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This article is about the phonology of the Standard German, that is to say the standard pronunciation or accent. It deals with current phonology and phonetics as well as with historical developments thereof as well as the geographical variants and the influence of German dialects.
While the spelling of German is officially standardised by an international organisation (the Council for German Orthography) the pronunciation has no official standard and relies on a de facto standard documented in reference works such as Deutsches Aussprachewörterbuch (German Pronunciation Dictionary) by Eva-Maria Krech et al., Duden 6 Das Aussprachewörterbuch (Duden volume 6, The Pronunciation Dictionary) by Max Mangold and the training materials of radio and television stations such as Westdeutscher Rundfunk and Deutschlandfunk. This standardised pronunciation was invented, rather than coming from any particular German-speaking city, however it is closest to the German spoken in Hanover. Standard German is sometimes referred to as Bühnendeutsch (stage German), but the latter has its own definition and is slightly different.
- 1 Vowels
- 2 Consonants
- 3 Stress
- 4 Acquisition
- 5 Sound changes
- 6 See also
- 7 Notes
- 8 References
- 9 Further reading
- 10 External links
- Wiese (1996) notes that "the length contrast is not very stable before /ʀ/" and that "Meinhold & Stock (1980:180), following the pronouncing dictionaries (Mangold (1990), Krech & Stötzer (1982)) judge the vowel in Art, Schwert, Fahrt to be long, while the vowel in Ort, Furcht, hart is supposed to be short. The factual basis of this presumed distinction seems very questionable. In my own dialect, there is no length difference in the examples quoted. Judgements on vowel length in front of /ʀ/ which is itself vocalized are problematic, in particular if low /a/ precedes." He also states that "laxing of the vowel is predicted to take place in shortened vowels; it does indeed seem to go hand in hand with the vowel shortening in many cases."
- Another observation of Wiese (1996) is that "there is a tendency to neutralize the distinction between [a(ː)], [aɐ̯], and [ɐ]. That is, Oda, Radar, and Oder have final syllables which are perceptually very similar, and are nearly or completely identical in some dialects." He also says that "outside of a word context, [ɐ] cannot be distinguished from [a].
- Close-mid vowels /eː/, /øː/ and /oː/ can be pronounced as narrow diphthongs [eɪ], [øʏ] and [oʊ] in some parts of the Low German speaking area and in some Austrian accents. This is however non-standard.
- The front rounded vowels (excluding /ʏ/) are centralized; in addition, /øː œ/ are lowered ([ø̞̈ː œ̞̈]).
- The schwa [ə] occurs only in unstressed syllables, for instance in besetzen [bəˈzɛt͡sən] ('occupy'). It is often considered a complementary allophone together with [ɛ], which cannot occur in unstressed syllables. If a sonorant follows in the syllable coda, the schwa often disappears so that the sonorant becomes syllabic, for instance Kissen [ˈkʰɪsn̩] ('pillow'), Esel [ˈʔeːzl̩] ('donkey'). The sequence /ər/ is very often realized as [ɐ], for instance besser [ˈbɛsɐ] ('better').
- The long open-mid front unrounded vowel [ɛː] does not exist in many varieties of Standard German and is rendered as the close-mid front unrounded vowel [eː], so that both Ähre ('ear of grain') and Ehre ('honor') are pronounced [ˈʔeːʁə] (instead of "Ähre" being [ˈʔɛːʁə]) and both Bären ('bears') and Beeren ('berries') are pronounced [ˈbeːʁən] (instead of "Bären" being [ˈbɛːʁən]). It is debated whether [ɛː] is a distinct phoneme or even exists (except when consciously self-censoring speech), for several reasons:
- The existence of a phoneme /ɛː/ is an irregularity in a vowel system that otherwise has pairs of long and tense vs. short and lax vowels such as [oː] vs. [ɔ];
- The use of [ɛː] in Standard German is more due to hypercorrection and the synthetically created pronunciation traditionally used on stage (Bühnendeutsch) than to a consistent dialectal difference. Although some dialects (Mundarten) do have an opposition of [eː] vs. [ɛː], there is little agreement across dialects as to exactly which lexical items should be pronounced with [eː] and which with [ɛː];
- The use of [ɛː] is a spelling pronunciation rather than an original feature of the language. It is an attempt to "speak as is printed" (sprechen wie gedruckt) and to differentiate the spellings 〈e〉 and 〈ä〉 (that is, users of the language attempt to justify the appearance of e and ä in writing by making them distinct in the spoken language);
- Speakers with an otherwise fairly standard idiolect find it rather difficult to utter longer passages with all the [eː]s and [ɛː]s in the right places; such persons apparently have to picture the spellings of the words in question, which impedes the flow of speech.
