Grammatical innovations of German in multilingual Namibia:
The expanded use of linking elements and gehen (‘go’) as a future
Sheena Shah Christian Zimmer
Universität Hamburg Freie Universität Berlin
This paper provides an overview of the history and sociolinguistic setting of Germans and
German in Namibia, which serves as a backdrop for our discussion on selected structural
features of Namibian German. German has been actively spoken and used in Namibia since
the 1880s, having been brought to the country through colonisation, and it remains till today to
be linguistically vital. In this paper, we investigate two grammatical innovations in Namibian
German via a questionnaire study, namely the expanded use of a) linking elements and b) gehen
as a future auxiliary, and explore various factors which could have contributed to their
emergence to better understand the dynamics of German in multilingual Namibia.
Keywords: German, Namibia, linking elements, future tense, language contact
Namibia – previously German South-West Africa / Deutsch-Südwestafrika – is one of four
former German colonies on the African continent. Unlike the other three – German East Africa,
Togoland and German Cameroon – it is the only former German colony in Africa in which
relatively large numbers of Germans settled and in which the German language continues till
today to hold a special status within the country.
From a linguistic standpoint, the German spoken in Namibia (Namibian German, henceforth
NG) presents an interesting case. It has been successfully maintained and used across
generations for over a century in both formal and informal settings, and continues till today to
be linguistically vital and strongly supported by the local German-speaking minority.
makes it different from many of the extraterritorial German varieties spoken by the descendants
of immigrants from Central Europe which are moribund today (e.g. Texas German), including
other colonial varieties (e.g. Unserdeutsch), and more similar to extraterritorial varieties that
are still acquired natively by children, including those of sectarian communities, such as
Mennonite Low German in multiple Latin American countries, especially Paraguay, Bolivia,
and Mexico, as well as in Russia (Siemens 2018), and Pennsylvania German, Hutterite German,
Amish Alsatian German, and Amish Swiss German in the US and Canada (Louden 2020).
However, unlike most varieties of German, its use is actively supported in various public
domains as a result of its status as one of 13 national languages of Namibia (Shah & Zappen-
The local German-speaking community mentioned here refers to the largest group of German speakers in
Namibia, i.e. (for the most part white) people who acquired German as their L1 in Namibia. This group has its
roots mainly in colonisation. See Section 3 for further details on other groups of German speakers in Namibia.
This is a preprint.
The final version will be published in the Journal of Germanic Linguistics.
Thomson 2017). Speakers are typically trilingual and habitually speak at least Afrikaans and
English, besides German (Wiese et al. 2017).
In general, German visitors to Namibia, during initial interactions with local German-
speaking Namibians, often do not notice anything too unusual in their speech; at most lexical
peculiarities may stand out. Indeed, (Standard) NG, especially when compared to
extraterritorial varieties in other parts of the world, can be described as being relatively close
to Standard German (henceforth SG). For a long time, also linguists described NG
predominantly in terms of its lexicon, and specifically the ways in which it differed when
compared to SG (see, e.g., Nöckler 1963 and Böhm 2003).
Its pronunciation and grammar
were (erroneously) considered to approximate that of SG (see, e.g., Böhm 2003: 565), which
led to the perception that it was less interesting from a variationist perspective than many other
German varieties. However, in more recent years, more attention has been paid to other –
mainly morphological and syntactic – standard-divergent features.
Much of the more recent
work is based on a systematically compiled corpus (Deutsch in Namibia, DNam, ‘German in
Namibia’; Zimmer et al. 2020) which constitutes a valuable resource for the research
community and provides a means to better understand many of the intricacies of German within
the multilingual context of Namibia.
Our aims in this paper are two-fold: First, we present an overview of the history of German
and Germans in Namibia (Section 2), followed by a discussion of the current sociolinguistic
setting in which both the language and its speakers find themselves (Section 3). Second, we
zoom in on two grammatical innovations in NG, namely the expanded use of linking elements
(Section 4) and of gehen as a future auxiliary (Section 5), and investigate their use in present-
day NG via a questionnaire study. Through an in-depth exploration of various factors which
potentially could have contributed to the emergence of these two features, we aim to provide
deeper insights into the dynamics of German in multilingual Namibia.
2. HISTORICAL BACKGROUND
The first Germans to arrive to the territory of today’s Namibia
were missionaries. In 1806,
Christian and Abraham Albrecht, two German brothers working for the London Missionary
Society (LMS), established the first Christian mission in southern Namibia. They were
followed by LMS missionary Johann Heinrich Schmelen, who founded a mission station in
Needless to say, there are different varieties of SG, since German is a pluricentric language. For the German-
speaking minority in Namibia, the SG of Germany is decisive in terms of normative orientation. Therefore, we
will use SG here to refer to this standard variety. If we refer to the entirety of varieties as spoken in Germany
(including SG), we will use the term German German (henceforth GG).
See, e.g., Shah (2007); Riehl (2014); Wiese et al. (2014, 2017); Kellermeier-Rehbein (2015); Zimmer (2020,
2021a, c, forthcoming); Stuhl & Zimmer (2021); Wiese & Bracke (2021); Wiese, Sauermann & Bracke
The term Namibia came into use only in the late 1960s. The territory was named German South-West Africa
during the German colonial period (1884–1915) and South-West Africa when the territory was under the South
African mandate (1915–1990). Namibia gained independence on 21 March 1990 and officially became the
Republic of Namibia. For reasons of simplicity, in this article, the territory – irrespective of time period – is
consistently referred to as Namibia.
Bethanien (Kube & Kotze 2002: 258–259). In 1842, the Rhenish Missionary Society (RMS),
one of the largest German missionary societies and the main missionary society in Namibia
until the early 1900s (Ryland 2013), established its first mission in the country. Over the years,
more missions were established by the RMS, totalling 18 by 1900 (Weigend 1985: 160).
Although missionaries did not permanently settle in Namibia, they played an important role in
attracting other, more permanent German settlers (Weigend 1985: 160) and in spreading the
German language among the local black population. The latter was mainly achieved through
the instruction of German as a foreign language in the Rhenish missionary schools and through
the introduction of German as the medium of instruction at the Catholic mission stations
(Zappen-Thomson 2000: 68–69).
A significant growth in the German-speaking population in Namibia took place during the
colonial period of the German Empire (Deutsches Kaiserreich). Between 1884 and 1915,
Namibia – or German South-West Africa, as the territory was then officially known – was
under German colonial rule. Unlike most other former German colonies, which were viewed
simply as “exploitation colonies”, Namibia was perceived as a preferred “settler colony” due
to, among others, its climate, size of the country, low population density and its relative
proximity to Central Europe (as opposed to, for example, former German colonies in
Melanesia) (Ammon 2015: 359). Between 1891 and 1913, both the German-speaking
population and the proportion of Germans within the white population steadily increased (see
Table 1). This was a result of a “deliberate settlement policy” (Deumert 2009: 356) of the
German Empire to reinforce German colonial interests (Walther 2002: 10).
% of Germans within
the white population
Table 1: German population statistics in Namibia, 1891–1913
Source: Figures for 1891–1899 from Deumert 2009: 357; figures for 1900–1913 from
Oelhafen von Schöllenbach (1926: 110–111)
The composition of the Namibian population changed significantly during the colonial
period, and specifically during the tragic Herero and Nama War (1904–1908), today recognised
as a genocide
, in which “the German colonial army deliberately killed thousands of Herero
and Nama men, women and children; let even more die of thirst in the Omaheke desert; and
murdered thousands more by deliberate neglect in concentration camps” (Zimmerer 2008:
323). This colonial genocide led to the deaths of an estimated 80% of the Herero population
and a third of the Nama population.
Unlike some of the other groups of early German settlers outside Namibia, whose origins
for the most part can generally be pinpointed to specific dialect areas (e.g. southwestern regions
of the German-speaking area for Pennsylvania Dutch speakers, see Louden 2016, and northern
Germany for Springbok German
speakers, see Franke 2008), the original colonists who
migrated to Namibia came from all over German-speaking Europe and therefore did not bring
along a common dialect into the new settlement area (Shah 2007: 23; Zimmer 2021c). The
mixture of different dialects triggered several developments that have been extensively
described in the literature on dialect contact and new-dialect formation (e.g. Trudgill 1986,
2004; Kerswill & Trudgill 2005), such as levelling, interdialect formation, reallocation, and
focussing (Zimmer 2021c). In these processes, variants from the most northern parts of the
German-speaking area in Europe played an important role as large numbers of colonists came
from these (Low German dialect) areas (Nöckler 1963: 18; Böhm 2003: 564; Zimmer
The colonists settled mainly in the southern and central regions of Namibia; in the northern
region, the German colonial administration exerted indirect control (Deumert 2009: 356). From
the onset, the German colonists established various German-speaking institutions, among them
German print media, schools, churches and various cultural, social and sports clubs; some of
these early institutions are still operating today (Shah & Zappen-Thomson 2017). These
institutions served not only to promote the German language, but also to create a sense of
belonging by fostering Deutschtum (‘Germanness’) (Walther 2002).
During the colonial period, German was the sole official language of the territory. Despite
this special status, it was not spoken by the majority of the population, instead Cape-
Hollandic/Cape Dutch (later, Afrikaans) was the lingua franca (Gretschel 1995: 300).
In 1915, with the occupation of Namibia by the South African Union troops, the German
colonial rule ended. From 1919 onwards, following the signing of the Peace Treaty of
Versailles (Article 119), Namibia was administered by South Africa under a C-class mandate
granted by the League of Nations. Large numbers of Germans were forced to leave Namibia
during this period. In the year 1919 alone, 6,374 Germans were deported to Central Europe,
leaving only about 6,700 Germans in the country (Kube and Kotze 2002: 283). In 1920,
German ceased to be the official language of the territory and was replaced by Dutch (later
Afrikaans) and English. Nonetheless, through successful lobbying by the German-speaking
In 2015, the war was officially referred to as a Völkermord (‘genocide’) by the German foreign ministry
(Bundespressekonferenz, 10 July 2015:
last accessed 14 June 2018).
