I was very happy when I finally had my residence permit, die Aufenthaltserlaubnis, so happy in fact that I was telling everyone and in doing so, getting some strange looks (well, more strange than I usually get when I am attempting to speak German). I realized quickly that the problem was where I was breaking this word up into syllables. The correct break, so that the different pieces that make up this compound word stay intact, is like this (the • indicate the breaks between syllables):
But I was breaking it like this:
Now there are two things that happen when you change the breaks in die Aufenthaltserlaubnis. The first is as mentioned, the integrity of the words forming the compound is compromised, there is no word or stem *serlaubnis. The second issue is with the pronunciation. If you are trying to say *serlaubnis, you begin with a /z/ and if you are trying to say halts, you finish with an /s/.
A second word that threw me off in terms of syllabification is the verb sich beeilen – to hurry (oneself). Was I to put the second e with the first e or with the i or was this a new vowel sound composed of all three? The answer is that you put the second e with the i and add a glottal stop (the sound you make when you say “uh-oh” or include all over the place if you speak certain British dialects) to make doubly sure your listener knows where the boundary falls, indicated here by underlining the vowel that is preceded by the glottal sto:p sich beeilen. This is in part because eilen is itself a verb that means “to hurry” or that something “is urgent” and thus be– is a prefix. The glottal stop (der Stimmritzenverschlusslaut) also is used because it commonly precedes vowels when they are the first letter of a word or a stressed syllable. In the one piece of linguistic research I looked at on this point, there is evidence the you see a glottal stop most often with a content word (rather than a function word(, when the initial vowel is stressed (rather than unstressed) and with a slow speech rate. Thus many native speakers of German may be unaware of them popping up regularly in speech – one example those of you who are native speakers might try is der Arm (“arm”) and arm (“poor”), in the former the tendency is to begin with a glottal stop.
In some cases, the presence of a glottal stop affects the meaning, compare these two verbs which you can hear pronounced at this site:
vereisen – Die Scheibe vereist schnell “The window pane gets icy quickly”
verreisen – Er verreist morgen nach Polen “He travels to Poland tomorrow”
In the first case the prefix ver– has been added to the noun das Eis and then the new form is converted to a verb (according to Canoo this is a fairly common word formation process and so likely deserves a post all its own at some point). Verreisen is formed from adding the prefix ver– to the verb reisen. Using the glottal stop helps to indicate that the break is between the ver and eisen. Not to include it would be a bit like my combining the s from halts with Erlaubnis.
With that return to where we started, thus beendet this post!
[…] written before about the challenges of syllabification in learning German in Uh-oh, a stop and Breaking up is hard to do and this morning I finally figured out a mistake I was making in […]