Although there is also a length contrast, vowels are often analyzed according to a tenseness contrast, with long /iː yː uː eː øː oː/ being the tense vowels and short /ɪ ʏ ʊ ɛ œ ɔ/ their lax counterparts. Like the English checked vowels, the German lax vowels require a following consonant, with the notable exception of [ɛː] (which is absent in many varieties, as discussed above). /a/ is sometimes considered the lax counterpart of tense /aː/ in order to maintain this tense/lax division. Short /i y u e ø o/ occur in unstressed syllables of loanwords, for instance in Psychometrie /psyçomeˈtʁiː/ ('psychometry'). They are usually considered allophones of tense vowels, which cannot occur in unstressed syllables.
In northern German varieties influenced by Low German, long /aː/ is often backed and even slightly rounded [ɒː], while short /a/ has a tendency to be pronounced with a strongly fronted quality, almost approaching [æ]. These varieties also consistently lack /ɛː/, and use only /eː/ in its place. Therefore, these varieties could be analyzed as lacking contrasting vowel quantity entirely.
The German diphthongs are /aɪ̯ aʊ̯ ɔʏ̯/, as in Ei /aɪ̯/ ('egg'), Sau /zaʊ̯/ ('sow'), and neu /nɔʏ̯/ ('new'). There is dialectal variation in how these diphthongs are pronounced: /aɪ̯/ may vary in pronunciation between [aɪ̯] and [ae̯]; /aʊ̯/ between [aʊ̯] and [ao̯]; and /ɔʏ̯/ being pronounced [ɔʏ̯] (mostly in Switzerland), [ɔø̯], [ɔɪ̯], and [ɔe̯].
The process of smoothing is absent from standard German, therefore sequences /aɪ̯ə aʊ̯ə ɔʏ̯ə/ are never pronounced *[aə̯ aə̯ ɔə̯] nor *[aː aː ɔː].
Marginally, there are other diphthongs, for instance
- [ʊɪ̯] in interjections such as pfui [p͡fʊɪ̯],
and in loanwords, among others, [œɪ̯ oʊ̯ eɪ̯ o̯a] as in
- Feuilleton [fœɪ̯ˈtʰɔ̃], often [føːiˈtʰɔŋ], [fœɪəˈtʰɔŋ],
- Homepage [ˈhoʊ̯mˌpʰeɪ̯d͡ʒ], often [ˈhoːmˌpʰeːt͡ʃ],
- Croissant [kʰʁ̥o̯aˈsɑ̃], [kʰʁ̥waˈsɑ̃], [kʰʁ̥waˈsaŋ], [kʰʁ̥ɔˈsɔŋ].
Usually, these are not counted among the German diphthongs as German speakers often feel they are distinct marks of "foreign words" (Fremdwörter).
In the varieties where speakers vocalize /r/ to [ɐ] in the syllable coda, a diphthong ending in [ɐ̯] may be formed with every vowel except /ə/, for instance in Tor [tʰoːɐ̯] ('gate') or in Würde [ˈvʏɐ̯də] ('dignity').
With approximately 25 phonemes, the German consonant system exhibits an average number of consonants in comparison with other languages. One of the more noteworthy ones is the unusual affricate /p͡f/.
|Stop||p b||t d||k ɡ||(ʔ)|
|Fricative||sibilant||s z||ʃ ʒ|
|non-sibilant||f v||(θ ð)||ç j||x||h|
- /p͡f/ is bilabial-labiodental, rather than purely labiodental.
- /t d l n/ are either apical alveolar [t̺ d̺ n̺ l̺] as in RP, or laminal denti-alveolar [t̪ d̪ n̪ l̪], as in French. Austrian German often uses the latter.
- /d/ may be pronounced with some retroflexion.
- /l/ is always clear ('i-coloured'), as in most Irish English accents. A few Austrian accents may use a velarized ('u-coloured') [ɫ] instead, but it is considered non-standard.
- /t͡s s z/ can be laminal alveolar [t͡s s z] like /s z/ in RP, laminal post-dental [t̪͡s̪ s̪ z̪] (i.e. fronted alveolar, articulated with the blade of the tongue just behind upper front teeth) as in Polish, or even apical alveolar [t̺͡s̺ s̺ z̺], similar to northern European Spanish /s/. Austrian German often uses the post-dental articulation.
- /s/ and /z/ are always strongly fricated, and /ʃ ʒ/ are fricated more weakly than /s z/.