Springbok German refers to the variety of German spoken in rural parts of the KwaZulu-Natal province of
South Africa (Franke 2008: 31).
community, German remained in a privileged position
and continued to be used as the
language of instruction in German medium schools in Namibia and as a working language of
The deportation of almost half of the German population in 1919 and a drastic decline in the
number of Germans migrating to Namibia during this period resulted in a decrease in the
percentage of Germans within the increasing white, mainly Afrikaner
, population from 83%
of the total white population in 1913 to 40% in 1921 and 31% in 1936 (Table 2).
% of Germans within the white
Table 2: German population statistics in Namibia, 1921–1981
Source: Bähr (1989: 100)
With the outbreak of World War 2 and following South Africa’s decision to enter the war
and support Britain’s war efforts, many German males were arrested and initially detained in
the Klein Danzig internment camp in Windhoek, but later transferred to internment camps in
South Africa. Further detainments took place in 1940. Andalusia near Kimberly had the largest
number of internees (1,220 Germans by the end of 1940; Lunderstedt 2016); other internment
camps included Baviaanspoort (near Pretoria) and Koffiefontein (near Kimberly). The interned
Germans were only released in 1946 and were allowed to return home the following year. In
the late 1940s, the German community in Namibia began to grow again, although their
proportion among the white population continued to steadily decline during this period (Table
2). From 1948, following the election victory of the National Party in South Africa, South
African apartheid laws were extended to the territory of Namibia. This system of
institutionalised racial segregation implemented by a white minority apartheid regime existed
until the early 1990s. During this time, Afrikaans continued to be systematically promoted by
the administration and was not only the dominant language used in various domains (e.g.
German remained protected through the London Agreement of 1923, the Education Proclamation 16 of 1926,
and the Swakopmund Agreement of 1929 between the administration and the Deutscher Schulverein of
Swakopmund (Gretschel 1993: 52).
The term Afrikaner traditionally refers to people who identify with the white Afrikaans-speaking group living
in southern Africa and who are of European descent. Afrikaners are descendants of Dutch, German, and French
Huguenot immigrants, and to a lesser extent, of other Europeans and indigenous African peoples (see Bergerson
2011: 24–27 for more details).
government, education, etc.), but also served as a lingua franca for inter-ethnic communication
(Harlech-Jones 1995). For many decades, the German-speaking community unsuccessfully
sought to improve the status of German in Namibia. Only in 1984, German was elevated to an
official language, serving as the third official language within the Administration for Whites
(Gretschel 1995: 303), the other two being English and Afrikaans, which were official
languages on the national level. In 1990, when Namibia gained independence, English became
the sole official language of the country and German was recognised as one of 13 national
Since Namibia gained independence in 1990, the German-speaking population in Namibia
has been hovering around 1% of the total Namibian population (Table 3).
Today, about 20,000
Namibians have German as their L1.
speakers / households
% of German-
Table 3: German population statistics in Namibia, 1991–2011
3. SOCIOLINGUISTIC CONTEXT
German is linguistically vital in Namibia. It is spoken by diverse groups of people, the
largest among them being descendants of Germans who settled in Namibia during and after the
colonial times. They are an economically strong group, who are mostly concentrated in urban
areas of central Namibia (Figure 1) such as Windhoek (Khomas region), Swakopmund (Erongo
region) and Otjiwarongo (Otjozondjupa region). A significantly smaller number of the German
speakers are spread across the country in rural areas, predominately on farms (slightly more
than 700 German-speaking households live in rural areas of Namibia, according to the 2011
Census; Namibia Statistics Agency 2011: 171).
The following sources were used to create Table 3: 1991 Population and Housing Census, Figure 8.1 (Central
Statistics Office 1994); Distribution of households by main language spoken, Namibia, 2001 Census, Table 7.4
(Central Bureau of Statistics 2001); Namibia 2011: Population and Housing Census Main Report (Namibia
Statistics Agency 2011).
Figure 1: Regional distribution of German-speaking households
Source: Namibia Statistics Agency (2011: 171)
Other groups of German speakers in Namibia include German citizens (referred to as
Deutschländer or more mockingly as Jerries by German-speaking Namibians) who migrated
more recently to Namibia and a much smaller group of approximately 430 so-called DDR-
Kinder (‘German Democratic Republic children’)
(see, e.g., Kenna 2004 and Witte et al.
2014). In addition, there are numerous individuals who acquire German as an additional
language. These include the ever-increasing number of learners of German as a foreign
language (Deutsch als Fremdsprache, DaF) who are taught German at various educational
institutions in the country (Shah and Zappen-Thomson 2017: 139), as well as individuals who
acquire German in more informal contexts (e.g. children of farm workers who may pick up
German through play and interaction with the children of German farmers). Finally, a “dying
contact variety” (Deumert 2009: 349) known as “Namibian Kiche Duits” (lit. ‘kitchen
German’) is a German-based variety which developed during German colonialism. Crucially,
Kiche Duits never became an in-group language, but was mainly employed for inter-ethnic
communication between the German colonists and their workers (Deumert 2009, 2017, 2018).
In this paper, we focus on the German spoken by the descendants of German colonists who
settled in Namibia during and after the colonial times. According to Schlettwein (2018: 329),
Source of map: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Namibia_Regions_Blank.PNG (last accessed 12
May 2021). Changes made to the original map by the authors: Numbers indicating regional distribution of
German-speaking households. The Kavango Region (bordering Caprivi to the east, Otjozondjupa to the south,
Oshikoto to the west and Ohangwena to the northwest) was split into Kavango East and Kavango West in 2013.
Since the Census was carried out in 2011, the number of German-speaking households is available for “Kavango”
The term DDR-Kinder refers to black Namibian children who were raised in East Germany from 1979–
“the ‘indigenous’ native German speakers in Namibia have created their own brand of German,
which manifests itself at structural, pronunciation and metaphorical levels, as well as the
borrowing of vocabulary, from Afrikaans, English, Oshiwambo, Khoekhoegowab and
A number of terms are used to refer to this “own brand of German” (for a detailed discussion
on terminology, see Zimmer 2019: 1185–1186). The term Südwesterdeutsch (‘South-
Westerners’ German’), which relates to the former colonial name of Namibia, i.e.
Südwestafrika (‘South-West Africa’), was in wide circulation prior to and immediately after
Namibia gained independence in 1990 (see, e.g., Gretschel 1984, 1995; Pütz 1991; Böhm 2003:
563). Although the term is nowadays considered politically incorrect, it continues to be used
in Namibia, albeit less frequently. The term Nam-Släng, promoted by the Namibian German
Kwaito artist and rapper “EES” through his YouTube channel
(see also Sell 2011, 2014),
refers to a youth variety (Zappen-Thomson 2013; Kellermeier-Rehbein 2015) which is
primarily realised in speech and exemplified seldom in writing, and usually only in an informal
manner for the purposes of demonstrating authenticity and local flavour, e.g. in the squibs
(Glossen) of the Allgemeine Zeitung (AZ)
(see Radke 2017). A more neutral all-
encompassing term used by speakers is Namdeutsch (‘Nam-German’). Other terms found in
the literature include Namibisches Deutsch, Namibia-Deutsch (Kellermeier-Rehbein 2016:
223) and Namlish
NG is not a homogenous variety and is best described along a continuum, one end
resembling a standard-based variety of NG (i.e. a variety close to SG, as spoken in Germany)
and the other end approximating a non-standard variety of NG (i.e. Südwesterdeutsch/Nam-
Släng/Namdeutsch/Namlish). NG features are used cross-generationally (Wiese et al. 2017:
234; Zimmer forthcoming) and the frequency in the use of typical NG features depends on a
number of variables; these may relate to the speaker (e.g. age, gender, L1 of parents, school
attended) and/or to the situation at hand (e.g. topic of conversation, degree of formality,
presence of in-group vs. out-group speakers) (Zimmer 2020; Wiese & Bracke 2021; Wiese,
Sauermann & Bracke forthcoming). The use – conscious or unconscious – of highly marked
NG features, and in particular the extensive borrowing of lexical items from Afrikaans and
English, is more typical of informal spoken speech (Wiese & Bracke 2021; Bracke 2021) and
is particularly frequent in discussion of topics for which German-speaking Namibians do not
have the necessary German vocabulary at their disposal (e.g. when talking about their
profession, for which they were educated/trained in either English or Afrikaans).
NG is used in both oral and written communication, i.e. NG is not restricted to the spoken
domain; rather, lexical items specific to NG sometimes appear in the written domain (e.g. in
the AZ, see, e.g., Kellermeier-Rehbein 2018; Kroll-Tjingaete 2018), NG morphosyntactic
https://www.youtube.com/user/eesyees (last accessed 12 May 2021)
The Allgemeine Zeitung is a daily German newspaper in Namibia, which is read by almost all German-
speaking households in Namibia (Shah and Zappen-Thomson 2017: 137).
Namlish, a blend of Namibia and English, originally described the variety of English spoken in Namibia.
Nowadays, it seems to be used in a broader sense to refer to the mixing of various Namibian languages (Buschfeld
& Schröder 2019: 352) to create a specific Namibian identity.
patterns less so (Shah 2007). Various dictionaries of NG words have been published over the
years (Nöckler 1963; Pütz 2001; Sell 2011).
A number of common NG lexical items are
considered core vocabulary items by the community and their use is not stigmatised. Some of
the most common NG lexical items have also found their way into the second edition of the
Variantenwörterbuch des Deutschen (Ammon, Bickel & Lenz 2016) and are considered to be
These include Braai (‘barbecue’), Panga (‘bush knife’), and Rivier (‘dry river’)
(Ammon, Bickel and Lenz 2016: 128, 521, 600). SG nevertheless functions as the prestige
variety (as far as overt prestige is concerned), promoted by educational institutions.
The community is generally proud of their ability to speak German and of the variety of
German they speak (see Wiese, Sauermann & Bracke forthcoming on the tension between
standard language ideology and pride in local NG characteristics). For this close-knit speech
community, language is considered an in-group marker and seems to constitute a significant
component of their unique Namibian-German identity, allowing them to demarcate themselves
from the ‘other Germans’, i.e. Germans from Germany, as well as from other Namibian ethnic
groups (see also Schmidt-Lauber 1998: 308–309; Wecker 2017; Wiese et al. 2017: 7; Wiese &
Bracke 2021; Bracke 2021; Wiese, Sauermann & Bracke forthcoming).
