Standard German phonology

The phonology of Standard German is the standard pronunciation or accent of the German language. It deals with current phonology and phonetics as well as with historical developments thereof as well as the geographical variants and the influence of German dialects.

While the spelling of German is officially standardised by an international organisation (the Council for German Orthography) the pronunciation has no official standard and relies on a de facto standard documented in reference works such as Deutsches Aussprachewörterbuch (German Pronunciation Dictionary) by Eva-Maria Krech et al.,[1] Duden 6 Das Aussprachewörterbuch (Duden volume 6, The Pronunciation Dictionary) by Max Mangold and the training materials of radio and television stations such as Westdeutscher Rundfunk, Deutschlandfunk, or Schweizer Radio und Fernsehen. This standardised pronunciation was invented, rather than coming from any particular German-speaking city. Standard German is sometimes referred to as Bühnendeutsch (stage German), but the latter has its own definition and is slightly different.[2]


Monophthongs of standard German, from Mangold (2005:37). The nasalized vowels appear only in loanwords.


Monophthong phonemes of Standard German
Front Central Back
unrounded rounded unrounded rounded
short long short long short long short long
Close ɪ ʏ ʊ
Close-mid øː (ə)
Open-mid ɛ ɛː œ (ɐ) ɔ
Open a

Some scholars[3] treat /ə/ as an unstressed allophone of /ɛ/. Likewise, some scholars[3] treat /ɐ/ as an allophone of the unstressed sequence /ər/. The phonemic status of /ɛː/ is also debated - see below.


Although there is also a length contrast, vowels are often analyzed according to a tenseness contrast, with long /iː, yː, uː, eː, øː, oː/ being the tense vowels and short /ɪ, ʏ, ʊ, ɛ, œ, ɔ/ their lax counterparts. Like the English checked vowels, the German lax vowels require a following consonant, with the notable exception of [ɛː] (which is absent in many varieties, as discussed below). /a/ is sometimes considered the lax counterpart of tense /aː/ in order to maintain this tense/lax division. Short /i, y, u, e, ø, o/ occur in unstressed syllables of loanwords, for instance in Psychometrie /psyçomeˈtʁiː/ ('psychometry'). They are usually considered allophones of tense vowels, which cannot occur in unstressed syllables (unless in compounds).

Northern German varieties influenced by Low German could be analyzed as lacking contrasting vowel quantity entirely:

Phonemic status of /ɛː/

The long open-mid front unrounded vowel [ɛː] does not exist in many varieties of Standard German and is rendered as the close-mid front unrounded vowel [], so that both Ähre ('ear of grain') and Ehre ('honor') are pronounced [ˈʔeːʁə] (instead of "Ähre" being [ˈʔɛːʁə]) and both Bären ('bears') and Beeren ('berries') are pronounced [ˈbeːʁən] (instead of "Bären" being [ˈbɛːʁən]). It is debated whether [ɛː] is a distinct phoneme or even exists, except when consciously self-censoring speech,[21] for several reasons:



Diphthongs of standard German, from Mangold (2005:37)
Ending point
Front Back
Open-mid ɔʏ̯
Open aɪ̯ aʊ̯

The process of smoothing is absent from standard German, so the sequences /aɪ̯ə, aʊ̯ə, ɔʏ̯ə/ are never pronounced *[aə̯, aə̯, ɔə̯] or *[aː, aː, ɔː].


Marginally, there are other diphthongs, for instance

The following usually are not counted among the German diphthongs as German speakers often feel they are distinct marks of "foreign words" (Fremdwörter). These appear only in loanwords:

In the varieties where speakers vocalize /r/ to [ɐ] in the syllable coda, a diphthong ending in [ɐ̯] may be formed with every vowel except /ə/ and /ɐ/:

German diphthongs ending in [ɐ̯] (part 1), from Kohler (1999:88)
German diphthongs ending in [ɐ̯] (part 2), from Kohler (1999:88)
Diphthong Example
Phonemically Phonetically IPA Orthography Translation
/ɪr/ [ɪɐ̯] [vɪɐ̯t] wird he/she/it becomes
/iːr/ [iːɐ̯]1 [viːɐ̯] wir we
/ʏr/ [ʏɐ̯] [ˈvʏɐ̯də] Würde dignity
/yːr/ [yːɐ̯]1 [fyːɐ̯] für for
/ʊr/ [ʊɐ̯] [ˈvʊɐ̯də] wurde I/he/she/it became
/uːr/ [uːɐ̯]1 [ˈʔuːɐ̯laʊ̯p] Urlaub holiday
/ɛr/ [ɛɐ̯] [ʔɛɐ̯ft] Erft Erft
/ɛːr/ [ɛːɐ̯]1 [bɛːɐ̯] Bär bear
/eːr/ [eːɐ̯]1 [meːɐ̯] mehr more
/œr/ [œɐ̯] [dœɐ̯t] dörrt he/she/it dries
/øːr/ [øːɐ̯]1 [høːɐ̯] hör! (you (sg.)) hear!
/ɔr/ [ɔɐ̯] [ˈnɔɐ̯dn̩] Norden north
/oːr/ [oːɐ̯]1 [toːɐ̯] Tor gate
/ar/ [aɐ̯] [haɐ̯t] hart hard
/aːr/ [aːɐ̯]1 [vaːɐ̯] wahr true
^1 Wiese (1996) notes that the length contrast is not very stable before non-prevocalic /r/[28] and that "Meinhold & Stock (1980:180), following the pronouncing dictionaries (Mangold (1990), Krech & Stötzer (1982)) judge the vowel in Art, Schwert, Fahrt to be long, while the vowel in Ort, Furcht, hart is supposed to be short. The factual basis of this presumed distinction seems very questionable."[28][29] He goes on stating that in his own dialect, there is no length difference in these words, and that judgements on vowel length in front of non-prevocalic /r/ which is itself vocalized are problematic, in particular if /a/ precedes.[28]
According to the "lengthless" analysis, the aforementioned "long" diphthongs are analyzed as [iɐ̯], [yɐ̯], [uɐ̯], [ɛɐ̯], [eɐ̯], [øɐ̯], [oɐ̯] and [aɐ̯]. This makes non-prevocalic /ar/ and /aːr/ homophonous as [aɐ̯] or [aː]. Non-prevocalic /ɛr/ and /ɛːr/ may also merge, but the vowel chart in Kohler (1999) shows that they have somewhat different starting points - mid-centralized open-mid front [ɛ̽] for the former, open-mid front [ɛ] for the latter.[10]
Wiese (1996) also states that "laxing of the vowel is predicted to take place in shortened vowels; it does indeed seem to go hand in hand with the vowel shortening in many cases."[28] This leads to [iɐ̯], [yɐ̯], [uɐ̯], [eɐ̯], [øɐ̯], [oɐ̯] being pronounced the same as [ɪɐ̯], [ʏɐ̯], [ʊɐ̯], [ɛɐ̯], [œɐ̯], [ɔɐ̯]. This merger is usual in the Standard Austrian accent, in which e.g. Mor 'bog' is often pronounced [mɔɐ̯]; this, in contrast with the Standard Northern variety, also happens intervocalically, along with the diphthongization of the laxed vowel to [Vɐ̯], so that e.g. Lehrer 'teacher' is pronounced [ˈlɛɐ̯ʁɐ][30] (the corresponding Standard Northern pronunciation is [ˈleːʁɐ]). Another feature of the Standard Austrian accent is complete absorption of [ɐ̯] by the preceding /ɑ, ɑː/, so that e.g. rar 'scarce' is pronounced [ʁɑː].[30]


With approximately 25 phonemes, the German consonant system has an average number of consonants in comparison with other languages. One of the more noteworthy ones is the unusual affricate /p͡f/.[31]

Labial Dental/
Palatal Velar/
Nasal m n ŋ
Plosive fortis p t k (ʔ)
lenis b d ɡ
Affricate fortis p͡f t͡s t͡ʃ
lenis (d͡ʒ)
Fricative sibilant fortis s ʃ
lenis z (ʒ)
non-sibilant fortis f (θ) ç x h
lenis v (ð) j
Lateral l
Rhotic r

Ich-Laut and ach-Laut

Ich-Laut is the voiceless palatal fricative [ç] (which is found in the word ich [ʔɪç] 'I'), and ach-Laut is the voiceless velar fricative [x] (which is found in the word ach [ax] the interjection 'oh', 'alas'). Note that Laut [laʊ̯t] is the German word for 'sound, phone'. In German, these two sounds are allophones occurring in complementary distribution. The allophone [x] occurs after back vowels and /a aː/ (for instance in Buch [buːx] 'book'), the allophone [ç] after front vowels (for instance in mich [mɪç] 'me/myself') and consonants (for instance in Furcht [fʊʁçt] 'fear', manchmal [ˈmançmaːl] 'sometimes'). (This happens most regularly: if the r in Furcht is pronounced as a consonant, ch represents [ç]; however if, as often happens, it is vocalized as [ɐ], resembling the vowel [a], then ch may represent [x], yielding [fʊɐ̯xt].)

In loanwords, the pronunciation of potential fricatives in onsets of stressed syllables varies: in the Northern varieties of standard German, it is [ç], while in Southern varieties, it is [k], and in Western varieties, it is [ʃ] (for instance in China: [ˈçiːna] vs. [ˈkiːna] vs. [ˈʃiːna]).

The diminutive suffix -chen is always pronounced with an ich-Laut [-çən].[77] Usually, this ending triggers umlaut (compare for instance Hund [hʊnt] 'dog' to Hündchen [ˈhʏntçn̩] 'little dog'), so theoretically, it could only occur after front vowels. However, in some comparatively recent coinings, there is no longer an umlaut, for instance in the word Frauchen [ˈfʀaʊ̯çən] (a diminutive of Frau 'woman'), so that a back vowel is followed by a [ç], even though normally it would be followed by a [x], as in rauchen [ˈʀaʊ̯xən] ('to smoke'). This exception to the allophonic distribution may be an effect of the morphemic boundary or an example of phonemicization, where erstwhile allophones undergo a split into separate phonemes.

The allophonic distribution of [ç] after front vowels and [x] after other vowels is also found in other languages, such as Scots, in the pronunciation of light. However, it is by no means inevitable: Dutch, Yiddish, and many Southern German dialects retain [x] (which can be realized as [χ] instead) in all positions. It is thus reasonable to assume that Old High German ih, the ancestor of modern ich, was pronounced with [x] rather than [ç]. While it is impossible to know for certain whether Old English words such as niht (modern night) were pronounced with [x] or [ç], [ç] is likely (see Old English phonology).

Despite the phonetic history, the complementary distribution of [ç] and [x] in modern Standard German is better described as backing of /ç/ after a back vowel, rather than fronting of /x/ after a front vowel, because [ç] is used in onsets (Chemie [çeˈmiː] 'chemistry') and after consonants (Molch [mɔlç] 'newt'), and is thus the underlying form of the phoneme. This is an example of assimilation.