- /ʃ ʒ t͡ʃ d͡ʒ/ are pronounced with strongly rounded lips (labialization): [ʃʷ ʒʷ t͡ʃʷ d͡ʒʷ]. According to Mangold (2005), they are palato-alveolar, either laminal [ʃ̻ʷ ʒ̻ʷ t̻͡ʃ̻ʷ d̻͡ʒ̻ʷ], which means that they are articulated with the foremost part of the blade of the tongue approaching the foremost part of the hard palate, with the tip of the tongue resting behind either upper or lower front teeth, or apico-laminal [ʃʷ ʒʷ t͡ʃʷ d͡ʒʷ], which means that they are articulated with the tip of the tongue approaching the gums and the foremost part of the blade approaching the foremost part of the hard palate.
- /θ ð/ are apical dental [θ̺ ð̺] and are articulated either against the upper teeth (as in RP) or between the front teeth (as in General American). /θ ð/ are used only in loanwords, mostly from English, such as Thriller /ˈθʁɪlɐ/, though some speakers substitute them with any of /t s f/ and /d z v/, respectively.
- /r/ has a number of possible realizations:
- Apical coronal trill/tap [r̺ ɾ̺], either alveolar [r ɾ], articulated with the tip of the tongue against the alveolar ridge, or dental [r̪ ɾ̪], articulated with the tip of the tongue against the back of the upper front teeth.
- Distribution: Common in the south (Bavaria and many parts of Switzerland and Austria), but it is also found in some speakers in central and northern Germany, especially the elderly.
- Voiced uvular trill [ʀ]. According to Lodge (2009) it is often a tap [ʀ̆] intervocalically, as in Ehre.
- Distribution: Common in formal speech.
- Dorsal fricative [ʁ], which can be reduced to an approximant in an intervocalic position. Note that there isn't a complete agreement about the exact nature of [ʁ]:
- Krech et al. (2009) describe it as "ranging from post-palatal to velar". The post-palatal variant appears before and after front vowels, while the velar variant is used in all other positions;
- Morciniec & Prędota (2005) describe it as post-velar;
- Mangold (2005) describes it as uvular;
- Kohler (1999) writes that "the place of articulation of the consonant varies from uvular in e.g. rot 'red' to velar in e.g. treten 'kick', depending on back or front vowel contexts." He also notes that [ʁ] is devoiced after voiceless plosives and fricatives, especially those within the same word, giving the word treten 'to kick' as an example.
- Distribution: Almost all areas apart from Bavaria and parts of Switzerland.
- Near-open central unrounded vowel [ɐ] is a post-vocalic allophone of (mostly dorsal) varieties of /r/. The non-syllabic variant of it is not always near-open or central; one of the vowel charts in Kohler (1999) contains the following realizations: /iːɐ/, [iːɪ̞]; /yːɐ/, [yːɘ̟]; /uːɐ/, [uːə̠]; /ɪɐ/, [ɪɘ̟]; /ʏɐ/, [ʏə]; /ʊɐ/, [ʊə̠]; /eːɐ/, [eːë̞]; /øːɐ/, [ø̈ːë̞]; /oːɐ/, [oːʌ̈]; /ɛɐ/, [ɛ̝̈ɜ]; /ɛːɐ/, [ɛːɛ̞̈]; /œɐ/, [œ̞̈ɐ]; /ɔɐ/, [ɔ̈ɐ], /aɐ/, [äɐ]; /aːɐ/, [äːɐ]. Note that these values may not be representative of all speakers.
- Distribution: Widespread, but less common in Switzerland.
- Apical coronal trill/tap [r̺ ɾ̺], either alveolar [r ɾ], articulated with the tip of the tongue against the alveolar ridge, or dental [r̪ ɾ̪], articulated with the tip of the tongue against the back of the upper front teeth.
- The voiceless stops /p/, /t/, /k/ are aspirated except when preceded by a sibilant. Many southern dialects do not aspirate /p t k/, and some northern ones do so only in a stressed position. The voiceless affricates /p͡f/, /t͡s/, and /t͡ʃ/ are never aspirated, and neither are any other consonants besides the aforementioned /p t k/.
- The obstruents /b d ɡ z ʒ dʒ/ are voiceless lenis [b̥ d̥ ɡ̊ z̥ ʒ̊ d͜ʒ̊] in southern varieties, and they contrast with voiceless fortis [p t k s ʃ t͡ʃ].
- In Austria, intervocalic /b d ɡ/ can be lenited to fricatives [β ð ɣ] in casual speech.
- /j/ is a fricative, which "can be fricated less strongly than /ç/".
