Tag Archives: pronunciation

Extra, extra, read all about it

Walking by a local branch of Heymann, I noticed this book about Adele:


While I am an Adele fan, it was the subtitle that caught my eye — Eine außergewöhnliche Karriere — for the word außergewöhnlich, which I would translate as “extraordinary” in this context (although dict.cc offers “strange” as the top translation by a substantial margin). “Extraordinary” as in “out of the ordinary” just as an “extraterrestrial” — Außerirdischer is “out of this world.” As a prefix “extra-” comes from the Latin extra meaning “outside” and has taken on the additional meaning of “beyond” over time.

The pronunciation of “extraordinary” is in itself somewhat remarkable. Pons.eu gives these two options: /ɪkˈstrɔ:dənəri, Am -ˈstrɔ:rdəneri/. What you should note is that, in contrast with extraterrestrial /ekstrətəˈrestriəl/, there is glottal stop or pause before the /s/ sound, separating the prefix into two parts.

“Extra” and extra can also be stand-alone words. According to Google, there are 10 meanings for the noun form, 2 for the adjective form and 2 for the adverb form of the word “extra” in English. According to Pons.eu, in German extra has 5 meanings as an adverb and 1 as a noun. The way I first learned one of the German meanings for this word was from Extr@ the soap opera “especially for” (extra) language learners that tells the story of Sascha and Anna, their neighbor Nic and Sascha’s pen pal from the US, Sam. The other word from this series that stuck with me is der Tierpräparator — “the taxidermist” — a job that is rather out of the ordinary and thus a word that is relatively useless in everyday conversation, except perhaps to show off that you have been watching Extr@.

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Lieb und wert halten

Lieblingswörter. Manche haben ein paar. „Gemütlichkeit“ oder „Heimat“ oder „Schadenfreude“, zum Beispiel. Natürlich interessiere ich mich für welche Wörter beliebt sind. Aber ich interessiere mich auch für jene, dass die meisten Ausländer eine riesige Herausforderung finden und den Grund dafür. Einige von diesen haben schwierige Laute wie »ch« oder »ü« oder »ö«, dass in anderen Sprachen nicht gibt. Es gibt auch Laute, die man kennt, aber wie die auf Deutsch verbinden können merkwürdig ist: »Pfanne, Pfote und Pfund«. Außerdem gibt es Laute, wo die entsprechenden Buchstaben nicht gleich sind. Auf Spanisch buchstabiert man den Laut /b/ mit »b« oder »v«.    Offensichtlich kann man Synonyme lernen, um solche Wörter zu vermeiden, aber dass ist nicht immer möglich.

Wörter mit viele verschiedene Bedeutungen können genauso anstrengend sein. „Einsatz“ zum Beispiel. Auch schwer ist wenn die Bedeutung  von dem Geschlecht abhängig ist: „die Leiter“ und „der Leiter“. Es gibt auch die sogenannten falsche Freunde. „Gift“ und gift — poison und „Geschenk“ — oder „bald“ und bald soon und „glatzköpfig“. Früher beschrieb ich verwirrte Bandwurmwörter wie „Unkraut“ und „Unheil“, wo die Bedeutung das Ganzes nur in einer schwachen Beziehung mit den Teilen steht.

Schließlich gibt es Wörter wo die Grammatik eine Rolle spielt. Wenn man einige maskuline Wörter wie „der Name“ und „der Löwe“ verwendet, muss man außer dem Nominativ ein »n« oder »en« hinzufügen. „Der Mann hat einen Löwen. Am Geburtstag des Löwen geht der Mann mit dem Löwen in den Zirkus“. Dies bringt mich auf Wörter, dass häufig in Dialog in Deutsch diskutiert sind: „das Jahr“ und „der Monat“. Während eine Vorstellungsrunde muss man fast immer die Mehrzahl dieser Wörter benutzen —„Ich heiße Katherine. Seit dreieinhalb Jahren/Monaten wohne ich in Hamburg“. Glücklicherweise gibt es eine Regel. Endet eine Mehrzahl ohne »n« oder »s«— wie „die Häuser“ und „die Schlüssel“ — dann hinzufügen wir im Dativ (und nur im Dativ) ein »n« — „bei den Häusern“ und „mit den Schlüsseln“.