According to Kohler,[78] the German ach-Laut is further differentiated into two allophones, [x] and [χ]: [x] occurs after /uː, oː/ (for instance in Buch [buːx] 'book') and [χ] after /a, aː/ (for instance in Bach [baχ] 'brook'), while either [x] or [χ] may occur after /ʊ, ɔ, aʊ̯/, with [χ] predominating.

Fortis–lenis pairs

Various German consonants occur in pairs at the same place of articulation and in the same manner of articulation, namely the pairs /p-b/, /t-d/, /k-ɡ/, /s-z/, /ʃ-ʒ/. These pairs are often called fortis–lenis pairs, since describing them as voiced–voiceless pairs is inadequate. With certain qualifications, /t͡ʃ-d͡ʒ/, /f-v/ are also considered fortis–lenis pairs.

Fortis-lenis distinction for /ʔ, m, n, ŋ, l, r, h/ is unimportant.[79]

The fortis stops /p, t, k/ are aspirated in many varieties. The aspiration is strongest in the onset of a stressed syllable (such as Taler [ˈtʰaːlɐ] 'thaler'), weaker in the onset of an unstressed syllable (such as Vater [ˈfaːtʰɐ] 'father'), and weakest in the syllable coda (such as in Saat [zaːtʰ] 'seed'). All fortis consonants, i.e. /p, t, k, f, s, ʃ, ç, x, p͡f, t͡s, t͡ʃ, θ/[79] are fully voiceless.[80]

The lenis consonants /b, d, ɡ, v, z, ʒ, j, r, d͡ʒ, ð/[79] range from being weakly voiced to almost voiceless [b̥, d̥, ɡ̊, v̥, z̥, ʒ̊, j̥, r̥, d͜ʒ̊, ð̥] after voiceless consonants:[80] Kasbah [ˈkasb̥a] ('kasbah)', abdanken [ˈʔapd̥aŋkn̩] ('to resign'), rotgelb [ˈʁoːtɡ̊ɛlp] ('red-yellow'), Abwurf [ˈʔapv̥ʊʁf] ('dropping'), Absicht [ˈʔapz̥ɪçt] ('intention'), Holzjalousie [ˈhɔlt͜sʒ̊aluziː] ('wooden jalousie'), wegjagen [ˈvɛkj̥aːɡn̩] ('to chase away'), tropfen [ˈtʁ̥ɔp͡fn̩] ('to drop'), Obstjuice [ˈʔoːpstd͜ʒ̊uːs] ('fruit juice'). Mangold (2005) states that they are "to a large extent voiced" [b, d, g, v, z, ʒ, j, r, d͡ʒ, ð] in all other environments,[79] but some studies have found the stops /b, d, ɡ/ to be voiceless word/utterance-initially in most dialects (while still contrasting with /p, t, k/ due to the aspiration of the latter).[81]

/b, d, ɡ, z, ʒ/ are voiceless in most southern varieties of German. For clarity, they are often transcribed as [b̥, d̥, ɡ̊, z̥, ʒ̊].

The nature of the phonetic difference between the voiceless lenis consonants and the similarly voiceless fortis consonants is controversial. It is generally described as a difference in articulatory force, and occasionally as a difference in articulatory length; for the most part, it is assumed that one of these characteristics implies the other.

In various central and southern varieties, the opposition between fortis and lenis is neutralized in the syllable onset; sometimes just in the onset of stressed syllables, sometimes in all cases.

The pair /f-v/ is not considered a fortis–lenis pair, but a simple voiceless–voiced pair, as /v/ remains voiced in all varieties, including the Southern varieties that devoice the lenes (with however some exceptions).[82] Generally, the southern /v/ is realized as the voiced approximant [ʋ]. However, there are southern varieties which differentiate between a fortis /f/ (such as in sträflich [ˈʃtrɛːflɪç] 'culpable' from Middle High German stræflich) and a lenis /f/ ([v̥], such as in höflich [ˈhøːv̥lɪç] 'polite' from Middle High German hovelîch); this is analogous to the opposition of fortis /s/ ([s]) and lenis [z̥].

Coda devoicing

In varieties from Northern Germany, lenis stops in the syllable coda are realized as fortis stops. This does not happen in varieties from Southern Germany, Austria or Switzerland.[83]

Since the lenis stops /b, d, ɡ/ are unvoiced or at most variably voiced (as stated above), this cannot be called devoicing in the strict sense of the word because it does not involve the loss of phonetic voice.[84] More accurately, it can be called coda fortition or a neutralization of fortis and lenis sounds in the coda. Fricatives are truly and contrastively voiced in Northern Germany.[85] Therefore, the fricatives undergo coda devoicing in the strict sense of the word.[84] It is disputed whether coda devoicing is due to a constraint which specifically operates on syllable codas or whether it arises from constraints which "protect voicing in privileged positions."[86]

As against standard pronunciation rules, in western varieties including those of the Rhineland, coda fortis–lenis neutralization results in voicing rather than devoicing if the following word begins with a vowel. For example, mit uns becomes [mɪd‿ʊns] and darf ich becomes [daʁv‿ɪç]. The same sandhi phenomenon exists also as a general rule in the Luxembourgish language.[87]


Stress in German usually falls on the first syllable, with the following exceptions:

Moreover, German makes a distinction in stress between separable prefixes (stress on prefix) and inseparable prefixes (stress on root) in verbs and words derived from such verbs. Therefore:



Like all infants, German infants go through a babbling stage in the early phases of phonological acquisition, during which they produce the sounds they will later use in their first words.[88] Phoneme inventories begin with stops, nasals, and vowels; (contrasting) short vowels and liquids appear next, followed by fricatives and affricates, and finally all other consonants and consonant clusters.[89] Children begin to produce protowords near the end of their first year. These words do not approximate adult forms, yet have a specific and consistent meaning.[88] Early word productions are phonetically simple and usually follow the syllable structure CV or CVC, although this generalization has been challenged.[90] The first vowels produced are /ə/, /a/, and /aː/, followed by /e/, /i/, and /ɛ/, with rounded vowels emerging last.[89] German children often use phonological processes to simplify their early word production.[89] For example, they may delete an unstressed syllable (Schokolade 'chocolate' pronounced [ˈlaːdə]),[89] or replace a fricative with a corresponding stop (Dach [dax] 'roof' pronounced [dak]).[91] One case study found that a 17-month-old child acquiring German replaced the voiceless velar fricative [x] with the nearest available continuant [h], or deleted it altogether (Buch [buːx] 'book' pronounced [buh] or [buː]).[92]

Vowel space development

In 2009, Lintfert examined the development of vowel space of German speakers in their first three years of life. During the babbling stage, vowel distribution has no clear pattern. However, stressed and unstressed vowels already show different distributions in the vowel space. Once word production begins, stressed vowels expand in the vowel space, while the F1-F2 vowel space of unstressed vowels becomes more centralized. The majority of infants are then capable of stable production of F1.[93] It should be noted that the variability of formant frequencies among individuals decreases with age.[94] After 24 months, infants expand their vowel space individually at different rates. However, if the parents' utterances possess a well-defined vowel space, their children produce clearly distinguished vowel classes earlier.[95] By about three years old, children command the production of all vowels, and they attempt to produce the four cardinal vowels, /y/, /i/, /u/ and /a/, at the extreme limits of the F1-F2 vowel space (i.e., the height and backness of the vowels are made extreme by the infants).[94]

Grammatical words

Generally, closed-class grammatical words (e.g. articles and prepositions) are absent from children's speech when they first begin to combine words.[96] However, children as young as 18 months old show knowledge of these closed-class words when they prefer stories with them, compared to passages with them omitted. Therefore, the absence of these grammatical words cannot be due to perceptual problems.[97] Researchers tested children's comprehension of four grammatical words: bis [bɪs] ('up to'), von [fɔn] ('from'), das [das] ('the' neuter singular), and sein [zaɪ̯n] ('his'). After first being familiarized with the words, eight-month-old children looked longer in the direction of a speaker playing a text passage that contained these previously heard words.[98] However, this ability is absent in six-month-olds.[99]


The acquisition of nasals in German differs from that of Dutch, a phonologically closely related language.[100] German children produce proportionately more nasals in onset position (sounds before a vowel in a syllable) than Dutch children do.[101] German children, once they reached 16 months old, also produced significantly more nasals in syllables containing schwas, when compared with Dutch-speaking children.[102] This may reflect differences in the languages the children are being exposed to, although the researchers claim that the development of nasals likely cannot be seen apart from the more general phonological system the child is developing.[103]

Phonotactic constraints and reading

A 2006 study examined the acquisition of German in phonologically delayed children (specifically, issues with fronting of velars and stopping of fricatives) and whether they applied phonotactic constraints to word-initial consonant clusters containing these modified consonants.[104] In many cases, the subjects (mean age = 5;1) avoided making phonotactic violations, opting instead for other consonants or clusters in their speech. This suggests that phonotactic constraints do apply to the speech of German children with phonological delay, at least in the case of word-initial consonant clusters.[105] Additional research[106] has also shown that spelling consistencies seen in German raise children's phonemic awareness as they acquire reading skills.

Sound changes

Sound changes and mergers

A merger found mostly in Northern accents of German is that of /ɛː/ (spelled ä, äh) with /eː/ (spelled e, ee, or eh). Some speakers merge the two everywhere, some distinguish them everywhere, others keep /ɛː/ distinct only in conditional forms of strong verbs (for example ich gäbe [ˈɡɛːbə] 'I would give' vs. ich gebe [ˈɡeːbə] 'I give' are distinguished, but Bären [ˈbeːʁən] 'bears' vs. Beeren [ˈbeːʁən] 'berries' are not. Standard pronunciation of Bären is [ˈbɛːʁən]).

Another common merger is that of /a/ at the end of a syllable with [ç] or [x], for instance Krieg [kʁ̥iːç] ('war'), but Kriege [ˈkʁ̥iːɡə] ('wars'); er lag [laːx] ('he lay'), but wir lagen [ˈlaːɡən] ('we lay'). This pronunciation is frequent all over central and northern Germany. It is characteristic of regional languages and dialects, particularly Low German in the North, where g represents a fricative, becoming voiceless in the syllable coda, as is common in German (final-obstruent devoicing). However common it is, this pronunciation is considered sub-standard. Only in one case, in the grammatical ending -ig (which corresponds to English -y), the fricative pronunciation of final g is prescribed by the Siebs standard, for instance wichtig [ˈvɪçtɪç] ('important'). The merger occurs neither in Austro-Bavarian and Alemannic German nor in the corresponding varieties of Standard German, and therefore in these regions -ig is pronounced [ɪɡ̊].