German is acquired as a first language by the younger generations through intergenerational
language transmission. It is used in private domains, i.e. the home environment, as well as in
numerous public domains, including cultural, religious, educational, medical and professional
domains (see Shah and Zappen-Thomson 2017: 135–141). These include kindergartens,
primary and secondary schools, boarding schools, churches, media, some areas of business
(esp. tourism), etc. (Ammon 2015; Wiese et al. 2017; Zimmer 2019). It is visible in the public
space through signs, street names, and place names. With numerous business enterprises being
run by German-speaking Namibians, it is widely considered to be a business language of
Namibia. This makes it an attractive language for Namibians to learn due to the professional
opportunities it offers, and job advertisements in the local newspapers often demand or strongly
desire competency in German (see Figure 2).
Nöckler (1963) is the first comprehensive compilation of NG terms together with their translations. His
compilation includes loanwords, German neologisms, and German words and phrases with different or expanded
meanings in NG. Given that it was published more than half a century ago, a number of the terms listed by him
are no longer in use in present-day Namibia. The dictionaries by Pütz (2001) and Sell (2011), which are of an
extremely casual nature, target the layperson. Both authors list Südwesterdeutsch/Nam-Släng terms together with
their translations and illustrate the use of these terms in sentences which they themselves have fabricated.
The second edition of the Variantenwörterbuch des Deutschen contains 37 NG terms (Ammon et al. 2016:
xiii); for a list of these terms, see Häusler (2018: 206). The dictionary is used in German schools and is introduced
to teachers. For example, during the annual introduction session for the new teachers at the Deutsche Höhere
Privatschule (DHPS), teachers are made aware of the dictionary, requesting them not to merely regard the NG
lexemes as mistakes but instead to use this opportunity to create language awareness amongst learners. The
dictionary is particularly useful for teachers from Germany, since they are often not aware of the intricacies of
The job advertisement on the left lists desired competences of applicants. These include
“Deutschkenntnisse” (‘German language skills’).
Figure 2: Job advertisements in the German-language newspaper, Allgemeine Zeitung
(left), and the Afrikaans-language newspaper, Republikein (right), July 2018
The status of a national language confers certain privileges, allowing German, for example,
to be used in education, legislation, administration, and jurisdiction. The state support, which
German receives, is complemented by the support it receives through local private means as
well as from sources in Germany (either from the German Government or from private donors).
For example, in the realm of education, the subjects Deutsch als Muttersprache (DaM) and
Deutsch als Fremdsprache (DaF) receive state and private support, both from Namibia and
Germany (Table 4). These various levels of support – together with the strong language loyalty
among German-speaking Namibians and the many efforts which the community makes to
preserve their language – have contributed to its continued use and its success to resist the
otherwise prevalent English hegemony in Namibia (Shah and Zappen-Thomson 2017).
Local private support
14 schools (2016)
in Namibia (AGDS)
Association of German
in Namibia (AGDS)
“Schools: Partners for
the Future” initiative
Table 4: Support for the German language in Namibia (DaF: Deutsch als Fremdsprache,
DaM: Deutsch als Muttersprache)
Source: Shah and Zappen-Thomson (2017)
Namibians – like most Africans – are multilingual, and the German-speaking community in
Namibia is no exception. Code-switching is done frequently and with ease. In addition to the
registers of German which they can effortlessly switch between (NG, SG, etc.), they routinely
use other languages, typically Afrikaans and English, which they generally master to a high
standard or even fluently. The older generation is more familiar with Afrikaans. The younger
generation, by contrast, uses English more often; for them, English symbolises “a marker of a
new and more inter-ethnically/-racially open generation of German Namibians” (Wiese et al.
2017: 234). German-speaking Namibians may also have competence – to varying degrees – in
one or more of the ten other national languages of Namibia. This is especially the case for
German children who grow up on farms; through, e.g. play and interaction with the children of
farm workers (who may speak languages such as Oshiwambo, Otjiherero and
Khoekhoegowab), they may acquire one or more of these languages (Wiese et al. 2017: 8).
All aspects mentioned so far have shaped (in one way or another) the structural
characteristics of NG. They are therefore crucial for a holistic understanding of such properties.
This holds for historical aspects, the vitality of NG, language attitudes within the community,
schooling, media, multilingualism, etc. In the following, we zoom in on two morphosyntactic
16 % of all speakers whose language use is documented in the DNam corpus reported at least some
knowledge of one of these languages (Khoekhoegowab: 9 speakers, Otjiherero: 6, and Oshiwambo: 3).
features of NG in order to illustrate some of its grammatical characteristics. This complements
our historical and sociolinguistic descriptions and shows how these aspects interact with each
The two morphosyntactic features which we investigate are the linking element +s+
(Section 4) and the gehen + infinitive construction (Section 5). These case studies were
specifically chosen, as different explanations could at first glance explain their development in
NG. While the gehen + infinitive construction in NG bears striking resemblance to a parallel
structure in Afrikaans and English, this does not seem to be the case with the linking elements
Accordingly, language contact seems to be of different importance regarding the two
phenomena, which opens up an interesting and comparative perspective on grammatical
innovations in NG. A deeper exploration of these features can provide insights into different
kinds of dynamics of German in the multilingual context of Namibia.
Both phenomena are analysed via a questionnaire study. This method was particularly
suitable for our purposes, as it allowed for a systematic elicitation of target language forms.
Through its quick administration, a larger sample size was also possible. Where possible, the
DNam corpus is also used for our analysis.
4. LINKING ELEMENTS
In German, compounds occur in two variants: either the compound consists only of the
stems (e.g. Hand+tasche ‘handbag’), or a linking element is inserted between the stems (e.g.
Heizung+s+keller ‘boiler room’).
This holds true for both GG and NG. However, in Namibia,
linking elements are more frequently used and can be found in compounds in which GG would
usually not use this element.
Examples include Lehn+s+wort (‘loan word’),
Kreuzwort+s+räsel (‘crossword puzzle’), and Miet+s+wagen (‘rental car’). The latter appears,
for example, in the AZ, Namibia’s German newspaper (see (1) and (2)).
Since detailed studies of Namibian English are very rare, we draw on literature on better described varieties
when a closer examination of English is needed. This seems appropriate to us, since the topics discussed here are
not among those phenomena for which peculiarities of Namibian English have been reported so far (Buschfeld &
Kautzsch 2014; Kautzsch 2019; Steigertahl 2019).
The DNam corpus is openly accessible via the Database for Spoken German: <https://dgd.ids-
mannheim.de/> (last accessed 12 May 2021). It contains three types of data (conversation groups, “language
situations”, semi-structured interviews) and approximately 18 hours of transcribed, normalised, and annotated
audio recordings of more than 100 speakers of NG (age range: 14−75). See Zimmer et al. (2020) for more
In some cases, the first constituent exhibits umlaut in addition to a linking element (e.g. Buch – Bücherregal
‘book – bookshelf’). However, these cases are not relevant for our argumentation.
There is abundant literature on the use of linking elements in GG, which cannot be summarised exhaustively
here. The relevant aspects will be discussed in some detail in the remainder of this section. For more information,
see, e.g., Augst (1975); Ortner et al. (1991); Fuhrhop (1996, 1998); Krott et al. (2007); Nübling & Szczepaniak
(2008); Donalies & Bubenhofer (2011); Fuhrhop & Kürschner (2015); Kopf (2018a); and the literature cited
(1) Das Trio sei in einem AVIS-Mietswagen, einem weißen Doppelkabiner vom Typ
Toyota Hilux, unterwegs gewesen. (Allgemeine Zeitung, 31 December 2015)
‘The trio had been traveling in an AVIS rental car, a white Toyota Hilux double cab.’
(2) Bei einem Frontalzusammenstoß zwischen seinem Wagen und einem Mietswagen mit
deutschen Touristen […]. (Allgemeine Zeitung, 24 January 2017)
‘In a head-on collision between his car and a rental car with German tourists […]’
This particular variant is very unusual in GG. In the German Reference Corpus (Deutsches
, there are only four instances of Miet+s+wagen. The competing
variant (i.e. Mietwagen) appears 60,191 times, i.e. in more than 99.99% of cases.
This standard-divergent feature of NG seems to be particularly interesting as the main
contact languages do not seem to play a major role here. For example, the linking element in
Miet+s+wagen can neither be explained by direct transfer from Afrikaans (the equivalent
would be huur+motor) nor by transfer from English (rental car; details to be discussed below).
Hence, different approaches have to be considered in order to understand the phenomenon.
Convergence, which has been the standard explanation provided for most standard-divergent
features of NG, does not seem to apply here. Instead, we will argue that the history of German
provides important insights. In the following, we will discuss the results of a questionnaire
study. Subsequently, we will provide a brief overview of the emergence and spread of the
linking element +s+ in German in general and examine how this might be used to explain our
observations made in Namibia.
4.1. Questionnaire data
Starting from the observation that linking elements can be observed in NG that are unusual
in GG, we conducted a questionnaire study to learn more about this phenomenon.
German-speaking Namibians to translate a list of selected words and phrases from English to
German (see Table 5, leftmost column).
An advantage of this method is that linking elements
are extremely rare in English, so there should be no bias towards linking elements.
translation task also contained 12 fillers.
The English words were selected to elicit one of the 26 German compounds listed in Table
5 (third column). As was to be expected, not all participants used one of these German
translations. For example, suit trousers was repeatedly translated as Hose (‘trousers’), which
by definition cannot contain a linking element because it is a simplex. Such answers were
excluded from the analyses.
Leibniz-Institut für Deutsche Sprache (2020), release DeReKo-2020-I; <www.ids-mannheim.de/DeReKo>
(last accessed 5 March 2021).
Other linking elements exist in German (such as +en+; see, e.g., Nübling & Szczepaniak 2008), but our
focus is on +s+ because this component is most relevant with regard to NG.
Corpus linguistic methods could not be used for this case study because (potentially) relevant constructions
are too rare in the DNam corpus.
All participants were fluent in English.
There is only one English item in the task that arguably contains a linking element, namely sports club. The
translations of this word do not conspicuously tend toward a higher frequency in the use of linking elements.
