German, Vowels

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German ( ) is a West Germanic language. It derives most of its vocabulary from the Germanic branch of the Indo-European language family. A number of words are derived from Latin and Greek, and fewer from French and English. Widely spoken languages which are most similar to German include Luxembourgish, Yiddish, Dutch, the Frisian languages, English and the Scandinavian languages.


In German, vowels (excluding diphthongs; see below) are either short or long, as follows:

Short is realized as in stressed syllables (including secondary stress), but as in unstressed syllables. Note that stressed short can be spelled either with e or with ä (for instance, hätte 'would have' and Kette 'chain', rhyme). In general, the short vowels are open and the long vowels are close. The one exception is the open sound of long Ä; in some varieties of standard German, and have merged into , removing this anomaly. In that case, pairs like Bären/Beeren 'bears/berries' or Ähre/Ehre 'spike (of wheat)/honour' become homophonous (see: Captain Bluebear).

In many varieties of standard German, an unstressed is not pronounced , but vocalised to .

Whether any particular vowel letter represents the long or short phoneme is not completely predictable, although the following regularities exist:

  • If a vowel (other than i) is at the end of a syllable or followed by a single consonant, it is usually pronounced long (e.g. Hof ).
  • If a vowel is followed by h or if an i is followed by an e, it is long.
  • If the vowel is followed by a double consonant (e.g. ff, ss or tt), ck, tz or a consonant cluster (e.g. st or nd), it is nearly always short (e.g. hoffen ). Double consonants are used only for this function of marking preceding vowels as short; the consonant itself is never pronounced lengthened or doubled, in other words this is not a feeding order of gemination and then vowel shortening.

Both of these rules have exceptions (e.g. hat 'has' is short despite the first rule; Mond , 'moon' is long despite the second rule). For an i that is neither in the combination ie (making it long) nor followed by a double consonant or cluster (making it short), there is no general rule. In some cases, there are regional differences: In central Germany (Hessen), the o in the proper name "Hoffmann" is pronounced long while most other Germans would pronounce it short; the same applies to the e in the geographical name "Mecklenburg" for people in that region. The word Städte 'cities', is pronounced with a short vowel by some (Jan Hofer, ARD Television) and with a long vowel by others (Marietta Slomka, ZDF Television). Finally, a vowel followed by ch can be short (Fach 'compartment', Küche 'kitchen') or long (Suche 'search', Bücher 'books') almost at random. Thus, Lache is homographous between Lache 'puddle' and Lache 'manner of laughing' (colloquial) or lache! 'laugh!' (imperative).

German vowels can form the following digraphs (in writing) and diphthongs (in pronunciation); note that the pronunciation of some of them (ei, äu, eu) is very different from what one would expect when considering the component letters:

Additionally, the digraph ie generally represents the phoneme , which is not a diphthong. In many varieties, an at the end of a syllable is vocalised. However, a sequence of a vowel followed by such a vocalised is not considered a diphthong: Bär 'bear', er 'he', wir 'we', Tor 'gate', kurz 'short', Wörter 'words'.

In most varieties of standard German, syllables that begin with a vowel are preceded by a glottal stop .

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