Many speakers do not distinguish the affricate /pf/ from the simple fricative /f/ in the beginning of a word. The verb (er) fährt ('[he] travels') and the noun Pferd ('horse') are then equally pronounced [fɛɐ̯t]. This occurs especially in regions where /p͡f/ did not originally occur in the local dialects, i.e. northern and western Germany. Some speakers also have peculiar pronunciation for /p͡f/ in the middle or end of a word, replacing the [f] in /p͡f/ with a voiceless bilabial fricative, i.e. a consonant produced by pressing air flow through the tensed lips. Thereby Tropfen ('drop') becomes [ˈtʁ̥ɔp͡ɸn̩], rather than [ˈtʁ̥ɔpf͡n̩].

Many speakers (especially in the North) who have a vocalization of [ʁ] after [a], merge this combination with long [aː] (i.e. [aʁ] > [aɐ] > [aː] or [äː]). Hereby, Schaf ('sheep') and scharf ('sharp') can both be pronounced [ʃaːf]. This merger does not occur where /aː/ is realised as a back vowel, thus keeping the words distinct as [ʃɑːf] and [ʃaːf]. However, in both Bavarian and Franconian dialects, the latter would always be pronounced [ʃarf] with a distinct [r] sound. Furthermore, in umlaut forms, the difference usually reoccurs: Schäfer [ˈʃɛːfɐ] vs. schärfer [ˈʃɛɐ̯fɐ]. Speakers with this merger also often use [aːç] (instead of formally normal [aːx]) where it stems from original [aʁç]. The word Archen ('arks') is thus pronounced [ˈʔaːçn̩], which makes a minimal pair with Aachen [ʔaːxn̩], making the difference between [ç] and [x] phonemic, rather than just allophonic, for these speakers.

In the standard pronunciation, the vowel qualities /i/, /ɪ/, /e/, /ɛ/, as well as /u/, /ʊ/, /o/, /ɔ/, are all still distinguished even in unstressed syllables. In this latter case, however, many simplify the system in various degrees. For some speakers, this may go so far as to merge all four into one, whence misspellings by schoolchildren such as Bräutegam (instead of Bräutigam) or Portogal (instead of Portugal).

In everyday speech, more mergers occur, some of which are universal and some of which are typical for certain regions or dialect backgrounds. Overall, there is a strong tendency of reduction and contraction. For example, long vowels may be shortened, consonant clusters may be simplified, word-final [ə] may be dropped in some cases, and the suffix -en may be contracted with preceding consonants, e.g. [ham] for haben [ˈhaːbən] ('to have').

When stops occur between two nasals (one being syllabic), they may be replaced by a glottal stop though they still determine the nature of the nasal. Thus, Lampen ('lamps') changes from [ˈlampən] to [ˈlamʔm̩]; speakers are often unaware of this.

If the clusters [mp], [lt], [nt], or [ŋk] are followed by another consonant, the stops /p/, /t/ and /k/ usually lose their phonemic status. Thus while the standard pronunciation distinguishes ganz [ɡant͡s] ('whole') from Gans [ɡans] ('goose'), as well as er sinkt [zɪŋkt] from er singt [zɪŋt], the two pairs are homophones for most speakers. The commonest practice is to drop the stop (thus [ɡans], [zɪŋt] for both words), but some speakers insert the stop where it is not etymological ([ɡants], [zɪŋkt] for both words), or they alternate between the two ways. Only few speakers retain a phonemic distinction.

Middle High German

The Middle High German vowels [ei̯] and [iː] developed into the modern Standard German diphthong [aɪ̯], whereas [ou̯] and [uː] developed into [aʊ̯]. For example, Middle High German heiz /hei̯s/ and wîz /wiːs/ ('hot' and 'white') became Standard German heiß /haɪ̯s/ and weiß /vaɪ̯s/. In some dialects, the Middle High German vowels have not changed, e.g. Swiss German heiss /hei̯s/ and wiiss /viːs/, while in other dialects or languages, the vowels have changed but the distinction is kept, e.g. Bavarian hoaß /hɔɐ̯s/ and weiß /vaɪ̯s/, Ripuarian heeß /heːs/ and wieß /viːs/, Yiddish הײס heys /hɛɪ̯s/ and װײַס vays /vaɪ̯s/.

The Middle High German diphthongs [iə̯], [uə̯] and [yə̯] became the modern Standard German long vowels [iː], [uː] and [yː] after the Middle High German long vowels changed to diphthongs. Most Upper German dialects retain the diphthongs. A remnant of their former diphthong character is shown when [iː] continues to be written ie in German (as in Liebe 'love').


German incorporates a significant number of loanwords from other languages. Loanwords are often adapted to German phonology but to varying degrees, depending on the speaker and the commonness of the word. /ʒ/ and /d͡ʒ/ do not occur in native German words but are common in a number of French and English loan words. Many speakers replace them with /ʃ/ and /t͡ʃ/ respectively (especially in Southern Germany, Austria and Switzerland), so that Dschungel (from English jungle) can be pronounced [ˈd͡ʒʊŋl̩] or [ˈt͡ʃʊŋl̩]. Some speakers in Northern and Western Germany merge /ʒ/ with /d͡ʒ/, so that Journalist (phonemically /d͡ʒʊʁnaˈlɪst ~ ʒʊʁnaˈlɪst/) can be pronounced [ʒʊɐ̯naˈlɪst], [d͡ʒʊɐ̯naˈlɪst] or [ʃʊɐ̯naˈlɪst]. The realization of /ʒ/ as [t͡ʃ], however, is uncommon.[107]

Loanwords from English

Many English words are used in German, especially in technology and pop culture. Some speakers pronounce them similarly to their native pronunciation, but many speakers change non-native phonemes to similar German phonemes:


The sample text is a reading of The North Wind and the Sun. The phonemic transcription treats every instance of [ɐ] and [ɐ̯] as /ər/ and /r/, respectively. The phonetic transcription is a fairly narrow transcription of the educated northern accent. The speaker transcribed in the narrow transcription is 62 years old, and he is reading in a colloquial style.[62] Aspiration, glottal stops and devoicing of the lenes after fortes are not transcribed.