- In standard usage and careful speech, [ʔ] occurs before word stems that begin with a vowel. Although not usually considered a phoneme, it may have phonemic value: will ich /vɪl ʔɪç/ ("will I") vs. willig /ˈvɪlɪç/ ("willing"). In colloquial and dialectal speech, however, /ʔ/ is very often omitted, especially when the word beginning with a vowel is unstressed.
- The phonemic status of affricates is controversial. The majority view accepts /p͡f/ and /t͡s/, but not /t͡ʃ/ or the non-native /d͡ʒ/; some accept none, some accept all but /d͡ʒ/, and some accept all. [d͡ʒ] and [ʒ] occur only in words of foreign origin. In certain varieties, they are replaced by [t͡ʃ] and [ʃ] altogether.
- [ʋ] is occasionally considered to be an allophone of /v/, especially in southern varieties of German.
- [ç] and [x] are traditionally regarded as allophones after front vowels and back vowels, respectively. For a more detailed analysis see below at ich-Laut and ach-Laut. According to some analyses, [χ] is an allophone of /x/ after /a aː/ and according to some also after /ʊ ɔ aʊ̯/.
- Some phonologists[who?] deny the phoneme /ŋ/ and use /nɡ/ instead along with /nk/ instead of /ŋk/. The phoneme sequence /nɡ/ is realized as [ŋɡ] when /ɡ/ can start a valid onset of the next syllable whose nucleus is a vowel other than unstressed /ə/, /ɪ/, or /ʊ/. It becomes [ŋ] otherwise. For example:
- Diphthong /ˈdɪftɔnɡ/ [ˈdɪftʰɔŋ]
- diphthongieren /dɪftɔnˈɡiːʁən/ [ˌdɪftʰɔŋˈɡiːʁən]
- Englisch /ˈɛnɡlɪʃ/ [ˈʔɛŋlɪʃ]
- Anglo /ˈanɡlo/ [ˈʔaŋɡlo]
- Ganges /ˈɡanɡəs/ [ˈɡaŋəs] ~ /ˈɡanɡɛs/ [ˈɡaŋɡɛs]
Ich-Laut and ach-Laut
Ich-Laut is the voiceless palatal fricative [ç] (which is found in the word ich [ʔɪç] 'I'), and ach-Laut is voiceless velar fricative [x] (which is found in the word ach [ax] the interjection 'oh/alas'). Note that Laut [laʊ̯t] is the German word for 'sound, phone'. In German, these two sounds are allophones occurring in complementary distribution. The allophone [x] occurs after back vowels and /a aː/ (for instance in Buch [buːx] 'book'), the allophone [ç] after front vowels (for instance in mich [mɪç] 'me/myself') and consonants (for instance in Furcht [fʊʁçtʰ] 'fear', manchmal [ˈmançmaːl] 'sometimes'). (This happens most regularly: if the r in "Furcht" is spoken as a consonant, we have [ç] pronunciation; however if, as often happens, it is vocalized as [ɐ], resembling the vowel [a], then ch may be realized as [x] and we have [fʊɐ̯xtʰ].)
In loanwords, the pronunciation of potential fricatives in onsets of stressed syllables vary: in the Northern varieties of standard German, it is [ç], while in Southern varieties, it is [kʰ], and in Western varieties, it is [ʃ] (for instance in China: [ˈçiːna] vs. [ˈkʰiːna] vs. [ˈʃiːna]).
The diminutive suffix -chen is always pronounced with an ich-Laut [-çən]. Usually, this ending triggers umlaut (compare for instance Hund [hʊntʰ] 'dog' to Hündchen [ˈhʏntçn̩] 'little dog'), so theoretically, it could only occur after front vowels. However, in some comparatively recent coinings, there is no longer an umlaut, for instance in the word Frauchen [ˈfʀaʊ̯çən] (a diminutive of Frau 'woman'), so that a back vowel is followed by [ç], even though normally it would be followed by a [x], as in rauchen [ˈʀaʊ̯xən] 'to smoke'. This exception to the allophonic distribution may be an effect of the morphemic boundary or an example of phonemicization, where erstwhile allophones undergo a split into separate phonemes.
The allophonic distribution of [ç] after front vowels and [x] after other vowels is also found in other languages, such as Scots, in the pronunciation of light. However, it is by no means inevitable: Dutch, Yiddish, and many Southern German dialects retain [x] (which can be realized as [χ] instead) in all positions. It is thus reasonable to assume that Old High German ih, the ancestor of modern ich, was pronounced with [x] rather than [ç]. And while it is impossible to know for certain whether Old English words such as niht (modern night) were pronounced with [x] or [ç], [ç] is likely (see Old English phonology).
