Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Umlaut

On first sight one of the things that throws off many people when they see the German language is the Germanic umlaut. To them it is a weird symbol reserved for metal bands;

If you're reading this site, you're probably more familiar with something like this.

An umlaut is really a way to let you know that a vowel should be stressed more like following vowel. In German the word umlaut is a compound of the words "um" - "around" , and "laut"- "sound" . I went a little nuts the past couple days trying to find the IPA symbols, and pronunciation for vowels with the umlaut. While not a vowel, the German letter ß ( sharp s) for example is pronounced [s] .

The sharp s is a pretty cool letter in itself.

These pronunciations do exist and Wikipedia does list them on the page for German grammar. However simply knowing the chart is not enough because there are special rules regarding syllable stress, and of course exceptions for certain words.

I don't think I should really be surprised after searching out for something I thought I really wanted, that it's not what I wanted at all. The chart still is important though, because you are going to want to know when someone is using an umlaut. The use of the umlaut can help designate past tense "fallen - fällen" "to fall - to fell" , "Fuß - Füße" "foot - feet" , "lang - Länge" "long - length" . Although rules for written and spoken German can be different.

In my search for videos on pronouncing these letter, I was bombarded with videos of different bands named Umlaut. I wish I was fucking kidding. I did find a cute video that covers the pronunciation of German words with the umlaut in them. It sort of supports the suggestion that has been made to me concerning the pronunciation of them; which is to stress any vowels that have an umlaut above them.


Part of me now thinks that the pronunciation and inflection of words is impossible to teach through the format of text because there is so many different ways people say, or can say words. There's the classic example of "ghoti" spelling the word "fish" . Hell, I pronounced the word "pint" like "stint" until the junior year of high-school! While I lay awake in bed and contemplate German phonology, check out that video, and leave a comment or e-mail me if you have something interesting to say!

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