Note that the audio file was recorded by a much younger speaker.

Phonemic transcription

/aɪ̯nst ˈʃtrɪtən zɪç ˈnɔrtvɪnt ʊnt ˈzɔnə | veːr fɔn iːnən ˈbaɪ̯dən voːl deːr ˈʃtɛrkərə vɛːrə | als aɪ̯n ˈvandərər | deːr ɪn aɪ̯nən ˈvarmən ˈmantəl ɡəˌhʏlt var | dɛs ˈveːɡəs daˈheːrkaːm || ziː vʊrdən ˈaɪ̯nɪç | das ˈdeːrˌjeːnɪɡə fyːr deːn ˈʃtɛrkərən ˌɡɛltən zɔltə | deːr deːn ˈvandərər ˈt͡svɪŋən vʏrdə | zaɪ̯nən ˈmantəl ˈapt͡suːˌneːmən || deːr ˈnɔrtvɪnt bliːs mɪt ˈalər ˈmaxt | aːbər jeː ˈmeːr eːr ˈbliːs | dɛstoː ˈfɛstər ˈhʏltə zɪç deːr ˈvandərər ɪn zaɪ̯nən ˈmantəl aɪ̯n || ˈɛntlɪç ɡaːp deːr ˈnɔrtvɪnt deːn ˈkamp͡f ˈaʊ̯f || nuːn ɛrˈvɛrmtə diː ˈzɔnə diː ˈlʊft mɪt iːrən ˈfrɔʏ̯ntlɪçən ˈʃtraːlən | ʊnt ˈʃoːnax ˈveːnɪɡən ˈaʊ̯ɡənˌblɪkən t͡soːk deːr ˈvandərər zaɪ̯nən ˈmantəl aʊ̯s || da mʊstə deːr ˈnɔrtvɪnt ˈt͡suːɡeːbən | das diː ˈzɔnə fɔn iːnən baɪ̯dən deːr ˈʃtɛrkərə var/[111]

The North Wind and the Sun
Traditional fable

Problems playing this file? See media help.

Phonetic transcription

[aɪ̯ns ˈʃtʁɪtn̩ zɪç ˈnɔɐ̯tvɪnt ʊn ˈzɔnə | veːɐ̯ fən iːm ˈbaɪ̯dn̩ voːl dɐ ˈʃtɛɐ̯kəʁə veːʁə | als aɪ̯n ˈvandəʁɐ | dɛɐ̯ ɪn aɪ̯n ˈvaɐ̯m ˈmantl̩ ɡəˌhʏlt vaɐ̯ | dəs ˈveːɡəs daˈheːɐ̯kaːm || zɪ vʊɐ̯dn̩ ˈaɪ̯nɪç | das ˈdeːɐ̯ˌjeːnɪɡə fʏɐ̯ dən ˈʃtɛɐ̯kəʁən ˌɡɛltn̩ zɔltə | dɛɐ̯ dən ˈvandəʁɐ ˈt͡svɪŋː vʏɐ̯də | zaɪ̯m ˈmantl̩ ˈapt͡suːˌneːmː || dɛɐ̯ ˈnɔɐ̯tvɪm ˈbliːs mɪt ˈalɐ ˈmaχt | abɐ jeː ˈmeːɐ̯ ɛɐ̯ ˈbliːs | dɛstoː ˈfɛstɐ ˈhʏltə zɪç dɐ ˈvandəʁɐ ɪn zaɪ̯m ˈmantl̩ aɪ̯n || ˈɛntlɪç ɡaːp dɐ ˈnɔɐ̯tvɪn dəŋ ˈkamp͡f ˈaʊ̯f || nuːn ɛɐ̯ˈvɛɐ̯mtə dɪ ˈzɔnə dɪ ˈlʊfp mɪt iːɐ̯n ˈfʁɔʏ̯ntlɪçn̩ ˈʃtʁaːln | ʊn ˈʃoːnaχ ˈveːnɪɡŋ̍ ˈaʊ̯ɡŋ̍ˌblɪkŋ̍ t͡soːk dɐ ˈvandəʁɐ zaɪ̯m ˈmantl̩ aʊ̯s || da mʊstə dɐ ˈnɔɐ̯tvɪn ˈt͡suːɡeːbm̩ | das dɪ ˈzɔnə fən iːm baɪ̯dn̩ dɐ ˈʃtɛɐ̯kəʁə vaɐ̯][112]

Orthographic version

Einst stritten sich Nordwind und Sonne, wer von ihnen beiden wohl der Stärkere wäre, als ein Wanderer, der in einen warmen Mantel gehüllt war, des Weges daherkam. Sie wurden einig, dass derjenige für den Stärkeren gelten sollte, der den Wanderer zwingen würde, seinen Mantel abzunehmen. Der Nordwind blies mit aller Macht, aber je mehr er blies, desto fester hüllte sich der Wanderer in seinen Mantel ein. Endlich gab der Nordwind den Kampf auf. Nun erwärmte die Sonne die Luft mit ihren freundlichen Strahlen, und schon nach wenigen Augenblicken zog der Wanderer seinen Mantel aus. Da musste der Nordwind zugeben, dass die Sonne von ihnen beiden der Stärkere war.[113]