Despite the phonetic history, the complementary distribution of [ç] and [x] in modern Standard German is better described as backing of /ç/ after a back vowel, rather than fronting of /x/ after a front vowel, because [ç] is used in onsets (Chemie [çeˈmiː] 'chemistry') and after consonants (Molch [mɔlç] 'newt'), and is thus the underlying form of the phoneme. This is an example of assimilation.
According to Kohler, the German ach-Laut is further differentiated into two allophones, [x] and [χ]: [x] occurs after /uː oː/ (for instance in Buch [buːx] 'book') and [χ] after /a aː/ (for instance in Bach [baχ] 'brook'), while either [x] or [χ] may occur after /ʊ ɔ aʊ̯/, with [χ] predominating.
Various German consonants occur in pairs at the same place of articulation and in the same manner of articulation, namely the pairs /p-b/, /t-d/, /k-ɡ/, /s-z/, /ʃ-ʒ/. These pairs are often called fortis–lenis pairs, since describing them as voiced–voiceless pairs is inadequate. With certain qualifications, /t͡ʃ-d͡ʒ, f-v/ are also considered fortis–lenis pairs.
The fortis stops /p, t, k/ are aspirated in most varieties. The aspiration is strongest in the onset of a stressed syllable (such as Taler [ˈtʰaːlɐ] 'thaler'), weaker in the onset of an unstressed syllable (such as Vater [ˈfaːtʰɐ] 'father'), and weakest in the syllable coda (such as in Saat [zaːtʰ] 'seed'). All fortis consonants, i.e. /p t k f s ʃ ç x p͡f t͡s t͡ʃ θ/ are fully voiceless.
The lenis consonants /b d g v z ʒ j r d͡ʒ ð/ range from being weakly voiced to almost voiceless [b̥ d̥ ɡ̊ v̥ z̥ ʒ̊ j̥ r̥ d͜ʒ̊ ð̥] after voiceless consonants: Kasbah [ˈkʰasb̥a] 'kasbah', abdanken [ˈʔapʰd̥aŋkʰn̩] 'to resign', rotgelb [ˈʁoːtʰɡ̊ɛlpʰ] 'red-yellow', Abwurf [ˈʔapʰv̥ʊʁf] 'dropping', Absicht [ˈʔapʰz̥ɪçtʰ] 'intention', Holzjalousie [ˈhɔlt͜sʒ̊aluziː] 'wooden jalousie', wegjagen [ˈvɛkj̥aːgn̩] 'to chase away', tropfen [ˈtʰʁ̥ɔp͡fn̩] 'to drop', Obstjuice [ˈʔoːpstʰd͜ʒ̊uːs] 'fruit juice'. They are 'to a large extent voiced' [b d g v z ʒ j r d͡ʒ ð] in all other environments.
The nature of the phonetic difference between the voiceless lenis consonants and the similarly voiceless fortis consonants is controversial. It is generally described as a difference in articulatory force, and occasionally as a difference in articulatory length; for the most part, it is assumed that one of these characteristics implies the other.
In various central and southern varieties, the opposition between fortis and lenis is neutralized in the syllable onset; sometimes just in the onset of stressed syllables, sometimes in all cases.
The pair /f-v/ is not considered a fortis–lenis pair, but a simple voiceless–voiced pair, as /v/ remains voiced in all varieties, including the Southern varieties that devoice the lenes (with however some exceptions. Generally, the southern /v/ is realized as the voiced approximant [ʋ]. However there are southern varieties which differentiate between a fortis /f/ (such as in sträflich [ˈʃtrɛːflɪç] 'culpable' from Middle High German stræflich) and a lenis /f/ ([v̥], such as in höflich [ˈhøːv̥lɪç] 'polite' from Middle High German hovelîch); this is analogous to the opposition of fortis /s/ ([s]) and lenis [z̥].
In most varieties of German, the lenis stops /b d ɡ/ are unvoiced or at most variably voiced (as stated above). Therefore, it would be inaccurate to say that they devoice at the end of a syllable. It is more accurate to say that the opposition between fortis and lenis is neutralized in the syllable coda. (Truly voiced stops, as implied by the transcription [b d g], are found most often in Central German varieties. Some of these even use unaspirated fortis stops [p t k] in either all or some environments.)
Fricatives are truly and contrastively voiced by most speakers. Therefore, these do undergo coda devoicing. It is disputed whether coda devoicing is due to a constraint which specifically operates on syllable codas or whether it arises from constraints which "protect voicing in privileged positions." For those southern speakers who do not use voiced fricatives, again there is no devoicing, but rather fortis-lenis neutralization (as with stops).
