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

Belben, Philip (Energy Wholesale) Philip.Belben at eon-uk.com
Thu Mar 31 04:01:50 EST 2005

Colin and Dorian are discussing German pronunciation rules:  (Sorry, can't remember who said what)

>> 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.
> Okay, now I see what you're getting at.
> But surely that's a perfectly regular pair of pronunciations, where in
> the first case the pronunciation of "st" is modified by the leading
> "ei" and in the second case, the pronunciation of "st" is dictated by
> the fact that it's the start of the word.

'Fraid not.  It is not the spelling that determines this, it is how the words are put together.  Not even many Germans know this, but there are examples such as:
which if it means "wax tube" (wachs-tube) is pronounced -/s/- and if it means "guard room" (wach-stube) is pronounced -/sh/-

> Admittedly, I did say that one spelling had one sound, which was
> probably oversimplistic of me.  But I don't see a problem with a sound
> being modified by a preceding syllable, as long as the modification
> happens *every* time that preceding syllable is involved.  The
> spelling/pronunciation relationship is still regular.

Alas, no, there is an etymological element.

Ironically enough there _used_ to be a stronger tie to spelling, especially in print: you could ligate "st", but the ligature was only used if the S and the T came from the same component word, so the ligature was always pronounced /sht/ (at the beginning of a syllable, anyway).  In the example above, one would be written "W a c h s t u b e" and the other "W a c h st u b e".

There are other pronunciation rules that depend on etymology rather than spelling.  Words beginning BEE or BEA are pronounced /be:/ if they are monolithic, and /be'e/ pr /be'a/ if "be" is a prefix.  You can tell from the spelling only in the sense that you can learn a list of written words that take one or the other form.  Consider:
Beeren (/be:ren/), berries
beehren (be'e:ren), to honour
beerben (be'e:rben), to inhereit
Since the be- prefix is usually found on verbs, and the monolithic forms are generally nouns, you can get clues from capital letters.  But these are not always reliable. (Verbs can begin sentences, or have nouns formed from them)

Oh yes, muesli.  Don't forget that in some Swiss dialects this is spelt with both the umlaut _and_ the e, although üe (hope this comes out OK) is no longer used in Hochdeutsch.  (Sorry, can't tell you any more - this exhausts my knowledge of Swiss German)


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