See also


  1. Pages 1-2 of the book (Deutsches Aussprachewörterbuch) discuss die Standardaussprache, die Gegenstand dieses Wörterbuches ist (the standard pronunciation which is the topic of this dictionary). It also mentions Da sich das Deutsche zu einer plurizentrischen Sprache entwickelt hat, bildeten sich jeweils eigene Standardvarietäten (und damit Standardaussprachen) (German has developed into a pluricentric language separate standard varieties (and hence standard pronunciations)), but refers to these standards as regionale und soziolektale Varianten (regional and sociolectal variants).
  2. Differences include the pronunciation of the endings -er, -en, and -em.
  3. 1 2 See the discussion in Wiese (1996:16–17)
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 See the vowel charts in Mangold (2005:37).
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 Kohler (1999:87)
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 Lodge (2009:87)
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 Morciniec & Prędota (2005:89)
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Catford (1982:172)
  9. "John Wells's phonetic blog: ɘ". Retrieved 28 January 2016.
  10. 1 2 3 Kohler (1999:88)
  11. Wierzbicka & Rynkowska (1992:413)
  12. 1 2 Wiese (1996:8)
  13. 1 2 Krech et al. (2009:24)
  14. E.g. Wierzbicka & Rynkowska (1992)
  15. Wierzbicka & Rynkowska (1992:412). Note that authors state that /ɑ/ can be realized as Polish /a/, i.e. central [ä].
  16. Wierzbicka & Rynkowska (1992:412–415)
  17. 1 2 Moosmüller, Schmid & Brandstätter (2015:342–344)
  18. Wierzbicka & Rynkowska (1992:412)
  19. E.g. by Lodge (2009:86–89) (without length marks, i.e. as /ɑ/ - note that the vowel chart on page 87 places /a/ and /ɑ/ in the same open central position [ä]!), Morciniec & Prędota (2005) (without length marks, i.e. as /ɑ/) and Wierzbicka & Rynkowska (1992).
  20. 1 2 Wiese (1996:254)
  21. 1 2 3 4 von Polenz (2000:151, 175)
  22. 1 2 3 Source: Wiese (1996:11 and 14). On the page 14, the author states that /aɪ̯/, /aʊ̯/ and /ɔʏ̯/ are of the same quality as vowels of which they consist. On the page 8, he states that /a/ is low central.
  23. 1 2 3 See vowel chart in Kohler (1999:87). Note that despite their true ending points, Kohler still transcribes them as /aɪ̯ aʊ̯ ɔɪ̯/, i.e. with higher offsets than those actually have.
  24. Source: Krech et al. (2009:72). Authors do not provide a vowel chart. Rather, they state rather vaguely that "the diphthong [aɛ̯] is a monosyllabic compound consisting of the unrounded open vowel [a] and the unrounded mid front vowel [ɛ]."
  25. Source: Krech et al. (2009:72–73). Authors do not provide a vowel chart. Rather, they state rather vaguely that "the diphthong [aɔ̯] is a monosyllabic compound consisting of the unrounded open vowel [a] and the rounded mid back vowel [ɔ]."
  26. Krech et al. (2009:73). Authors do not provide a vowel chart. Rather, they state rather vaguely that "the diphthong [ɔœ̯] is a monosyllabic compound consisting of the rounded mid back vowel [ɔ] and the rounded mid front vowel [œ]."
  27. 1 2 Wiese (1996:12)
  28. 1 2 3 4 Wiese (1996:198)
  29. Also supported by Tröster-Mutz (2011:20).
  30. 1 2 Moosmüller, Schmid & Brandstätter (2015:342)
  31. For a detailed discussion of the German consonants from a synchronic and diachronic point of view, see Cercignani (1979).
  32. Mangold (2005:45)
  33. 1 2 3 Mangold (2005:47 and 49)
  34. Krech et al. (2009:94 and 96). According to this source, only /l, n/ can be apical alveolar.
  35. Morciniec & Prędota (2005:51–52 and 84). According to this source, only /t, n/ can be apical alveolar.
  36. See the x-ray tracing of /l/ in Ladefoged & Maddieson (1996:184), based on data from Wängler (1961).
  37. Krech et al. (2009:90, 94 and 96)
  38. Morciniec & Prędota (2005:51–52 and 84). According to this source, only /t, n/ can be laminal alveolar.
  39. Krech et al. (2009:90). According to this source, only /t, d/ can be laminal denti-alveolar.
  40. Morciniec & Prędota (2005:51–52, 59, 78 and 84)
  41. See the x-ray tracing of /t/ in Ladefoged & Maddieson (1996:184), based on data from Wängler (1961).
  42. Hamann & Fuchs (2010:14–24)
  43. 1 2 3 4 Moosmüller, Schmid & Brandstätter (2015:341)
  44. 1 2 3 4 Mangold (2005:50 and 52)
  45. 1 2 Krech et al. (2009:79–80). This source talks only about /s, z/.
  46. 1 2 3 Morciniec & Prędota (2005:65 and 75) This source talks only about /s, z/.
  47. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Mangold (2005:50)
  48. 1 2 3 4 5 Mangold (2005:51–52)