The list of words was compiled in such a way that German translations had to be chosen
which differ from each other with respect to linking elements in SG. Since the distribution of
+s+ in SG to a large extent does not follow simple rules, we relied on corpus data for the
selection of items – there are only some morphological/phonological properties of the first
constituent that (almost) obligatorily entail the use of the linking element (e.g. the
suffixes -heit/keit, -ion, (i)tät, -ling, -sal, -schaft, -tum, and -ung) or prevent it (e.g. masculine
gender + weak inflection class membership; constituent-final sibilant; constituent-final
Other cases are subject to lexeme-specific preferences (see Kopf 2018a: 28–32, 43
for an overview).
Table 5 lists the selected items and contains information on the frequency
of the linking element in the German Reference Corpus (rightmost column).
extends from mandatory linking elements (e.g. Arbeit+s+platz ‘working place’) to cases where
a linking element would be considered ungrammatical in SG (*Taxi+s+fahrer ‘taxi driver’).
For some words, both variants occur frequently (e.g. Schaden+s+ersatz vs. Schaden+ersatz
‘compensation for damages’). Furthermore, the final sound of the first constituent of the
compound was varied as it has been shown that this aspect has a crucial impact on the
distribution of +s+ in GG (see, e.g., Kopf 2018a: 30–32): first constituents ending in a plosive
or a vowel were integrated (in addition to Schaden(s)ersatz, where the first constituent ends in
a nasal sound).
Note that there are some German dialects for which the latter restriction does not apply, e.g. East Franconian
(Nickel 2016: 232, 238), especially when the first constituent is a diminutive (see also Kopf 2018a: 42). The only
exceptions in SG seem to be compounds with proper names as a first constituent (Kopf 2018a: 32).
There are, however, some statistical tendencies. For example, +s+ is more likely if the first constituent ends
in a plosive compared to first constituents ending in a fricative or a nasal (Kopf 2018a: 28). Furthermore, the
linking element occurs more often if the first constituent is prefixed.
Only texts from Germany were considered because there are slight differences in the use of linking elements
between Germany and other German-speaking European countries (e.g. Austria, Switzerland) and regions (e.g.
South Tyrol) (see, e.g., Donalies & Bubenhofer 2011: 86–92 and the corresponding entries in Variantengrammatik
des Standarddeutschen 2018 [‘Variational Grammar of Standard German’]) and Namibian speakers of German
are generally orientated towards language use in Germany. The following archive was used: W-ohneWikipedia-
öffentlich - alle öffentlichen Korpora des Archivs W (mit Neuakquisitionen, ohne Wikipedia).
gift wrapping paper
Table 5: Critical items in the translation task
116 speakers of NG took part in our study (100 secondary school students and 16 adults,
age range: 14 to 66 years). The data was collected in 2018 in three Namibian cities: Windhoek,
Swakopmund, and Otjiwarongo. 54 females and 58 males participated in the study (no other
categories were suggested by the participants), and four participants did not report their gender.
The participants produced 1,251 compounds that could be used for our analyses. Since
Geburt+s+tag+s+party and Geburt+s+tag+s+feier contain two slots that could be filled with
a linking element, these words are counted twice, resulting in a total number of 1,358 tokens
to be analysed.
In 524 cases, an +s+ was used (i.e. in 39% of cases). Among the variables that
(potentially) influence the distribution of this linking element, the final sound of the first
constituent stands out. A final vowel of the first constituent never co-occurs with +s+ in our
data set – Bürostuhl, Klimawandel, Klimaveränderung, Risikofaktor, and Taxifahrer are never
used with a linking element. Accordingly, this seems to be an inviolable constraint. Given the
large amount of standard-divergent variants in NG (both in general when compared to GG and
in our particular case with regard to linking elements; see below), this is a remarkable
observation. Of the other potential factors, none categorically co-occurs with either +s+ or
with +Ø+. This, however, does not mean that none of them has an impact on the variation.
Rather, there is no categorical difference here, but (at best) a tendency.
In order to test the impact of the other variables, a binomial generalised linear mixed
model (GLMM) was applied (see, e.g., Baayen 2008: 278–284).
Because of the high number
of potentially influential factors, such a multifactorial analysis seems appropriate. A particular
advantage of mixed models (such as GLMM) is that random effects can be integrated (see
below). All tokens with a first constituent ending in a vowel were excluded for this analysis
and the final sound of the first constituent was not integrated as a predictor because one level
of this variable could perfectly predict the outcome, i.e. we are dealing with complete
separation (see, e.g., Levshina 2015: 273). Instead, six other variables were included. These
are either sociolinguistic in nature (i.e. AGE, GENDER, and RESIDENCE of the participant) or they
refer to features of the respective compound.
The latter includes a variable that contains
information on how often a linking element occurs in the word in question in GG
(LE_GERMANY). This variable has three levels: ‘yes’ if +s+ is used in ≥ 99% of all cases in the
German Reference Corpus, ‘no’ if it is used in ≤ 1%, and ‘facultative’ for all cases in between
(see Table 5). LE_AFRIKAANS, i.e. the second of these variables, incorporates information on
Afrikaans and has two levels: ‘yes’ was assigned if there is an equivalent in Afrikaans that
contains a linking element (e.g. huwelik+s+voorstel ‘wedding proposal’) and ‘no’ if that is not
the case (e.g. geskenk+Ø+papier ‘gift wrapping paper’; see Table 5, second column).
possible impact of the absence/presence of a linking element in SG and Afrikaans was
considered because of the normative orientation towards SG and the intense contact with
Afrikaans. And finally, the variable COGNATES_1CONSTITUENT was integrated, which contains
information on whether the first constituent of the English word which was given in the study
The software R (R Core Team 2020) and RStudio (RStudio Team 2020) were used for this and all subsequent
analyses in this paper. For GLMMs, the package lme4 was used (Bates et al. 2015).
Our hypotheses behind the sociolinguistic variables were that younger and male speakers and those from
more rural areas might deviate more strongly from SG. These hypotheses are based on insights in sociolinguistic
variation in NG in other domains and/or stereotypes described by members of the community (Bracke 2021).
The classification was based on entries in dictionaries and on corpus studies we conducted in the corpus
which is part of the Leipzig Corpora Collection: Afrikaans mixed corpus based on material from 2014. Leipzig
Corpora Collection. Dataset. <https://corpora.uni-leipzig.de?corpusId=afr_mixed_2014> (last accessed 5 March
and the first constituent of the German translation are cognates (e.g. birthday party and
Geburt+s+tag+s+feier) or not (e.g. suit trousers and Anzug+s+hose). This variable allows us
to assess whether close resemblance of the English items and the German target words had an
influence on how participants responded (see below for more details).
In addition to these (potentially) explanatory variables, two random effects were
integrated, namely PARTICIPANT and TYPE. This is to ensure that neither any idiosyncratic
behaviour of individual speakers skews the results nor outliers caused only by one specific
The presence or absence of +s+ is the binary dependent variable (LE) that is
to be predicted by the explanatory variables.
To test which variable has a significant impact on the dependent variable, a maximum model
was fitted as a first step. The model specification is given in (3).
(3) le ~ age + gender_speaker + residence + le_germany + cognates_1constituent +
le_Afrikaans + (1|participant) + (1|type)
Subsequently, all variables that do not significantly improve the quality of the model were
identified. Only LE_GERMANY and COGNATES_1CONSTITUENT significantly contribute to the
correct prediction of the outcome. This indicates that the presence or absence of a linking
element in Afrikaans equivalent terms does not influence the likelihood of +s+ in our data. The
same holds for the sociolinguistic variables. All these variables were removed from the model
in a second step. Hence, the final model contains two explanatory variables and the random
effects (see Table 6).
Pr (> |z|)
LE_GERMANY (reference level: facultative)
COGNATES_1CONSTITUENT (reference level: no)
Table 6: Results of a GLMM
This model explains a substantial proportion of the variance (marginal r2 = 0.595;
conditional r2 = 0.753) and discriminates very well (C = 0.959). 88.9% of all observations are
correctly predicted by the model (this rate is significantly higher than the No Information Rate;
Our data set contains many graphematic variants, including standard-divergent spellings (e.g. <Arbeits
Platz>, <Arbeitz platz>, <arbeits plaz> etc.; Arbeitsplatz, ‘working place’). These variants were lumped together
to one type. Only in one case a specific spelling led to the exclusion of the corresponding tokens: answers
containing <folk> or <Folk> as the first constituent in the compound Volksmusik had to be excluded as it cannot
be ruled out that the participants had English folk (which is an established loan word in German, denoting a
specific style of music) in mind instead of German Volk (‘folk’/‘people’), which would have an impact on the
presence/absence of a linking element.
Variants other than +s+ or +Ø+ (e.g. +e+ in <Geschenke papier>, ‘gift wrapping paper’) occurred only nine
times in the entire data set (i.e. less than 1%). These marginal cases were excluded from the analysis.
p > 0.001***). Multicollinearity is no problem as all Variation Inflation Factors (VIFs) are
The variable LE_GERMANY indicates that more participants used a linking element if +s+
is obligatory in the respective compound in SG. Thus, there are parallels between SG and the
participants’ response behaviour. This is not very surprising given the general orientation
towards SG in the context of German as a subject in schools and in Namibia’s German-
language media, etc. But interestingly, the level ‘no’ does not reach the significance level. The
absence of linking elements in the corresponding compounds in SG does not decrease the
probability of +s+ (compared to the reference level ‘facultative’) − +s+ is distributed far more
broadly in our data set than in SG texts. In contrast to the final sound of the first constituent
(see above), the influence of LE_GERMANY is far from categorical: Whilst most tokens in the
analysed data set are in line with SG, a non-marginal number of tokens is not: 109 tokens can
be classified as standard-divergent (i.e. 11.7% of all tokens where the use +s+ is not facultative
in SG; for more details, see below). Furthermore, a closer look at the compounds with an
optional linking element in SG reveals another difference: The proportion of tokens with +s+
per type is consistently higher in our data than in the German Reference Corpus. This difference
is significant in three cases (see Table 7).
