Friday, 19 July 2013

German Alphabet

German has often been viewed by non-Germans as a harsh sounding language. That may be due in part to the more guttural pronunciation of certain German alphabet sounds and diphthongs and perhaps even a still lingering effect of old WWII movie stereotypes. Once non-German speakers familiarize themselves with German’s different sounds however, another kind of poetic beauty will unfold before them that has been revered worldwide in the works of many German greats, such as Goethe, Schiller through prose and song.
How does the German alphabet differ from the English alphabet?

Unique Traits of the German Alphabet:

  • More than 26 letters in the alphabet - German has a so called extended latin alphabet
  • The extra letters are ä, ö, ü and ß
  • The pronunciation of some of these letters do not exist in the English language
  • Several letters are pronounced more from the back of the throat: g, ch, r (though in Austria the r is trilled).
  • The W in German sounds like the V in English
  • The V in German sounds like the F in English
  • Most of the time the S in German sounds like Z in English when placed at the beginning of a word followed by a vowel.
  • The letter ß is the only letter that will never be at the beginning of a word.

     Das Deutsche Alphabet/ The German Alphabet
    Buchstabe/ LetterAussprache des Buchstabenamens/ Pronunciation of letter nameAussprache des Buchstaben - wie in/ Sound of Letter - as inBeispiele/ Examples
    A aahastronautder Adler (eagle), Januar (January)
    B b approximate: baybabyder Bruder (brother), aber (but)
    C capproximate: tsaycreative, Celcius (soft c sound in German sounds like ts)der Chor, der Christkindlmarkt (south German term for der Weihnachtsmarkt/ Christmas market), Celcius
    D dapproximate: daydollarDienstag (Tuesday), oder (or)
    E e approximate: ayelegantessen (to eat), zuerst (first)
    F feffeffortder Freund (friend), offen (open)
    G g approximate: gaygorgeous gut (good), gemein (mean)
    H hhaahammerder Hammer, dieMühle (mill)
    I ieehIgorder Igel (porcupine), der Imbiss (snack), sieben (seven)
    J jyotyellowdas Jahr (year), jeder (each)
    K kkahcameldas Kamel, der Kuchen (cake)
    L lelllovedie Leute (people), das Land (land)
    M m emmander Mann, die Ameise
    N n ennicenicht (not), die Münze (coin)
    O o ohovenOstern (Easter),rot (red)
    P p approximate: paypartydie Polizei (police), der Apfel
    Q q koocoraldas Quadrat (square), die Quelle (source)
    Note: All German words start with qu (kw - sound)
    R r approximate: errichder Rücken (the back), der Stern (star)
    S s eszoo, shine, mousesummen (to hum), schön (pretty, nice), die Maus
    T t approximate: taytyrantder Tyrann, acht (eight)
    U u oohou sound in you die Universität (university), der Mund (mouth)
    V v fowfatherder Vogel (bird), die Nerven (nerves)
    W w approximate: vayvandie Wange (cheek), das Schwein (pig, wieviel (how much)
    X x ixsounds like kzdas Xylofon/ Xylophon, die Hexe (witch)
    Note: There are hardly any German words that start with X
    Y y uep-si-lohnyellowdie Yucca, der Yeti
    Note: There are hardly any German words that start with Y.
    Z z tsetsounds like tsdie Zeitung (newspaper), der Zigeuner (gypsy)

    Umlaut + ß

    Aussprache des Buchstaben/ Pronunciation of LetterBeispiele/ Examples
    äsounds similar to the e in melonähnlich (similar), gähnen (to yawn)
    ö sounds similar to the i in girlÖsterreich (Austria), der Löwe (lion)
    ü no equivalent nor approximate sound in Englishüber (over),müde (tired)
    ß (esszet) double s sound heiß (hot),die Straße (street)

    As in English German vowels can be pronounced as long or as short ones. Often, it changes the meaning of the word entirely.
    For example,
    Kahn (boat) – kann ((I) can)
    Offen (open) – Ofen (oven)
    If there is a letter "h" used after the vowel, the vowel will be pronounced as a long one.
    Diphthongs and Digraphs
    Diphthongs are complex sounds. Basically, you pronounce two tones as one gliding from the first one tot he second, the first sound being highlighted.
    There are a few Diphthongs in German. Please refer tot he table below.
    eiIt is pronounced as the English word "eye"
    aiSame as the above
    auIt is pronounced as "ow" in the word "cow"
    euIt is pronounced as "oy" in the word "boy"
    äuSame as the above

    Digraphs are two (or more) letters that are read/pronounced as one sound. Again, please refer tot he table below.
    aaAh (as in the alphabet)
    ahSame as the above
    ähAs "ä" in the alphabet (long sound)
    chThis one is a little tricky.
    After the letters a, o, u and the diphthong  au, it is pronounced similar to the guttural ch in Scottish "loch". Remember the Loch Ness Monster?
    After any other letter ch is a palatal sound. Unfortunately, there is no equivalent for this sound in English.
    schAs English "sh"
    phMostly in words with Greek origin, same as English "philosophy"
    ieIt is pronounced as English "ee" in the word "green"
    eeNow, do not confuse this with the English "ee". This one is pronounced as a long sound "eh" (take the "e" from "red" and make it sound long)
    ehSame as the above
    thIn some foreign words it is pronounced as "t" (for example, "Theater"). While it looks like an English word it does not sound the same way.
    ckIt is pronounced as "k"
    spIt is pronounced as "shp"
    stIt is pronounced as "st"
    tschIt is pronounced as "ch"

    These are the basic rules of German pronunciation. Before we finish our first lesson I would like to draw your attention to a few more rules.
    If the German word ends with b, d, g these letters are pronounced as sounds p, t, k respectively.
    Freund (friend)
    Genug (enough)
    Lob (praise)
    Germanv is pronounced as English f. Please try not to confuse the two.
    German w is pronounced as English v. Again, please try not to confuse the two.
    German h is silent after the vowel (but we already figured that one our, didn't we?)
    German z is pronounced as ts, and nothing like the English z.
    English Zoo – German Zoo (Tsoh)
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