OT - German (was: Random DWJ discovery of the day)

Colin Fine colin at kindness.demon.co.uk
Wed Mar 30 16:54:30 EST 2005

Dorian E. Gray wrote:

> Colin said...
>> Dorian E. Gray also wrote (just as many weeks ago):
>>> Don't know about the others, but Irish is perfectly sensible 
>>> language which at least has the decency to follow its pronunciation 
>>> rules consistently, unlike English. :-)
>> Hmm. Maybe the rules make sense if you're brought up to the language 
>> (which could also be said of English). Yes I know about caol le caol 
>> agus leathan le leathan, but I *still* don't know which 50% of the 
>> vowels to pronounce and which to ignore in an Irish word.
> What I meant by that statement is that once you know the pronunciation 
> rules in Irish, they don't change; you don't have more than one sound 
> associated with the same letter or combination of letters, nor more 
> than one way of spelling the same sound.  You do have to know the 
> rules first, but once you do, pronunciation and spelling are very 
> straightforward.
I don't think it's as straightforward as you suppose. To pick a word at 
random from a website (http://www.cnag.ie/): Oireachtais (not quite at 
random: an example with several sequences of vowels and no accent marks).
Now I know enough to know that those three pairs <oi>, <ea> and <ai> are 
not in fact digraphs, but in each case one of the the vowels will be 
pronounced and the other is a buffer for a broad or narrow consonant.
What I don't know is which is which. I can make a guess (I think for 
example that neither <i> has vocalic quality) but I don't know. Are you 
saying there are rules for this?

 From your reply to another mail:

> German is not as orderly and predictable as you might think.
> 'a``u' and 'eu' are pronounced identically, as are '-ig' and '-ich' in 
> at least some dialects; and 's' is pronounced differently if it 
> precedes 't' or 'p' in the same syllable (but not if they are in 
> different syllables).

 >What was that square symbol meant to represent?  The only thing I can 
think of is that you were aiming for a u-umlaut - >which is certainly 
*not* pronounced the same as "eu".  U-umlaut and "ue" *are* pronounced 
the same, but that's a >particular spelling convention in German that 
says that if umlauts aren't feasible (e.g. on a non-German typewriter), 
the >letter that should be umlauted is followed by an "e" instead.

I should have written <aeu> for clarity, which is indeed pronounced 
identically to <eu>.

While "ig" and "ich" can indeed be pronounced the same in some dialects, 
they are not the same in Hochdeutsch, which I consider to be the standard.

Consider it the standard all you like, this is not rare or marginal in 
German as a whole.

I can't think of any examples of the "s" phenomenon you mention - can 
you provide some?

Syllable-initial <st> and <sp> are invariably pronounced /sht/ and 
/shp/, but if they happen to come together in separate syllables they're 
/st/ etc. Compare Eistanze and Stanze.
Twenty years ago a German friend gave me a four-word bamboozler, of 
which I can only remember two words: "Muensterlander hinsterbender". The 
two words are apparently parallel, until you realise that the second one 
is 'hin-sterbender' (coming here to die), with the stress on the second 
syllable and a /sht/. Utterly unpredictable unless you know the word (or 
recognise its composition). The other two words were a similar pair.
This actuall came up when I saw 'Maischolle' on the menu at the works 
canteen, and said to him "'Mais' is 'maize', but what's 'Cholle'"? He 
was puzzled for a moment, then realised it was "'Mai-Scholle" (May sole, 
I think). In this case the difference in pronunciation wouldn't be so 
large, but it is still there.

> As for sticking words together: we do that increasingly in English, 
> it's just that we prefer to enhance legibility by leaving spaces 
> between the items (look at most newspaper headlines). It's not really 
> a much different process from German.

 > True, but German does it more, and has been doing it for longer, I 


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