Our data set
n = 41
n = 732
n = 31
n = 7,663
n = 14
n = 5,700
‘compensation for damages’
n = 13
n = 68,048
Table 7: Proportion of tokens with +s+ per type
One should keep in mind that different types of data were compared and the sample size for
Namibia is small.
However, the results could be read as an indication of a tendency towards
a) the use of +s+ in cases where the linking element is optional in SG and b) standard-divergent
The latter includes both standard-divergent presence and absence of a linking element.
However, omitted linking elements should not be overrated. As stated above, the translation
task has been chosen because no bias towards +s+ is to be expected due to the absence of
Fisher’s Exact Test was used (see, e.g., Gries 2014). Odds ratios are not given for Mitglied(s)staat as there
are only instances which include a linking element in our data set. The data from the German Reference Corpus
are those already used for Table 5 above.
In addition, especially the difference regarding the use of Schaden(+s+)ersatz might also reflect genre
Unfortunately, it is not readily possible to repeat the study in Germany, as a high level of English competence
would be required among the participants.
linking elements in (most of) the English words. However, there might naturally be a bias
towards +Ø+. In fact, also the results of the GLMM support this idea. The estimate of the
second significant variable, COGNATES_1CONSTITUENT, indicates that +Ø+ is more likely to
occur if the first constituents of the source word and the translation are cognates. This means
that standard-divergent omission of the linking element is more likely in words like
Advent+s+kalender (‘advent calendar’) than in Arbeit+s+platz (‘working place’). Presumably,
close resemblance of the English and the German words fosters a 1:1 transfer from one
language into the other during the translation task. There might be an effect that goes beyond
this potential artefact of the method, i.e. an impact on natural language use. It is conceivable
that similarity promotes convergence here. But this cannot be determined with our method. It
is well known that translations which resemble their source have to be taken with caution.
Therefore, many scholars focus on deviations from the translated source (see, e.g., Fleischer,
Hinterhölzl & Solf 2008 for methodological considerations on this issue). This is also how we
will proceed in the following. The standard-divergent occurrences of +s+ are more interesting
in any case, as they can neither be explained as an artefact of the method, nor as transfer from
English. In addition, as indicated by the variable LE_AFRIKAANS, which had no significant
impact, there is no evidence for an influence of the Afrikaans equivalents.
Another possible explanation for the repeated occurrences of standard-divergent +s+ in NG
(and the possible increase in frequency in contexts where +s+ is also possible in SG) would be
the influence of Afrikaans on a more abstract level. If Afrikaans made much more use of +s+
than German, an expansion of +s+ could be explained as a contact induced change from a
minor to a major use pattern (Heine & Kuteva 2005: 40–62). However, this premise does not
seem to be fulfilled. Combrink (1990: 272), for example, states: “In Sweeds en Duits is -s- bv.
uiters volop, in Nederlands en Afrikaans minder, in Fries nog minder en in Engels die minste.”
(‘In Swedish and German, -s- is e.g. extremely abundant, in Dutch and Afrikaans less, in
Frisian even less and in English the least.’).
The +s+ linking element is typically used in
similar contexts in Afrikaans and SG. For example, first constituents ending
in -heid/-heit, -ing/-ung, or -skap/-schaft almost categorically co-occur with +s+ in both
languages (see, e.g., Kempen 1969: 99–102 on Afrikaans and Ortner et al. 1991: 73–75 on
Apart from such specific contexts, there are many cases where the use of +s+ cannot
be described by simple rules. This holds both for German and for Afrikaans (see, e.g.,
Donaldson 1993: 438–439 and Krott et al. 2007). In fact, the distribution has been called
“arbitrary” (Fuhrhop & Kürschner 2015: 576) or “idiosyncratic” (Krott et al. 2007: 45).
Crucially, there is no rule along the lines of “first constituents ending in a plosive entail +s+”
in Afrikaans, which would make an explanation of standard-divergent +s+ in NG as a result of
contact-induced change very plausible. As in SG, there is variation in this phonological context:
some compounds are used with +s+ (gebruik+s+reëls, ‘instructions’), some without
Note, however, that the concrete classification of these languages is not based on a data-based comparison
and might be debatable. Combrink’s (1990) impression seems interesting to us nonetheless. See also Kürschner
(2010), whose contrastive study on Danish, Dutch, German, and Swedish reveals many parallels.
This feature is also shared by many other Germanic languages, namely Dutch, Frisian, Luxembourgish,
Danish, Swedish, and Norwegian (Fuhrhop & Kürschner 2015: 576).
(werk+Ø+gewer, ‘employer’) and others interchangeably (week+s+dag vs. week+Ø+dag
Against this backdrop, it seems unlikely that standard-divergent +s+ in NG can be
categorised as a contact-induced change from a minor to a major use pattern. So, transfer from
one of the main contact languages Afrikaans and English does not seem to be a decisive factor
here. Instead, we argue that it is worth considering the recent history of German here, which
will be the focus of the next section.
4.2. A brief history of the linking element +s+ in German
The linking element +s+ emerged from an inflectional suffix, namely the genitive -s. This
was the result of a reanalysis that took place in Early New High German (1350−1650):
Prenominal genitive attributes (which were then far more common than nowadays) were
reanalysed as the first constituent of a compound. (4) illustrates an unambiguous genitive
construction, (5) contains the bridging context and (6) shows the new construction. All
examples are taken from Kopf (2018b: 94).
(4) genitive construction:
in [ein-es König-s] Schloss
in [a-M.GEN.SG king-M.GEN.SG] castle.N.NOM.SG
‘in a king’s castle’
(5) bridging construction:
ein-es König-s Schloss-es gewahr werden
a.M/N-GEN.SG KING.M-GEN.SG/LE castle.N-GEN.SG aware become
‘become aware of the castle of a king / of a royal castle’
d-as [König-s Schloss]
the-N.NOM.SG [king-LE castle.N.NOM.SG]
‘the royal castle’
The last example still contains an s. This cannot, however, be classified as an inflectional
suffix anymore as Königs Schloss is to be analysed as a compound. This is indicated by the
determiner das, which is neuter and therefore agrees with Schloss (or rather, with the compound
Königs Schloss whose gender is determined by its head Schloss).
If this construction were not
a compound, the determiner would have to agree with König which is masculine (Kopf 2018b:
Accordingly, it is not easy to identify an obvious motivation for the use of +s+. There is an ongoing debate
on this issue (see, e.g., Gallmann 1999; Aronoff & Fuhrhop 2002; Wegener 2003, 2005; Nübling & Szczepaniak
2008; Fuhrhop & Kürschner 2015; Neef 2015; Kopf 2018a: 355–392; and Schäfer & Pankratz 2018). In any case,
analogy plays an important role (see, e.g., Krott et al. 2007 and Fuhrhop & Kürschner 2015).
The emergence of linking elements in German was already described as early as the first half of the 19th
century (see Grimm 1826; see also Demske 2001 and Fuhrhop 1998).
Note that disjoint spelling is not a reliable source of information regarding the morphological status of a
construction in this period.
In cases like (6), we are clearly dealing with a linking element. Primarily, these were limited
to compounds with a masculine or neuter first constituent (such as König ‘king’). Such linking
elements are usually called “paradigmatic” as the first constituent (including the linking
element) formally matches the genitive (Fuhrhop 1996). Subsequently, however, more and
more compounds with feminine first constituents were used with the linking element +s+ (see
(7)). In such cases, the first component + the linking element differ from genitive constructions
(and all other cells in the paradigms of feminine nouns). This unparadigmatic type of linking
element gains ground in the 17th century (Kopf 2018a: 217, 273).
Hence, the restrictions for the use of +s+ are reduced. This development is accompanied by
further changes that support the spread of +s+. For example, a new word formation pattern with
-ung derivatives as first component of a compound emerges (e.g. Nahrung+s+mittel
‘foodstuff’). In this new pattern, the +s+ is almost always used (Kopf 2018a: 259–263). In
Contemporary German, +s+ is close to obligatory in such constructions. Similar observations
can be made regarding another new pattern, i.e. compounds with nominalised verbs as first
constituent (Kopf 2018a: 263–266).
All in all, +s+ clearly gains importance in (Early) New High German. This holds true for
paradigmatic and for unparadigmatic cases, and is reflected in an increase of productivity (Kopf
2018a: 250–252). This can be summarised as a clear tendency towards a spread of +s+ since
the Early New High German period. However, this development seems to have slowed down
(see, e.g., Kopf 2018a: 286), which goes along with a reduction of variation. This was already
noted by Pavlov (1983) who analysed the proportion of types that exhibit variation (presence
vs. absence of a linking element) in texts from Early New High German and the first century
of the New High German period. Kopf (2018a: 254) assumes that generally less variation
induced by linking elements can be observed in New High German than in Early New High
German. This can be explained by the growing importance of linguistic norms (Pavlov 1983:
Against this backdrop, the standard-divergent use of certain linking elements in NG
seems to be explicable as follows:
a. There is/was a tendency towards a spread of +s+ in German.
b. This development slowed down, presumably due to the increased importance of
linguistics norms, resulting in less variation (in GG).
c. Speech communities in multilingual contexts are generally more receptive to variation;
compared to mainly monolingual groups, norms typically play a minor role here.
Therefore, the spread of +s+ might be more advanced in NG than in intra-territorial
varieties. The standard-divergent forms in NG seem to continue a development which
has partly been restrained by language-external influence in other varieties.
Two scenarios are possible: The first is that immigrants from Europe imported the variants
with the linking element to Namibia in the 19th century. This is conceivable as, for example,
Mietswagen can be found in texts from this period (see (8)):
(8) Ein Miethswagen stand vor dem Gitterthor. [Gutzkow 1877]
‘A rental waggon stood in front of the barred gate.’
This variant competed with Mietwagen, which prevailed in the following years. The last
occurrence of Mietswagen in the German Reference Corpus dates from the 1950s and already
in this decade, the variant without the linking element predominated by far (92%). Apparently,
Mietswagen fell victim to the increasing norm awareness which typically goes hand in hand
with the ideal of a homogeneous language use within a speech community. The latter is
particularly influential in Germany (see, e.g., Maitz & Elspaß 2013). At the same time, both
variants are presently used in Namibia. It is possible that they have been coexisting since the
The other possibility is that Mietswagen and the like are grammatical innovations in NG
drawing on a language-internal tendency which has been restrained in other contexts. Given
that the occasions to talk about rental waggons were presumably few in Namibia (and its
precursors), this might be the more plausible scenario. Such a development would be consistent
with what Trudgill (2004: 129–147) has labelled “theory of drift”: Innovations in an extra-
territorial variety are often not (only) due to dialect or language contact but can either be
explained as “continuations of a long ongoing process” (Trudgill 2004: 136) or as the result of
“propensities to linguistic changes resulting from structural properties which varieties inherit”
(Trudgill 2004: 163).