As against standard pronunciation rules, in western varieties including those of the Rhineland, coda fortis–lenis neutralization results in voicing rather than devoicing if the following word begins with a vowel. For example, mit uns becomes [mɪd‿ʊns] and darf ich becomes [daʁv‿ɪç]. The same sandhi phenomenon exists also as a general rule in the Luxembourgish language.
In a few southern varieties of German, such as Swiss German, neither coda devoicing nor coda fortis-lenis neutralization occurs.
Stress in German usually falls on the first syllable, with the following exceptions:
- Many loanwords, especially proper names, keep their original stress. E.g. Obama /oˈbaː.ma/
- Nouns formed with Latinate suffixes, such as -ant, -anz, -enz, -ion, -ismus, -ist, -ment, -tät: Idealismus /iːdeː.aːˈlɪsmʊs/ 'idealism', Konsonant /kɔnzoːˈnant/ 'consonant', Tourist /tuːˈʁɪst/ 'tourist'
- Verbs formed with the Latinate suffix -ieren, e.g. studieren /ʃtuˈdiːʁən/ 'to study'. This is often pronounced /iːɐ̯n/ in casual speech.
- Compound adverbs, with her, hin, da, or wo as their first syllable part, receive stress on their second syllable, e.g. dagegen /daˈgeːgən/ 'on the other hand', woher /voˈheːɐ̯/ 'from where'
Moreover, German makes a distinction in stress between separable prefixes (stress on prefix) and inseparable prefixes (stress on root) in verbs and words derived from such verbs. Therefore:
- Words beginning with be-, ge-, er-, ver-, zer-, ent-, emp- and a few others receive stress on the second syllable.
- Words beginning with ab-, auf-, ein-, vor-, and most other prepositional adverbs receive stress on their first syllable.
- Some prefixes, notably über-, unter-, um-, and durch-, can function as separable or inseparable prefixes, and are stressed and unstressed accordingly.
- Rarely, two homographs with such prefixes are formed. They are not strictly homophones. Consider the word, umschreiben. As um•schreiben (separable prefix), it means 'to rewrite', and is pronounced [ˈʔʊmʃʀaɪ̯bən], and its associated noun, die Umschreibung also receives stress on the first syllable - [ˈʔʊmʃʀaɪ̯bʊŋ]. On the other hand, umschreiben (inseparable prefix) is pronounced [ʔʊmˈʃʀaɪ̯bən]. This word means 'to circumscribe', and its associated noun, die Umschreibung ('circumscription') also receives stress on the second syllable - [ʔʊmˈʃʀaɪ̯bʊŋ]. Another example is the word umfahren. With stress on the root ([ʔʊmˈfaːʀən]) it means 'to drive around (an obstacle in the street)', and with stress on the prefix ([ˈʔʊmfaːʀən]) it means 'to drive over' or 'to collide with (an object on the street).'
Like all infants, German infants go through a babbling stage in the early phases of phonological acquisition, during which they produce the sounds they will later use in their first words. Phoneme inventories begin with stops, nasals, and vowels; (contrasting) short vowels and liquids appear next, followed by fricatives and affricates, and finally all other consonants and consonant clusters. Children begin to produce protowords near the end of their first year. These words do not approximate adult forms, yet have a specific and consistent meaning. Early word productions are phonetically simple and usually follow the syllable structure CV or CVC, although this generalization has been challenged. The first vowels produced are /ə/, /a/, and /aː/, followed by /e/, /i/, and /ɛ/, with rounded vowels emerging last. German children often use phonological processes to simplify their early word production. For example, they may delete an unstressed syllable (Schokolade ‘chocolate’ pronounced [ˈlaːdə]), or replace a fricative with a corresponding stop (Dach [dax] ‘roof’ pronounced [dak]). One case study found that a 17-month-old child acquiring German replaced the voiceless velar fricative [x] with the nearest available continuant [h], or deleted it altogether (Buch [buːx] ‘book’ pronounced [buh] or [buː]).
Vowel space development
In 2009, Lintfert examined the development of vowel space of German speakers in their first three years of life. During the babbling stage, vowel distribution has no clear pattern. However, stressed and unstressed vowels already show different distributions in the vowel space. Once word production begins, stressed vowels expand in the vowel space, while the F1-F2 vowel space of unstressed vowels becomes more centralized. The majority of infants are then capable of stable production of F1. It should be noted that the variability of formant frequencies among individuals decreases with age. After 24 months, infants expand their vowel space individually at different rates. However, if the parents’ utterances possess a well-defined vowel space, their children produce clearly distinguished vowel classes earlier. By about three years old, children command the production of all vowels, and they attempt to produce the four cardinal vowels, /y/, /i/, /u/ and /a/, at the extreme limits of the F1-F2 vowel space (i.e., the height and backness of the vowels are made extreme by the infants).