  49. 1 2 Krech et al. (2009:51–52)
  50. 1 2 3 4 Morciniec & Prędota (2005:67 and 76)
  51. Mangold (2005:51)
  52. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Mangold (2005:53)
  53. 1 2 3 4 5 Krech et al. (2009:86)
  54. 1 2 Morciniec & Prędota (2005:79)
  55. 1 2 3 Moosmüller, Schmid & Brandstätter (2015:341–342): "SAG features a wide variety of realizations of the trill. In approximately the past 40 years, the pronunciation norm has changed from an alveolar to a uvular trill. The latter is mostly pronounced as a fricative, either voiced or voiceless. Alveolar trills are still in use, mostly pronounced as an approximant.
  56. Morciniec & Prędota (2005:80)
  57. Ladefoged & Maddieson (1996:225 and 229)
  58. Lodge (2009:46)
  59. Ladefoged & Maddieson (1996:225)
  60. Krech et al. (2009:74 and 85)
  61. 1 2 Morciniec & Prędota (2005:81)
  62. 1 2 3 Kohler (1999:86)
  63. Kohler (1999:86–87)
  64. Ladefoged & Maddieson (1996:225 and 233–234)
  65. 1 2 Mangold (2005:52)
  66. Moosmüller (2007:6)
  67. 1 2 Wiese (1996:271)
  68. Krech et al. (2009:49, 92, 97)
  69. Krech et al. (2009:83–84)
  70. Morciniec & Prędota (2005:77–78). The authors transcribe it /ɪ/, i.e. as an approximant.
  71. Wiese (1996:12). The author transcribes it /ɪ/, i.e. as an approximant.
  72. Mangold (2005:51). The author transcribes it /ɪ/, i.e. as an approximant.
  73. Hall (2003:48). The author transcribes it /ɪ/, i.e. as an approximant.
  74. 1 2 Moosmüller, Schmid & Brandstätter (2015:340). The authors transcribe it as /ɪ/, i.e. as an approximant.
  75. e.g. Kohler (1990)
  76. e.g. Wiese (1996)
  77. Wiese (1996:217)
  78. Kohler (1977) and Kohler (1990), as cited in Wiese (1996:210)
  79. 1 2 3 4 Mangold (2005:56)
  80. 1 2 Mangold (2005:55)
  81. Jessen & Ringen (2002:190)
  82. [v] written v can devoice in nearly every place once the word has become common; w is devoiced in Möwe, Löwe. On the other hand, the keeping to the variety is so standard that doof /do:f/ induced the writing "(der) doofe" even though the standard pronunciation of the latter word is /ˈdoːvə/
  83. See Ammonn et al. (2004), p. LVII.
  84. 1 2 Beckman, Jessen & Ringen (2009:233)
  85. In Southern Germany, Austria or Switzerland there is no phonetic voice in fricatives either, see Ammonn et al. (2004), p. LVII.
  86. Beckman, Jessen & Ringen (2009:264–265)
  87. "Lautstruktur des Luxemburgischen - Wortübergreifende Phänomene". Retrieved 2013-05-15.
  88. 1 2 Meibauer et al. (2007:261)
  89. 1 2 3 4 Meibauer et al. (2007:263)
  90. Grijzenhout & Joppen (1998:1)
  91. Meibauer et al. (2007:264)
  92. Grijzenhout & Joppen (1998:12)
  93. Lintfert (2010:159)
  94. 1 2 Lintfert (2010:138)
  95. Lintfert (2010:160)
  96. Höhle & Weissenborn (2003:122)
  97. Höhle & Weissenborn (2003:123)
  98. Höhle & Weissenborn (2003:125)
  99. Höhle & Weissenborn (2003:126)
  100. Altvater-Mackensen & Fikkert (2007:14)
  101. Altvater-Mackensen & Fikkert (2007:16)
  102. Altvater-Mackensen & Fikkert (2007:19)
  103. Altvater-Mackensen & Fikkert (2007:23)
  104. Ott, van de Vijner & Höhle (2006:323)
  105. Ott, van de Vijner & Höhle (2006:331)
  106. Goswami, Ziegler & Richardson (2005:362)
  111. In Standard Swiss German, sich, Nordwind, und, endlich, gab, einig, freundlichen and zog are pronounced /zɪx/, /ˈnɔrdvɪnd/, /ʊnd/, /ˈɛndlɪx/, /ɡaːb/, /ˈaɪ̯nɪɡ/, /ˈfrɔʏ̯ndlɪxən/ and /t͡soːɡ/, respectively. In Standard Austrian German, Nordwind, und, endlich, gab, einig, freundlichen and zog are pronounced /ˈnɔrdvɪnd/, /ʊnd/, /ˈɛndlɪç/, /ɡaːb/, /ˈaɪ̯nɪɡ/, /ˈfrɔʏ̯ndlɪçən/ and /t͡soːɡ/, respectively.
  112. Source: Kohler (1999:88). Note that in the original transcription the vowel length is not indicated, apart from where it is phonemic - that is, for the pairs /a/ - /aː/ and /ɛ/ - /ɛː/.
  113. Kohler (1999:89)


Further reading

  • Canepari, Luciano (2014), German Pronunciation & Accents (1st ed.), Munich: LINCOM, ISBN 978-3862885626 
  • Odom, William; Schollum, Benno (1997), German for Singers (2nd ed.), New York: Schirmer Books, ISBN 978-0028646015 
  • Rues, Beate; Redecker, Beate; Koch, Evelyn; Wallraff, Uta; Simpson, Adrian P. (2007), Phonetische Transkription des Deutschen (in German) (1st ed.), Narr, ISBN 978-3823362913 
  • Siebs, Theodor (1969), Deutsche Aussprache (19th ed.), Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, ISBN 978-3110003253 
  • Wielki słownik niemiecko-polski (1st ed.), Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN, 2014 [2010], ISBN 978-83-01-16182-8 
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