In any case, standard-divergent linking elements resemble other phenomena where transfer
from the contact languages do not seem to be central to the explanation of these features but
rather the reduced importance of linguistic norms in multilingual settings and the
corresponding propensity for variation (see, e.g., Wiese et al. 2014, 2017).
The idea that the standard-divergent linking elements in NG can be seen as a continuation
of a tendency that is/was also characteristic of other varieties is also supported by the
distribution of linking elements in our questionnaire data. In fact, linking elements are not
distributed randomly in our data set but in accordance with constraints that are relevant in SG:
a final vowel excludes +s+ in both varieties (see, e.g., Wegener 2003, 2005; Fehringer 2009;
and Kopf 2018a: 28–32 on German varieties including SG). Thus, these linking elements occur
in our data set only in contexts where a +s+ would theoretically also be possible in SG. This
can nicely be illustrated with the first constituent Miet+. In SG, there is a strong tendency
towards Miet+s+haus (vs. Miet+Ø+haus, ‘tenement’; 96% of cases in the German Reference
Corpus contain the +s+ linking element) and Miet+s+kaserne (vs. Miet+Ø+kaserne, ‘block of
flats’; 98%). In contrast, Miet(s)wohnung is typically used without the linking element and for
Mietwagen and Mietauto +s+ is almost categorically absent in SG (see Table 5). At the same
The spelling with <th> is an old graphematic variant. The example was found with the help of Deutsches
Textarchiv (‘German text archive’; <deutschestextarchiv.de>, last accessed 5 March 2021). It is taken from
Gutzkow, Karl (1877): Die neuen Serapionsbrüder. Bd. 2. Breslau.
time, it has repeatedly been shown that the first constituent is decisive as regards the use of a
linking element in German (see, e.g., Krott et al. 2007). Against this backdrop, the outlined
differences are curious. There are no obvious intra-linguistic reasons why Mietwagen and
Mietauto should not also be used with +s+ and it seems to be the case that there is a tendency
to abandon such idiosyncrasies in NG.
5. GO-FUTURE CONSTRUCTION
SG has two forms for expressing the future: the auxiliary verb werden + infinitive (9) and
the futurate present tense (10).
(9) Ich werde morgen mein Zimmer aufräumen.
‘I will clean my room tomorrow.’
(10) Ich räume morgen mein Zimmer auf.
‘I will clean my room tomorrow.’
The second form, the futurate present tense (10), is used more frequently than the werden +
infinitive construction (9) (Brons-Albert 1982; Di Meola 2013), and is quite common in
contexts where a future tense would be used in English, cf. (11) and (12).
(11) Ich komme heute Nachmittag zurück.
‘I’ll be back this afternoon.’
(12) Isst du den Nachtisch?
‘Are you going to eat the dessert?’
These two forms for expressing the future are also used in NG. In addition, a third future
construction can be observed: gehen + infinitive (13).
(13) NG: ey wir gehn nich unsre beine brechn wir gehn sterbn. (NAM062W1)
English: ‘Hey, we’re not going to break our legs, we’re going to die.’
Afrikaans: ‘Hey, ons gaan nie ons bene breek nie, ons gaan sterf.’
Forming the equivalent sentence in SG using gehen is not possible and would be considered
The use of gehen + infinitive in NG to mark futurity, henceforth referred to as the ‘go-future
construction’, mirrors a construction found in Afrikaans and English, i.e. ‘gaan + infinitive’
Interestingly, these differences between SG and NG resemble those differences between Dutch and
Afrikaans: Also in Afrikaans (which is more influenced by language contact than Dutch), a spread of +s+ can be
observed, which has been interpreted as a continuation of an already existing trend (Kempen 1969: 103–109).
Examples from the DNam corpus are accompanied by an alias. For example, the alias NAM062W1 indicates
that the example is from the corpus DNam corpus (NAM) and provides the following information about the speaker
in question: a unique number assigned to the person (e.g. 062), the person’s gender (W stands for weiblich ‘female’
and M for männlich ‘male’), and information on the birth year of the person (1: after 1996; 2: between 1996 and
1977; 3: between 1957 and 1976; 4: before 1957).
There are specific contexts where gehen + infinitive is used in SG; see below.
The auxiliary gaan is frequently used to mark futurity in present-day Afrikaans, alongside the auxiliary sal
‘will/shall’ and the futurate present tense. Kirsten (2018, 2019) shows that the use of gaan as a future auxiliary
and ‘going + infinitive’
, which may suggest that its use in NG is a contact effect. Previous
research on German in Southern Africa has reached similar conclusions in this regard (see, e.g.,
Shah 2007 for NG and Franke 2008 for South African German). While there is no denying that
language contact clearly plays a significant role, through a closer examination of the
grammaticalisation of go-future constructions in general, we will, however, argue that there is
more to be said about this innovation.
In this section, we will take a closer look at the use of the go-future construction in present-
day NG and we will discuss the results of a questionnaire study. We will also provide a brief
comparative overview of the grammaticalisation of go-future constructions in other Germanic
languages and draw some conclusions for its emergence in NG.
5.1 Corpus data
From the corpus data, we found that the go-future construction is frequent in spoken NG,
and especially in informal free speech (see Table 8).
gehen + infinitive
werden + infinitive
informal language situation
formal language situation
Table 8: Frequency of future constructions with gehen vs. werden in the corpus
German-speaking Namibians therefore have more options at their disposal to mark the
future and crucially two auxiliaries to choose from, werden and gehen. If one compares the
frequency of these auxiliaries in future constructions, werden is the more frequent of the two;
gehen as a future auxiliary, however, is used in over one-fifth of cases in the corpus, making it
one of the more frequently used standard-divergent features in NG (Zimmer 2021b). The 55
occurrences of gehen in go-future constructions occur with a wide range of main verbs (see
below for more details).
has increased in the course of the 20th century while its use as a lexical (movement) verb has decreased. This is
unlike the situation in Dutch, where lexical gaan dominates in frequency, with auxiliary gaan as a future reference
functioning as a secondary meaning of gaan (in 38% of cases, according to a random sample by Van Olmen &
Mortelmans 2009: 363).
The auxiliary going to and its phonetically reduced variant gonna are frequently used in English, alongside
an array of other forms for the expression of the future, including the auxiliaries will and shall. While going to
was already fully grammaticalised by the end of the 17th century, it was not until the end of the 19th century that
a noticeable rise in its use manifested itself which continues till today (Mair 2004, 2006).
Register differentiations can clearly be observed here. For register differentiations among German-speaking
Namibians in general, see Wiese & Bracke (2021) and Wiese, Sauermann & Bracke (forthcoming).
5.2 Questionnaire data
In order to examine the choice of auxiliaries for the expression of the future, a questionnaire
study in the form of a cloze test was conducted. Participants were presented auditorily with the
first part of a sentence and instructed to use predefined lexemes in order to complete the given
sentence. These predefined lexemes could be modified (e.g. inflected) by participants and/or
complemented with words of their own choice.
The data collection started with a test phase with each group to allow participants to
familiarise themselves with the design of the study and to ensure that the instructions provided
were clear. The stimuli, i.e. the first part of the sentence, had been pre-recorded by a member
of the German-speaking community in Namibia. The participants were presented with a
questionnaire and recorded their responses by hand. This questionnaire contained only the
lexeme(s) to be used in addition to the sentence number (cf. the example in (14)).
(14) Satz-Nr. 3 | | teilnehmen
[‘sentence no. 3 | | participate’]
The task of filling in the gaps had to be carried out within a period of 10 seconds (a signal
was played after 8 seconds), which was deliberately kept short to assure spontaneous answers
and to not provide too much time for reflection on the metalinguistics of the sentences. A total
of 34 sentences had to be completed.
Of the 34 items, 16 had been designed to elicit the future (Table 9). The other 18 items were
fillers or items that were used for the investigation of other phenomena. The stimuli were
inspired by corpus data and were created to specifically determine the influence of several
factors on the expression of the future (see below). The items were presented to the different
groups in two different and randomised sequences.
lexeme(s) to be used
Namibia hat sich noch nie für ne Fußball-WM qualifiziert. Aber
ich denk’, in 10 oder 15 Jahren …
[‘Namibia has never qualified for a World Cup. But I think in 10
or 15 years …’]
Ich will mich bei der Schulleiterin beschweren. Morgen früh …
[‘I want to complain to the headmistress. Tomorrow morning …’]
zu ihr; gehen
[‘to her; to go’]
Wir haben kein Biltong mehr. Wenn unser Besuch weg ist …
[‘We’re out of biltong. When our visitors are gone …’]
[‘to the mall; to
Meine Freunde haben einen neuen Fußball gekauft. Morgen …
[‘My friends have bought a new football. Tomorrow ...’]
Ich wollte schon immer wissen, wo sie die Tasche gekauft hat.
Wenn ich sie das nächste Mal sehe …
[‘I’ve always wanted to know where she bought the bag. Next
time I see her … ’]
Ich weiß nicht, was der Plan für heute Abend ist. Vielleicht …
[‘I don’t know what the plan is for tonight. Maybe...’]
zu Freunden; fahren
[‘to friends; to
Heute hat’s sehr wenig geregnet. Morgen …
[‘It has rained very little today. Tomorrow...’]
[‘maybe; more to
Ich hab Hunger und hier gibt’s gute Pizza. Nachdem ich
telefoniert hab’ …
[‘I’m hungry and there’s good pizza here. After I made a phone
chauen [NG: ‘to
Ich weiß noch nicht, was ich antworten soll. Aber ich verspreche
dir, morgen …
[I don’t know what to reply yet. But I promise you, tomorrow ...’]
