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"Central Processing Unit" or CPU is sometimes listed as "Zentrale Verarbeitungs-einheit" or ZVE in dictionaries, but I know in the computing world many English words and abbreviations are used.

To a native speaker, which abbreviation sounds more natural? ZVE or CPU?

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    I have never heard or read "Zentrale Verarbeitungseinheit". See this Google Ngram diagram for an impression how rare this word actually is: – Roland Jul 12 at 8:05
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    books.google.com/ngrams/… – Roland Jul 12 at 8:06
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    Thus, everyone uses CPU. – Roland Jul 12 at 8:06
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    Please note that not all similar abbreviations are used like this. While CPU is used in German instead of the "ZVE" translation, the English PLC is commonly translated and used as SPS in German, and that translation is so widespread that you would get puzzled looks when talking about PLC. – vsz Jul 12 at 8:32
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    ZVE (and other technical terms/abbreviations) stem from a time when German still tried to oppose (like French, which has lost as well, just resisted longer ;) ) against (US-) English language domination in Computer Science. Times long gone. If you read CE books from the 70ies, you'll come across a lot of these. – tofro Jul 12 at 9:03
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If the intended usage is "now" then it is indeed more natural to use CPU.

However, as someone who likes to read books, and prefers references in answers, I can't help to notice that a certain – perhaps anglophobic – element is still present in books about the topic.

Those germanophile authors still use ZVE.

Kai Bruns, Paul Klimsa: "Informatik für Ingenieure kompakt", Springer, 2013.

It seems as if almost many first semester information science scripts list the word CPU, then spell out the abbreviation, and then translate the English word combination to the old German Wortkombination.

Prof. Matthias Werner: "Einführung in die Funktionsweise von Computersystemen, 3. Kapitel, Von-Neumann-Rechner, Einführung in die Funktionsweise von Computersystemen Wintersemester 2018/2019, TU Chemnitz (PDF):

Die Zentrale Verarbeitungseinheit ist das Kernstück jedes Von-Neumann-Rechners
▶ Bezeichnung: CPU = central processing unit (ZVE, Zentrale Verarbeitungseinheit)

And as a recent dictionary now explains: this was mainly a thing in the GDR, where the German ocialists had a particular disdain for Americanisms:

enter image description here Oliver Rosenbaum: "Das expert-Lexikon der EDV-Abkürzungen: 11.111 Begriffe aus Elektronik, Computertechnik und Telekommunikation", expert verlag, 2000.

Like here: "Kernenergie: Zeitschrift für Kernforschung und Kerntechnik", Band 18, Akademie-Verlag., 1975

But of course it was not exclusive for these kind of communists:

"Internationale Tagung der Historiker der Arbeiterbewegung ("IX. Linzer Konferenz") Linz, 11. bis 15. September 1973", Europaverlag, 1975.

The latter plainly from the days when employees from the German branch of IBM were offended if anyone pronounced the abbreviation with English letters instead of Ur-Germanic ones.

That leads to the conclusion that it's a generational thing: for a native speaker generally practically minded and young enough to be vocal with opinions on StackExchange the majority seems to favour CPU while older generations, especially those from the GDR or involved early in information science ZVE won't seem too outlandish.

Strictly answering

Q Do native speakers use ZVE or CPU?

They use both, with a clear edge for CPU now.

Was ist ein Prozessor?
Der weitere Artikel beschreibt ausschließlich diese Bedeutung, am Beispiel des Prozessors eines Computers. Am bekanntesten sind Prozessoren als Hauptprozessor, zentrale Recheneinheit oder (allgemeiner) zentrale Verarbeitungseinheit (kurz ZVE, englisch central processing unit, kurz CPU) für Computer, in denen sie Befehle ausführen

Robotron K1520-Leiterplattensortiment
045-8762
ZVE Zentrale Verarbeitungseinheit enthält auch 128 KByte RAM, für K8915-Rechner

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    This confirms my suspicion that it had mainly been used in the GDR to distinguish oneself from the capitalistic anglophile west. IMHO, this is the best answer by far since it includes sources for the actual use of "ZVE" and motives thereof. – Philip Klöcking Jul 14 at 9:06
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I understand what ZVE means but only if compared to CPU :-) Everyone who understands computer technology should know what a "CPU" is.
If at all then something like "zentrale Verarbeitungseinheit" is used to introduce the word "CPU" in order to use it from now.

It appears strange if someone or a piece of text uses English words for things that have a traditional German translation. This is too much of showing off.
But on the other side as you say there are many very common English terms that have no established German equivalent. CPU definitely is one of those.

  • Could you cite a source? (Have a hunch that ZVE might be West-German lingo up to maybe 70s or East German lingo?) – LangLangC Jul 12 at 6:33
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    If it ever was, then it can safely be considered archaic by now. If authors wanted to avoid the english abbreviation, they are likely to write Prozessor and not to contrive a german acronym instead. Much like RAM, which could be Direktzugriffsspeicher, nobody would really use that. – dlatikay Jul 12 at 10:43
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    @LangLangC This is a personal opinion as a native speaker who is interested in computer science and has never noticeably run into the term ZVE. It's hard to give a source for a word that is not common :-) – puck Jul 12 at 12:24
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In German, only the term CPU (pronounced as German letters) is common. Although I really grew up with computers since the late 1980's, I never heard of the abbreviation ZVE.

German words for the CPU are especially used in theoretical informatics, mostly Zentrale Recheneinheit. There is also Zentraleinheit, which does not necessarily describe the CPU, but - depending on context - also a single host of a distributed system.

  • "pronounced as German letters" Not necessarily. – πάντα ῥεῖ Jul 13 at 7:22
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    @πάνταῥεῖ If you say "Mein Rechner hat eine i5-CPU.", how do you pronounce the abbreviation? The most common pronounciation is as German letters. – rexkogitans Jul 13 at 8:48
  • I use mostly use to pronounce zi pi you rather than ze pee u. But that may be just a personal preference. – πάντα ῥεῖ Jul 13 at 8:49
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I am a computer scientist, working in this environment in different roles since the early 1990ies, and I never before have heard the abbreviation ZVE. I even never before have heard the term "zentrale Verarbeitungseinheit". What I did hear was "zentrale Recheneinheit", but even this term is rare and I've never seen anyone using any abbreviation (like ZRE) for it.

The abbreviation CPU is spoken [t͡seːpeːˈʔuː], i.e. German-style, it is a feminine noun (die CPU) and you can find it in all German Dictionaries like Duden, Wiktionary and DWDS.

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    Nice to have the pronunciation shown! – user02814 Jul 12 at 10:51
  • Are you sure that "zentrale Recheneinheit" refers to a CPU as opposed to an ALU? – DreamConspiracy Jul 14 at 14:41
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    @DreamConspiracy: Yes. CPU = zentrale Recheneinheit. ALU = arithmetisch-logische Einheit – Hubert Schölnast Jul 14 at 19:31
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As a german computer scientist, I would know what is meant when someone says "zentrale Verarbeitungseinheit", even though it sounds stilted and out-of-use, but "ZVE" on its own would completely elude me. So, I would expect the abbreviation "CPU" to be used (although you may want to introduce that abbreviation on first occurence and/or in the glossary, if you're writing something like an academic text).

A german word that is in use for the CPU would be "Prozessor" (or "Hauptprozessor" if the emphasis is on "central" in a multi-processor system). But no abbreviation for that exists (to my knowledge).

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