Nun, da ich all das geschrieben, denke ich, dass diese schwierige Wörter eigentlich reizvoll sind.


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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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English, German or Heavy Metal?

I’ve 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 trying to figure out an English name. On my run, I go by a column covered in posters for upcoming musical events. I’ve been looking at one of them for a few days and not been able to make sense of the band’s name. My first mistake was to imagine from the somewhat gothic writing that they were a German group (not so, they hail from Texas) rather than a heavy metal one (true). My second mistake flowed from assuming it was a German name and thus should be broken up in German fashion. The third problem is that running and trying to read gothic-style letters at the same time is not as simple as it might first appear. (For those interested in the use of gothic or blackletter fonts, here’s a piece on some of their musical and cultural resonances: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/inspiredby/2014/10/typography-from-gothic-to-blackletter.html)

Today I stopped. I looked hard. The mysterious HELLY|FAT or HELLY|FAH was suddenly clearly HELL|YEAH. Phew.

Which got me to pondering the words bisherig and bisher. The first was familiar to me from having moved so often and needing to provide my Bisherige Anschrift – “previous address.” However, I’d never heard this word spoken and made the English-language-driven mistake of syllabifying it in my head as bish•er•i•ge where the “sh” is rendered as [ʃ] as sch would be in German. (Also at play may be the fact that my last name “Hirsh” was anglicised by my grandfather, making it easier for me to see  »sh« as an alternate spelling for »sch« and I’m not helped by the fact that there are many, many loan words with the »sh« spelling and the [ʃ] pronunciation in German.) The actual syllabification and pronunciation is [bɪsˈhe:rɪgə].

I was disabused of this error when I first heard the word bis•her [bɪsˈhe:ɐ̯] – “until now” or “up until now” or “currently” or “yet” – spoken last Saturday. More than the usual number of participants had arrived for Dialog in Deutsch, and so although there was only one leader, we split into two groups. Luckily, at the Wednesday group, one of the leaders had brought a number of sentence stems to start us off on a discussion of our pasts (and to help us practice the perfect tense). The one with bisher in it was Die schwerste Aufgabe in meinem Leben war bisher… It turned out that for many of the group this most difficult task was making or coming to terms with the decision to live in Germany.





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Sagt ein Fehler mehr als 1000 Wahrheiten?!

Heute habe ich das Buch »Grammatik in Bildern Deutsch als Fremdsprache – Jeder kann Grammatik lernen« bei der Bücherhalle Barmbek gefunden. Es ist total neu, in 2015 veröffentlich. Ich liebe den Begriff: man kann mit Bilder schneller lernen und Ideen länger im Kopf behalten. Aber ein guter Begriff allein sind gar nicht genug. Der schriftliche Inhalt muss auch wertvoll sein. Da liegt der Hase im Pfeffer. Als ich das Buch las, fand ich auf Seite 12 zwei Fehler. Die Beispiele für die Laute [b] und [ʒ] sind falsch. Es steht, dass in dem Wort »Ball« der »a« mit [b] verbindet ist. Und auch das, dass in dem Wort »Garage« der »G« mit [ʒ] verbindet ist.

Laut    Bespiel
[b]       Ball
[ʒ]       Garage

Wenn man frisch alphabetisiert ist, könnte man an das glauben und danach sehr verwirrt sein.