[‘about that; to
Meine Ma ist immer pünktlich. In ein paar Minuten …
[My mom’s always on time. In a few minutes...’]
[‘here; to be’]
Hast du Lust, zum Essen hier zu bleiben? Heute Abend …
[‘Would you like to stay for dinner? Tonight...’]
[NG: ‘to barbecue’]
Ich bin grad ziemlich arm. Aber ich bin mir fast sicher, in zehn
[‘I’m pretty poor right now. But I’m almost sure in ten years...’]
[‘to be rich’]
Die Wolken sind ziemlich dunkel. Bald …
[‘The clouds are pretty dark. Soon...’]
Wenn wir weiter über Reiten reden, …
[‘If we keep talking about riding...’]
[‘to fall asleep’]
Bis jetzt weiß sie noch nichts davon. Aber wenn ich nächste
Woche bei ihr bin …
[‘She doesn’t know anything about it yet. But when I’m with her
[‘it; to tell’]
Das Restaurant ist echt gut. Schon bald …
[‘This restaurant is really good. Soon...’]
viele Gäste; haben
[‘many guests; to
Table 9: Stimuli used to elicit the future tense
184 participants took part in the questionnaire study, i.e. almost 1% of the German-speaking
community in the country (72 female and 108 male participants as well as four persons who
did not provide any information on their gender; no further categories were suggested by these
participants). The age of the participants ranged from 14 to 67 years. Data were collected in
Windhoek, Swakopmund, and Otjiwarongo. The majority of the questionnaires were
completed by students (149 participants). However, also a significant number of adults took
part in each location (35 participants). Some participants took part in both this study and the
study on linking elements.
In their responses, participants used either the present tense or the future tense. As
mentioned above, the use of the present tense for a future event (see (15a)) is common in
Germany and is not specific to NG. For our study, we decided to focus on the auxiliary choice
where NG has a standard-divergent option (i.e. gehen ‘to go’) in addition to werden (literally
‘to become’), see (15b) vs. (15c).
(15) Heute hat’s sehr wenig geregnet. Morgen … [sentence beginning]
‘It has rained very little today. Tomorrow...’
a. regnet es vielleicht mehr
rain.3SG it perhaps more
‘it may rain more’
b. geht es vielleicht mehr regnen
go.3SG it perhaps more rain.INF
‘it will perhaps rain more’
c. wird es vielleicht mehr regnen
become.3SG it perhaps more rain.INF
‘it will perhaps rain more’
The data clearly show that gehen is used as a proper auxiliary in the same sense as werden.
This is, for example, evidenced by the combination of gehen with itself (see (16)).
(16) Ich will mich bei der Schulleiterin beschweren. Morgen früh … [sentence beginning]
‘I want to complain to the headmistress. Tomorrow morning …’
a. geh ich zu ihr gehen
go.1SG I to her go.INF
‘I will go to her’
The results of the questionnaire study show that the participants used werden in most cases.
gehen occurred only in 7% out of 1378 sentences with an auxiliary. It cannot be ruled out that
this proportion underestimates the importance of gehen as a future auxiliary in NG, especially
when considering its frequency in the corpus (see Section 5.1 above). Furthermore, the
questionnaire somewhat resembles typical tasks used in the contexts of language teaching,
which might have led to a bias towards the variant which conforms to SG. This idea is
supported by some revision made by participants on their questionnaire: Some of them initially
used gehen but then “corrected” this to werden. In any case, it is remarkable that there is a non-
marginal number of standard-divergent instances in the data set. This substantiates that gehen
is a significant option in NG.
NG behaves in a similar manner to present-day English: be going to can also be combined with the lexical
verb go (e.g. She is going to go to the cinema). Present-day Dutch, on the other hand, does not permit gaan to be
followed by gaan (*Ik gaa naar de bioscoop gaan) (Nübling & Kempf 2020: 129).
Interestingly, in the whole data set, sollen (‘shall’) is used as a future auxiliary in only three instances. Given
that sal (‘shall’) is regularly used as a future auxiliary in Afrikaans, one might have expected a higher proportion
of such instances.
Of particular interest to us was if any specific patterns concerning the use of gehen vs.
werden could be detected in the responses. The test items (see Table 9) were designed to
investigate the influence of three variables which we consider to be major factors in the choice
of the future auxiliaries in present-day English and Afrikaans or are crucial in the respective
grammaticalisation processes (see Table 10).
The fourth variable is inspired by our analysis
of the corpus data (see below).
How soon will the
event take place (as
viewed by the
• (probably) this year
gehen is more likely to
be used with events
taking place in the
immediate or imminent
Is the agent alive?
• not animate
gehen is more likely to
be used with animate
What is the
probability that the
event will take
• intention (of the
• absolute prediction
(prediction based on
• pure prediction
(prediction not based on
gehen is more likely to
be used with events
which are intentional
followed by predictable
Is the main verb
• not borrowed
gehen is more likely to
be used with borrowed
Table 10: Coding used for the questionnaire study
In the corpus, no level of these variables co-occurs categorically with gehen or werden,
which will briefly be illustrated below, along with some background information on why we
included each variable.
On the variable TIME_OF_EVENT: We observed that the go-future
construction signals events that are about to happen, as well as events taking place in the distant
future (cf. (17) vs. (18)).
Needless to say, there are more variables that might have some impact in one English variety or another
(see, e.g., Tagliamonte, Durham & Smith 2014). Given the limited number of factors that can be tested with our
design, we decided to select those which we consider the most influential ones across (present-day) varieties of
Not every level of the variables we are interested in can be illustrated with corpus data, which is not
surprising given the limited size of our corpus data. This is one reason why we decided to conduct a questionnaire
(17) wenn wir weiter von reitn redn geh ich
if we any.longer about riding talk.1PL go.1SG I
‘If we keep talking about riding, I’m going to fall asleep.’
(18) diesn weihnachtn geh ich glühwein trinken (NAM172M2)
this christmas go.1SG I mulled.wine drink.INF
‘This Christmas I’ll drink mulled wine.’
Historically, in English and Dutch, be going to and gaan were first associated with imminent
future events (Hilpert 2008: 106–123). In present-day English, imminent future events favour
be going to, while events taking place in the far future favour will (Palmer 1974: 147; Nicolle
1997). In present-day Afrikaans, gaan signals both immediate and remote future (Kirsten 2018:
On the variable ANIMACY: In the corpus, we observed that the go-future construction co-
occurs with both animate and inanimate subjects (cf. (19) vs. (20)).
(19) ich geh nix auswendig lern (NAM115M1)
I go.1SG nothing by.heart learn.INF
‘I’m not going to learn anything by heart.’
(20) jetz kak aber nach ner weile geht das alright sein (NAM029W1)
now shit but after a while go.3SG it alright be.INF
‘Now it sucks but after a while it’ll be okay.’
In the grammaticalisation of go-future constructions in English and Dutch, be going to and
gaan first correlated with animate agents capable of movement before extending to non-human
subjects (Hilpert 2008: 106–123). Similarly, in Afrikaans, gaan as a future auxiliary has over
time increasingly been used with inanimate objects (Kirsten 2018: 291).
On the variable INTENTION_PROBABILITY_PREDICTION: In the corpus, we observed that the
go-future construction marks events which are connected to the intentions of human agents as
well as predictions of the likelihood of an event or action taking place (cf. (21) vs. (22)).
(21) ich geh mal bei dir essn gehn (NAM006M1)
I go.1SG sometime at your.place eat.INF go.INF
‘I’m going to come to your place for a meal.’
(22) ich denk die boys gehn sich crackn wenn die sich das
I think.1SG the boys go.3PL REFL crack.INF when they REFL this
‘I think the guys will crack up when they listen to that.’
Historically, in English and Dutch, be going to and gaan were first connected to events that
were associated with an intentional reading (Hilpert 2008: 106–123). In present-day Afrikaans,
gaan is used for objective, epistemic predictions about the future (Kirsten 2019: 99). In present-
day English, be going to expresses an absolute prediction (rather than pure prediction), which
is based on present intentions or causes (König & Gast 2018: 85–87; see also Nübling & Kempf
2020: 131 and Bybee & Pagliuca 1987: 117). Because intention, absolute prediction, and pure
prediction are interconnected as they succeed each other along a continuum representing
the likelihood of the future event taking place, we decided to subsume these aspects under one
On the variable BORROWED_VERB: In the corpus, we observed that the go-future
construction co-occurs with native German verbs and (repeatedly) also with borrowed verbs
(cf. (23) vs. (24)).
(23) doch es geht witzig sein (NAM119W1)
but it go.3SG funny be.INF
‘But it’ll be funny.’
(24) was gehst du chown (NAM171W2)
what go.2SG you eat.INF
‘What are you going to eat?’
This variable was motivated by the assumption that lexical material from Afrikaans or English
could trigger the choice of go given that this construction might be associated with these
In order to examine the distribution of gehen vs. werden in our questionnaire data, a GLMM
Given the relatively high number of intra-linguistic factors we were specifically
interested in, we decided to leave out sociolinguistic factors such as age, gender, and residence
in order to not overload the model with explanatory variables in view of the not overly large
sample size. Instead, we included the four variables described above and two random effects
(SPEAKER and ITEM). The dependent variable AUX has two levels, namely gehen and werden.
The model specification is given in (25).
(25) aux ~ time_of_event + animacy + borrowed_verb + intention_probability_prediction
+ (1|speaker) + (1|item)
Subsequently, all variables that did not significantly improve the quality of the model were
identified. This concerns all explanatory variables with the exception of one – only
TIME_OF_EVENT significantly improves the model quality. Hence, all other fixed effects were
removed. The outcome of the final model version is given in Table 11.
Pr (> |z|)
TIME_OF_EVENT (ordinal variable)
Table 11: Results of a GLMM (auxiliary choice)
The GLMM was calculated according to the procedure described above, see Section 4.
