of this suffocation of European manufacturers' own native languages can be seen in the UK. How many Audi owners would be able to accurately translate the Vorsprung durch Technik tagline that's been used by the local importer for decades now? It matters not, of course - it's simply meant to underline the supposed prestige of driving a car replete with German engineering.

Musing on the above reminds me of a series of ads run by VW of America a few years ago. These somehow managed to both lampoon and worship the apparent obsession with excellence in R&D which many people believe defines most German products. The fact that American actors were used for the commercials is perhaps the cleverest touch.


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