Mit meinen Verdacht erregte, fuhr ich fort. Und ich war aus allen Wolken fallen! Auf Seite 18 steht es, dass »das« der Bestimmte Artikel im Genitiv von »der« und »das« steht. Ist Ihr Name Hase?! In diesem Moment hörte ich mit diesem Buch auf. Hätte ich nicht demnächst einen Termin, würde ich direkt zurück nach der Bücherhalle gefahren bin. Ein großer Verlag wie PONS sollte nicht Mumpitz schrieben! Dieser Fall hat mein Vertrauen erschüttert.

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Angling for Ghoti

In English we have some pretty odd spelling-to-sound correspondences, one of which is “GH” (see more here: http://www.howtospell.co.uk/gh-words). Just how far the sound can stray from spelling is illustrated with the neologism “ghoti” – pronounced like “fish” because GH can represent /f/ as in “tough,” O can represent /ɪ/ as in “women” and TI is frequently pronounced /ʃ/ as in “action” (more on ghoti and its friend ghoughpteighbteau – pronounced “potato” – here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghoti).

Intriguingly, many of these GH-words are cognates with German where the GH corresponds to CH:

das Recht – “right”
das Lachen – “laugh”
durch – “through”
tochter – “daughter”
acht – “eight”

As German has much more regular spelling-to-sound correspondences, there are two main options for the pronunciation of CH, namely /ç/ as in durch /dʊrç/ and /x/ as in acht [axt] (this latter spelling-sound pattern appears for some speakers of English in the Scots Gaelic word “loch”). The third possibility is to pronounce CH as /ks/ as in Achse /aksə/ which corresponds generally to the spelling X in English – die Achse is “axel” or “axis.” (Note that when there is a morphological boundary between S and CH, for example in am reichstenreich-sten “richest,” the /ks/ pronunciation is not used.)

There are some loan words in German where the pronunciation of CH does not follow one of these three patterns. For example, there are numerous streets in Hamburg that are called Etwas+Chausee /ʃɔˈse:/. Following the “ghoti” example, perhaps this could be spelled *Tiausee?!

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The American Hedgehog?

Taking advantage of the beautiful weather, a group of us decided to have a “BBQ” (or “barbecue” or “barbeque” or “B-B-Q” or “barbie” or “cookout” or with a different sentence structure “to grill”) – die Grillparty – in Stadtpark which happily for me is very close to where I live. This is very popular in Stadtpark and as a result there are Grillzone – “grilling areas” and Grilltonne – “large metal rubbish containers for coals.”

At the end of the evening when we were trying to find all of our things in the dark, we ran across a hedgehog – der Igel – which is pronounced like the English word “eagle” – [ˈi:gl̩] (which is der Adler in German). Between the eagle being the national bird of the US and the word Igel starting with a capital “I” which as an English word is pronounced [aɪ] rather than [ˈi:], I fear that this is a word that will always mark me as a non-native speaker. A thought which makes me think »I, wie ekelig« – “Ugh, that’s horrible” – and »I wo« -“No way!” – although it seems highly likely that I will need to forget how these phrases are spelled if I want to use them properly!

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Hang onto your cats

Last night a friend told me that he wouldn’t be staying out too late because he had einen Kater – a hangover. Now der Kater is also a “tomcat” and thus when you say that you have a hangover to someone who knows only this latter meaning (perhaps from having read “Puss in Boots” or Der Gestiefelte Kater), he or she might wonder why you are sharing that you have a male cat at home and why this has resulted in the headache and nausea you’d also mentioned. Tantalizingly, although I couldn’t find an etymological connection to cats or die Katzen, one German word for “vomit,” or perhaps more accurately “puke,” is die Kotze and “to puke” is kotzen.