The model discriminates very well (C = 0.990). 97.4% of all observations are correctly
predicted by the model (this rate is significantly higher than the No Information Rate; p >
0.001***). The good model quality is largely due to the random effects, which explains the big
difference between marginal and conditional r2: 0.054 vs. 0.943. Particularly, the random effect
SPEAKER is of high relevance, which means that there is a lot of inter-individual variation in
our data. However, also the fixed effect TIME_OF_EVENT significantly improves the model
The estimate of this fixed effect indicates that the probability of werden increases
significantly the more distant the event is in the future. In other words: proximity to the time
of speaking triggers gehen. Aside from this variable, there is no evidence for the relevance of
any of the other variables described above. Accordingly, our data suggest that the use of gehen
in NG is neither fully congruent with the use of gaan in Afrikaans (where there is no
dispreference for gaan when speaking about the remote future according to Kirsten 2018) nor
with the use of go in English (where we might expect an influence of the variable
INTENTION_PROBABILITY_PREDICTION, see, e.g., König & Gast 2018: 84–87). However, the use
of go in NG is compatible with both contact languages in some cases, e.g. when the speaker
refers to an intended action in the immediate future (see, e.g., Palmer 1974: 147; Nicolle 1997;
König & Gast 2018: 85–87 on English; and Kirsten 2018 on Afrikaans).
The differences between NG and SG are much bigger. In particular, the absence of a
significant effect of ANIMACY in our data points to a fundamental difference: Constructions
with an inanimate agent are not possible in SG, whereas in NG it seems to be irrelevant whether
the agent is animate or not (see (15a)) and the corresponding examples from the corpus in (20)
5.3 gehen/go/gaan as a future auxiliary: A comparative approach
Outside of Namibia, the go-future construction has also been described for South African
German varieties (see Franke 2008: 331–333 for Springbok German and Shah, Biberauer &
Herrmann submitted for Kroondal German). Its use in Springbok German is reported to be
somewhat limited (e.g. in constructions involving animate subjects only), although Franke
(2008: 331) notes that this may be due to the nature of the data collected and postulates that “it
may nonetheless develop into a more common future marker”. In Kroondal German, by
contrast, its use is far more widespread than that described for Springbok German, although
not all options are available in Kroondal German (e.g. go-future constructions with the verb
sterben (‘to die’), of the type illustrated in (13) for NG, are not possible in Kroondal German).
Given that both NG and South African German have the go-future construction and find
themselves in similar contact settings, this naturally begs the question if the emergence of the
go-future in these two varieties is a contact effect from Afrikaans and/or English.
Besides NG and South African German, gehen + infinitive as an immediate future construction has also
been reported for (Canadian) Pennsylvania German, e.g. Ich hab geglaubt – es geht ihm happene! (‘I thought –
it’s gonna happen to him!’) (Burridge 1992: 206). While gehen is described as not being the most common future
auxiliary in (Canadian) Pennsylvania Dutch (Burridge 2002: 224), it is unclear just how widespread this gehen +
infinitive construction is in this variety of German.
‘gaan + infinitive’ and ‘going + infinitive’ are fully grammaticalised future auxiliaries in
present-day Dutch, Afrikaans, and English, respectively (Hopper & Traugott 2003; Hilpert
2008; Kirsten 2019).
Given the parallel developments of gehen into a future auxiliary in NG and South African
German, it is indeed very likely that the emergence of this new feature may have been
reinforced by the influence of fully grammaticalised gaan in Afrikaans and going to in English.
However, there seem to be additional aspects supporting this development – attributing this
phenomenon to contact may, in our opinion, be only part of the explanation.
The development of future markers from verbs or phrases which signal movement towards
a goal follows a well-attested grammaticalisation path (26), which is replicated in many of the
world’s languages, including languages which are genetically and areally unrelated from one
another (Bybee & Pagliuca 1987; Bybee, Perkins & Pagliuca 1994; Heine & Kuteva 2004:
(26) movement path: movement toward a goal > intention > future (Bybee 2012: 967)
This grammaticalisation process may also happen independently, i.e. without contact (see
i.a. Matras 2020: 259 for examples). Also in a number of Germanic languages, future
auxiliaries have developed from verbs of motion (cf. König & Auwera 2002; Harbert 2007).
In many cases, a form of ‘go + infinitive’ or ‘come + infinitive’ is used to express events taking
place in the near future. SG is somewhat unusual when compared to its close family members
within the Germanic family for its lack of use of motion verbs (i.e. gehen, kommen) as a future
auxiliary (Nübling & Kempf 2020: 130).
While Afrikaans and English may have triggered the grammaticalisation process in NG,
given that “semantically similar verbs are likely to follow similar grammaticalisation paths in
languages in contact” (Aikhenvald 2006: 28), there is nothing unusual about gehen developing
into a future auxiliary in NG. Bybee, Perkins and Pagliuca (1994: 253) have found that “the
most frequent [lexical] sources [of future grams] are movement verb constructions”. gehen is
an ideal candidate for grammaticalisation. Lexical items which enter into the
grammaticalisation process are few and have in common that they are fundamental to human
experience and are for the most part culturally independent, i.e. “they tend to be conceived of
in a similar way across linguistic and ethnic boundaries” (Heine, Claudi & Hünnemeyer 1991:
Furthermore, a gehen + infinitive construction already exists in German. This construction
is restricted to activities involving movement by humans and has an aspectual reading (Demske
2020 and Paul et al. 2022). Elspaß & Möller (2003 ff.: map “gehen + Verb”)
empirical data and found that (27) is widespread in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland while
(28) is atypical. In (27), movement to a supermarket is implied, whereas in (28) there is
Along the lines of Trudgill’s (2004: 129–147) remarks on the “theory of drift”, one could argue that these
developments are motivated by a common structural predisposition of the Germanic languages. Against this
backdrop, the innovation in NG would be all the more explicable.
https://www.atlas-alltagssprache.de/gehen-verb/?child=runde (last accessed 10 January 2022)
normally no movement involved; heiraten ‘to marry’ implies a change of state and not a
movement to another location.
(27) Sie geht gleich einkaufen. (Elspaß & Möller 2003)
‘She’s about to go shopping.’
(28) Sie geht in einem halben Jahr heiraten. (Elspaß & Möller 2003)
‘She’s going to get married in half a year.’
While Demske (2020) states that gehen retains most semantic components of the full (motion)
verb in such cases, Paul et al. (2022) show that some speakers of SG accept gehen in
combination with a verb in the infinitive, even when no movement is involved, e.g. when Peter
is already in bed in the case of (29) or when the specified way of movement is not gehen as in
‘to move along on foot’ in the case of the speaker driving to the supermarket and at the same
time uttering the sentence in (30) (see also Nübling & Kempf 2020: 133 on the second aspect).
gehen therefore seems to be losing some of its original semantics as regards to movement and
may be gaining an aspectual reading (Paul et al. 2022). Crucially, however, unlike many of the
other Germanic languages, such as English and Afrikaans, gehen is not used as a future tense
auxiliary in SG (31).
(29) Peter geht schlafen. (Paul et al. 2022: 166)
‘Peter goes to sleep.’
(30) Ich gehe einkaufen. (Paul et al. 2022: 166)
‘I go shopping.’
(31) SG: *Sie geht ihn morgen anrufen.
‘She is going to call him tomorrow.’
Since a construction comprising gehen + infinitive already exists in German, NG is well suited
to develop a go-future construction. As Heine and Kuteva (2005: 40–62) point out, contact-
induced grammatical innovations typically do not start from scratch but build on existing
material. gehen + infinitive has undergone a significant context extension in NG. Following
Heine and Kuteva (2005: 40–41), this can be interpreted as a change from a minor use pattern
to a major use pattern.
Against this backdrop, it does not seem very surprising that NG has developed the go-future
construction: There is a minor used pattern in German which is expanded under the influence
of both major contact languages leading to a change along a cross-linguistically very common
grammaticalisation path. The major obstacle to this development and the reason why the go-
future is not used even more frequently in NG might be standard language ideologies and SG
being enforced in schools (as indicated by some “corrections” made by some participants in
our questionnaire study).
Interestingly, the grammatical innovation in NG does not completely mirror one of the two
major contact languages. As is the case in English, but not Afrikaans, the go-construction in
NG is mainly used for the immediate future. On the other hand, NG seems to resemble
Afrikaans as regards the apparent irrelevance of the distinction between intention, absolute
prediction, and pure prediction (see above). These observations concern preferences, not
categorical differences. Nonetheless, this might indicate that NG has developed a specific
variant of the go-construction.
In this paper, we described the historical and sociolinguistic background of German in
Namibia and we focused on two grammatical innovations in NG. Our analyses show that no
single factor alone can adequately explain their emergence in NG, rather various factors need
to be taken into account to reach a holistic understanding of these properties and to better
understand the dynamics of German in multilingual Namibia.
Given the frequent and intense contact with Afrikaans and English and the structural
similarity of these two contact languages with German, direct transfer of structures from
Afrikaans and English may seem to be an obvious explanation for some of the standard-
divergent features in NG. While language contact undoubtedly plays a significant role (see
Section 5), it cannot explain all grammatical innovations in NG (see Section 4). Even in cases
where language contact serves as an explanatory factor for the emergence of a grammatical
innovation in NG, it is not the sole factor.
In both our case studies, what is crucial is that the constructions in question are not novel.
Both +s+ and gehen + infinitive exist in GG, although in restricted contexts. The grammatical
innovations in NG therefore did not start from scratch, but picked up and built on material
which already existed in the language. Speech communities in multilingual settings are
generally more open to variation and may place reduced importance to linguistic norms, and
the German-speaking community in Namibia is no exception here. Already existing trends
therefore gain ground in the multilingual context of Namibia and their development may be
accelerated by the availability of a parallel structure in the contact languages (as in the case of
the go-future). These extensions of use are not arbitrarily applied but rather follow constraints
also found in GG (as was demonstrated by linking elements in NG occurring in contexts which
would theoretically be possible in GG as well) or patterns which exist cross-linguistically (as
was demonstrated by the go-future construction developing along a common
grammaticalisation path attested cross-linguistically). Standard language ideologies are
nonetheless prevalent in Namibia to some extent and are reinforced through schooling, media,
etc. This might explain why the standard-divergent constructions are not used even more
frequently in NG.
Acknowledgements: We are grateful to Theresa Biberauer, Johanita Kirsten, Erin Pretorius,
and Marianne Zappen-Thomson for inspiring discussions, as well as to two anonymous
reviewers for valuable feedback. Christian Zimmer’s work was funded by the Deutsche
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