Generally, closed-class grammatical words (e.g. articles and prepositions) are absent from children’s speech when they first begin to combine words. However, children as young as 18 months old show knowledge of these closed-class words when they prefer stories with them, compared to passages with them omitted. Therefore, the absence of these grammatical words cannot be due to perceptual problems. Researchers tested children’s comprehension of four grammatical words: bis [bɪs] ‘up to’, von [fɔn] ‘from’, das [das] ‘the' (neuter singular), and sein [zaɪ̯n] ‘his’. After first being familiarized with the words, eight-month-old children looked longer in the direction of a speaker playing a text passage that contained these previously heard words. However, this ability is absent in six-month-olds.
The acquisition of nasals in German differs from that of Dutch, a phonologically closely related language. German children produce proportionately more nasals in onset position (sounds before a vowel in a syllable) than Dutch children do. German children, once they reached 16 months old, also produced significantly more nasals in syllables containing schwas, when compared with Dutch-speaking children. This may reflect differences in the languages the children are being exposed to, although the researchers claim that the development of nasals likely cannot be seen apart from the more general phonological system the child is developing.
Phonotactic constraints and reading
A 2006 study examined the acquisition of German in phonologically delayed children (specifically, issues with fronting of velars and stopping of fricatives) and whether they applied phonotactic constraints to word-initial consonant clusters containing these modified consonants. In many cases, the subjects (mean age = 5;1) avoided making phonotactic violations, opting instead for other consonants or clusters in their speech. This suggests that phonotactic constraints do apply to the speech of German children with phonological delay, at least in the case of word-initial consonant clusters. Additional research has also shown that spelling consistencies seen in German raise children’s phonemic awareness as they acquire reading skills.
Sound changes and mergers
A merger found mostly in Northern accents of German is that of /ɛː/ (spelled ä, äh) with /eː/ (spelled e, ee, or eh). Some speakers merge the two everywhere, some distinguish them everywhere, others keep /ɛː/ distinct only in conditional forms of strong verbs (for example ich gäbe [ˈgɛːbə] 'I would give' vs. ich gebe [ˈgeːbə] 'I give' are distinguished, but Bären [ˈbeːʁən] 'bears' vs. Beeren [ˈbeːʁən] 'berries' are not. Standard pronunciation of Bären is [ˈbɛːʁən]).
Another common merger is that of /ɡ/ at the end of a syllable with /ç/ or respectively /x/, for instance Krieg [kʰʁ̥iːç] ('war'), but Kriege [ˈkʰʁ̥iːɡə] ('wars'); er lag [laːx] ('he lay'), but wir lagen [ˈlaːɡən] ('we lay'). This pronunciation is frequent all over central and northern Germany. It is characteristic of regional languages and dialects, particularly Low German in the North, where ‹g› represents a fricative, becoming voiceless in the syllable coda, as is common in German (Final-obstruent devoicing). However common it is, this pronunciation is considered sub-standard. Only in one case, in the grammatical ending -ig (which corresponds to English -y), the fricative pronunciation of final ‹g› is prescribed by the Siebs standard, for instance wichtig [ˈvɪçtʰɪç] ('important'). The merger occurs neither in Austro-Bavarian and Alemannic German nor in the corresponding varieties of Standard German, and therefore in these dialects -ig is pronounced [ɪɡ̊].
Many speakers do not distinguish the affricate /pf/ from the simple fricative /f/ in the beginning of a word. The verb (er) fährt ('[he] travels') and the noun Pferd ('horse') are then equally pronounced [fɛɐ̯t]. This occurs especially in regions where /p͡f/ did not originally occur in the local dialects, i.e. northern and western Germany. Some speakers also have peculiar pronunciation for /p͡f/ in the middle or end of a word, replacing the [f] in /p͡f/ with a voiceless bilabial fricative, i.e. a consonant produced by pressing air flow through the tensed lips. Thereby Tropfen 'drop' becomes [ˈtʰʁ̥ɔp͡ɸn̩], rather than [ˈtʰʁ̥ɔpf͡n̩].