Now mistaking cats and hangovers would be amusing enough on its own, but somehow der Kater also brought to mind Mr Kotter, the teacher played by Gabe Kaplan in the 70s series “Welcome Back Kotter.” (Note: I probably spent too much time last week talking about the bad old days of television in the US: I was trying to explain the word der Hausmeister and the best I could come up with was Dwayne Schneider (Pat Harrington) from “One Day at a Time” which then spiraled off into whether with the name “Schneider” he was supposed to be of German heritage…). Of course der Kater is /katɐ/ and if “Kotter” were a German word it would be /kɔtɐ/ but for most North American speakers of English this contrast is diluted as /a/ and /ɔ/ rarely appear without being elongated – /a:/ and /ɔ:/ – and without this elongation the sound difference between these vowels can be difficult to perceive. Nevertheless, I think this character is now forever re-christened in my mind as Mr Hangover.

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Sometimes less is more

Last week I had an interesting experience to do with pronunciation (die Aussprache) in a Dialog in Deutsch group with two Spanish speakers. One of these women was trying to explain that she was working as a volunteer – eine Freiwillige – but it came out sounding like •Freibillige because the relationship between the /v/ and the /b/ sound in Spanish. Both frei and billige are words in German and they appear together online in the context Versandkosten frei billige <etwas> – “free shipping [on] cheap <somethings>” so I am guessing that this added to the comprehension issue for the native speakers present. For me, with only a bit of German to interfere, and some knowledge of Spanish, it was clear what she was trying to say. Indeed, I am not even sure that I would have noticed the error but for the blank faces and the fact that they instantly cleared up when I said Freiwillige with a strong emphasis on the pronunciation of the /v/ sound.

I’m sure it isn’t unusual for one non-native speaker to be able to understand another non-native speaker better than a native speaker who is part of the same conversation because both non-native speakers are struggling. In addition, there is a sense of community among non-native speakers that centers around the desire to communicate and the frequent sense that the right word is just out of reach. If you can search your own word bank and pull out something that might help the other person express him or herself, you get a nice jolt of satisfaction from being helpful. And as many models of learning stress, helping someone else is a great well to build your own skills. I don’t think I’ll be forgetting the meaning or the pronunciation of Freiwilligefrei or billige any time soon, at least not voluntarily.

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HH – Ha-Ha

When you learn a new language, you also have to learn new names for the letters of the alphabet (and in some cases a new alphabet or even a whole new writing system/systems). It is particularly important to learn the letters that spell out your name in order to be sure that it is spelled correctly (it can be very hard to change an official document once a particular spelling has been recorded!). For me, there is the additional issue that while my last name is German (see What’s in a Name), the spelling was changed during WWII to appear less German, making it Hirsh, ohne C – where C pronounced tseh as which sounds something like “hay” but with a slightly shorter vowel [tsé]. To spell it out in full, I must say in German ha, eeh (similar but a bit shorter vowel than “ee” in English), err, ess, ha (and last night I learned that there is a somewhat well-known joke that one doesn’t say Hirsh heiße ich quickly or it could be heard as Hier scheiße ich).

For those of who know me from my work with personality type, you will not be surprised to learn that I am often tripped up when I fail to remember that “I” is roughly “ee” and that “E” is roughly “ay” (and “A” is roughly “ah”!); remembering that “J” is “yot” is not nearly as difficult. I can well imagine that there are some challenges in the reverse direction when German type practitioners need to refer to Extraversion (“ee” – E) and Introversion ( as in “high” or “eye” or “I” the pronoun – I).

Remembering that my first name begins with kah (K) rather than “kay” as in “hay” hasn’t given me any trouble, so far. Nor has Q being called kuh rather than “kyew” as in “cue” been very challenging.

The mnemonic I use to remember two other letters whose names are different in German is the short form for Volkswagen – VW – which is fau weh or roughly “fow as in cow and vay (vé) as in hay.” In addition, I regularly have to say the name of the website for transit info here in Hamburg, HVV, therefore I get a lot of practice with both ha and fau. I still need to find an Eselsbrücke for Z – tsett, ß – ess-tsett or scharfes S – and Y – üppsilon, suggestions gratefully received.

For the first time today, I was thinking about the letter names when I read out a Hamburg license/number plate and I realized that it began ha-ha, or HH, and had a little chuckle (pun fully intended).

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