I, E, I, E, Oh!

Have you ever had a sense of panic that you might have been mispronouncing something for years and no one ever told you? I had such a moment recently when I was reviewing the variety of ways you can form plural nouns in German. There is a subcategory of words that end in »e« (or unstressed »el« or »er«) where there is no need to add an extra »e« when forming their plural forms. Two examples from this list that I use regularly are die Energie and die Familie. When seeing them together on the list of words that cannoo.net refers to as e-Tilgung bei Endung -en (“e-deletion triggered by an -en ending”), I was suddenly thrown into doubt about how their final syllables – »gie« and »lie« – were pronounced.

What’s additionally challenging about this is that one of the first mnemonics you are given for German pronunciation is that with the »ie« and »ei« combinations you pronounce them by saying the name of the second letter of the combo in the ENGLISH alphabet. Therefore »ie« is pronounced like the letter “E” and »ei« is pronounced like the letter “I.”

With doubt sometimes come enlightenment, however. In this case, I discovered that there is a pronunciation rule that governs final »ie« in German (you can read about it and listen to some examples here: http://joycep.myweb.port.ac.uk/pronounce/vowelie.html). In a nutshell, because the stress in Energie falls on the final syllable [enɛrˈgi:], the »ie« is pronounced as you would expect, namely a “long e” [i:] sound as in the English word “bee.” On the other hand, because the stress falls on the second syllable in  Familie [faˈmi:lə] (i.e., the final syllable is unstressed), the »ie« is pronounced [ə] similarly to the final syllable of the North American pronunciation of the English word “cafeteria” [kæfəˈtɪriə].

What is fabulous about learning this pronunciation rule is that I can now purchase parsley – die Petersilie – at the Isemarkt with a confident [ə] on the end! The only other question is then glatt oder kraus.

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One thought on “I, E, I, E, Oh!

  1. Beate says:

    Go for “glatt” if you want to have better taste, choose “kraus” if you want it more typical German. We were only introduced to the glatte Petersilie by the “Gastarbeiter” who came in the 60s and brought so many wonderful veggies with them 😉

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