Many speakers (especially in the North) who have a vocalization of [ʁ] after [a], merge this combination with long [aː] (i.e. [aʁ] > [aɐ] > [aː]). Hereby, Schaf ('sheep') and scharf ('sharp') are both pronounced [ʃaːf] (even though speakers sometimes falsely believe they still distinguish the two). However, in both Bavarian and Franconian dialects, the latter would always be pronounced [ʃarf] with a distinct [r] sound. Furthermore, in umlaut forms, the difference usually reoccurs: Schäfer [ˈʃɛːfɐ] vs. schärfer [ˈʃɛɐ̯fɐ]. Speakers with this merger also often use [aːç] (instead of formally normal [aːx]) where it stems from original [aʁç]. The word Archen ('arks') is thus pronounced [ˈʔaːçn̩], which makes a minimal pair with Aachen [ʔaːxn̩], making the difference between [ç] and [x] phonemic, rather than just allophonic, for these speakers.
In the standard pronunciation, the vowel qualities /i/, /ɪ/, /e/, /ɛ/, as well as /u/, /ʊ/, /o/, /ɔ/, are all still distinguished even in unstressed syllables. In this latter case, however, many simplify the system in various degrees. For some speakers, this may go so far as to merge all four into one, whence misspellings by schoolchildren such as Bräutegam (instead of Bräutigam) or Portogal (instead of Portugal).
In everyday speech, more mergers occur, some of which are universal and some of which are typical for certain regions or dialect backgrounds. Overall, there is a strong tendency of reduction and contraction. For example, long vowels may be shortened, consonant clusters may be simplified, word-final [ə] may be dropped in some cases, and the suffix -en may be contracted with preceding consonants, e.g. [ham] for haben [ˈhaːbən] ('to have').
When stops occur between two nasals (one being syllabic), they may be replaced by a glottal stop though they still determine the nature of the nasal. Thus, Lampen ('lamps') changes from [ˈlampʰən] to [ˈlamʔm̥]; speakers are often unaware of this.
If the clusters [mp], [lt], [nt], or [ŋk] are followed by another consonant, the stops /p/, /t/ and /k/ usually lose their phonemic status. Thus while the standard pronunciation distinguishes ganz [ɡant͡s] ("whole") from Gans [ɡans], as well as er sinkt [zɪŋktʰ] from er singt [zɪŋtʰ], the two pairs are homophones for most speakers. The commonest practice is to drop the stop (thus [ɡans], [zɪŋtʰ] for both words), but some speakers insert the stop where it is not etymological ([ɡants], [zɪŋktʰ] for both words), or they alternate between the two ways. Only few speakers retain a phonemic distinction.
Middle High German
The Middle High German vowels [ei̯] and [iː] developed into the modern Standard German diphthong [aɪ̯], and [ou̯] and [uː] developed into [aʊ̯]. For example, Middle High German heiz and wîz ('hot' and 'white') became Standard German heiß and weiß. In other dialects, the Middle High German vowels developed differently: Bavarian hoaß and weiß, Ripuarian heeß and wieß, Swiss German heiss and wiiss, Yiddish heys and vays.
The Middle High German diphthongs [iə̯], [uə̯] and [yə̯] became the modern Standard German long vowels [iː], [uː] and [yː] after the Middle High German long vowels changed to diphthongs. In most Upper German dialects, the diphthongs are retained. A remnant of their former diphthong character is shown when [iː] continues to be written ie in German (as in Liebe 'love').
- Pages 1-2 of the book (Deutsches Aussprachewörterbuch) discuss "die Standardaussprache, die Gegenstand dieses Wörterbuches ist" (the standard pronunciation which is the topic of this dictionary). It also mentions "Da sich das Deutsche zu einer plurizentrischen Sprache entwickelt hat, bildeten sich jeweils eigene Standardvarietäten (und damit Standardaussprachen)" (German has developed into a pluricentric language separate standard varieties (and hence standard pronunciations)), but refers to these standards as "regionale und soziolektale Varianten" (regional and sociolectal variants).
- Differences include the pronunciation of the endings -er, -en, and -em.
- Wiese (1996:198)
- Wiese (1996:254)
- Mangold (2005:37)
- von Polenz (2000:151, 175)
- For a detailed discussion of the German consonants from a synchronic and diachronic point of view, see Cercignani (1979).
- Map based on Trudgill (1974:220)
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- Mangold (2005:51)
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- Mangold (2005:53)
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- Kohler (1999:87)
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- Mangold (2005:55)
- clarify] can devoice in nearly every place once the word has become common; w is devoiced in Möwe, Löwe. On the other hand, the keeping to the variety is so standard that doof /do:f/ induced the writing "(der) doofe" even though the standard pronunciation of the latter word is /ˈdoːvə/[
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