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The German language is growing: What new words can you now find in the Duden?

Fake News, Selfie, Willkommenskultur (welcome culture), verpeilen (to lose the plot), tindern (to (to tinder) or whatsappen (to whatsapp): New words enrich the German vocabulary. But where do they come from? And how do we know which words we actually use on a day-to-day basis?

The German language is thriving and evolving. But above all, it is growing. And that’s good. After all, new things are constantly being developed, new topics unveiled or life simply moves forward. And with it our way of living. So it’s only natural that we need new terms.

Some 5,000 of these new words have made their way into the new 2017 edition of the Duden. The Duden is one of the most important standard works in the German language and the inclusion of these new terms mirrors the developments that have shaped and altered politics, society, technology, sport and lifestyles in recent years. The Duden’s editors don't accept just any terms however, only those that have actually become well established in everyday usage.

How the Duden finds its new words

When interviewed about how new words find their way into the Duden, editor-in-chief, Dr. Kathrin Kunkel-Razum, explained that the process involves an analysis of language usage based on the so-called “Dudenkorpus”. The Dudenkorpus is an electronic collection of texts from recent newspaper and magazine articles, novels, speeches and informal sources of text, such as repair and handicraft instructions. Today, it contains more than four billion words.

The editors use computer programmes to sieve through the electronic texts for new terms. The lexical innovations for the Duden’s 2017 edition include fake news, postfaktisch (post-factual), selfie, lifestream, Kopfkino (cinema in your mind), verpeilen (to lose the plot), Drohnenangriff (drone attack), darknet, emojis, fair-trade, Flüchtlingskrise (refugee crisis), Schmähgedicht (derogatory poem), tablet or veggie. The new additions are, in Kunkel-Razum's opinion, “a reflection of society” over recent years.

  • Doodle

    From the English word meaning to draw aimlessly. A web-funded online service for scheduling events, meetings and appointments or for conducting simple online surveys. (Source: Wikipedia)

  • Fotobomb (Photobomb)

    To intentionally or accidentally spoil a photograph by appearing/have something appear in the camera's field of view just as the photo is being taken. (Source: Wikipedia)

  • Flexitarier (A dietarily flexible vegetarian)

    Specifically, vegetarians who are flexible about their diet in that they occasionally eat good quality organically sourced meat. (Source: Duden)

  • Fairteiler (Fair sharer)

    A place where food is taken to and/or can be taken from at no charge. (Source: Lebensmittelretten.de Wiki)

  • Hätte, hätte, Fahrradkette (Shouda, coulda, wouda)

    Phrase that can be used when a wrong decision can no longer be righted or if someone wishes something had been done differently in the past.

Researching the German language

But it's not just the Duden that monitors they way the German language is changing.  The Institut für Deutsche Sprache (IDS), which is a Member of the Leibniz Association, has already spent years researching the field of “lexical innovations”, that is, new additions to everyday German vocabulary.  

The language researchers make use of the Deutsche Referenzkorpus (DeReKo) – the Mannheim German Reference Corpus or Archive, which is a sort of “primordial sample of German language use”. The archive consists of nearly 32 billion words – contained in literary, academic and popular science publications, in newspaper articles and in many other kinds of texts. This makes the DeReKo the largest linguistically motivated electronic collection of German texts from the present day and recent past anywhere in the world.

Published by the Bibliographisches Institut, the Duden is one of the most respected dictionaries in the German language. The first Duden appeared in 1880 and quickly became the standard point of reference for German spelling. The latest edition of the Duden from 2017 is the 27th edition of this standard reference work.

The Mannheim-based Institut für Deutsche Sprache (IDS) is the central non-university facility for researching and documenting the current usage and recent history of the German language. The IDS is one of 91 research institutions that form the Leibniz Association.

The Online-Wortschatz-Informationssystem Deutsch (OWID) (Online German Lexical Information System) is an IDS online dictionary containing more than 1,800 neologisms that have become established in the German language since the 1990s.

New discoveries explained in an online dictionary

One of the results of this research is an online dictionary of neologisms – in other words, new additions to everyday German language dating back to the 1990s. The Leibniz researchers have already identified and extensively described more than 1,800 new words, phrases or interpretations of words that already form part of mainstream German. These new discoveries range from the 1990s’ colloquialism “ab dafür” (off we go, it's done) to the phrase “ziemlich beste Freunde” (based on the 2011 French box-office hit “Untouchable” which translates in German as “Quite Good Friends” – but is altered as required to quite good enemies, neighbours, prospects etc.).  

“It's a good idea,” say the language researchers, “not to think of vocabulary as a large collection of words, but more like a process in which everything is in flow.” We're certainly looking forward to seeing where this river flows to.

Author: Sabine Giehle

December 2017

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Mirjam Habel
3 January 2018

Kampfradler, Biodeutscher und Fingerwisch – these were the words in our raffle. The correct answers are:

Kampfradler = reckless bicyclist or bicyclist seen as reckless

Biodeutscher = German person with family roots and cultural roots in Germany

Fingerwisch = wiping gesture of one or more fingers on a touchscreen of a smartphone or tablet

Thank you very much for all entries. The winner has been notified.

Kind regards,

Alumniportal Deutschland – Redaktion

Alumniportal Deutschland – Redaktion
29 December 2017

Dear Alumni,

thank you very much for all the entries. The competition is closed and the winner of the Duden will be notified.

Kind regards,

Alumniportal Deutschland – Redaktion

Alumniportal Deutschland – Redaktion
29 December 2017

Dear Mebarki Ahmed,

thank you very much for your comment. Unfortunately, we are not able to help you directly.

For long-term jobs and permanent positions as well as short-term jobs and internships, please follow the link to our job exchange: https://www.alumniportal-deutschland.org/en/jobs-careers/jobs-assignments/find-jobs/

For recent calls for applications, scholarships, research projects or funding programmes, please follow the link: https://www.alumniportal-deutschland.org/en/news/scholarships-germany/

You can also visit the website „Make it in Germany“, the welcome portal for international qualified professionals: http://www.make-it-in-germany.com/en/

Good luck and kind regards,

Alumniportal Deutschland – Redaktion

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