German phonology

The pronunciation of the German language refers to the phonetics and phonology of standard German. The pronunciation of the German language is not the same everywhere, because it is a pluricentric language with different varieties. In most respects, however, the pronunciation of these varieties does coincide with each other.

In a broader sense can be understood as including the pronunciation of the German dialects. Because this would be beyond the scope of a single page, this view is not shown here; Instead, see German dialects.

  • 6.1 word stress
  • 6.2 intonation
  • 6.3 rhythm
  • 7.1 vowel letters 7.1.1 vowel letters and their vocal quality
  • 7.1.2 vowel letter combinations
  • 7.1.3 distinguishing vowel quantity and quality on individual vowels


Initially, the German standard language was purely a font standard. If it was spoken, then according to the volume level of regional dialects.

Towards the end of the 18th century was the Saxon pronunciation of standard German as exemplary. This was the great influence of the Saxon principalities in the German culture.

In the 19th century, the north German pronunciation was influential for. Several factors played a role. On one hand, Prussia had become particularly since the founding of the German Empire as the dominant power, on the other hand, the dialects were in many parts of northern Germany was abandoned in favor of the standard language, so that the speaker reached a natural fluency in spoken usage of the standard language.

Codified this debate of the German language for the first time in 1898 in the German stage pronunciation Theodor screen. Modern pronunciation dictionaries agree on the whole with the Siebs'schen pronunciation match if they differ in various details of her ( for example, is today [r ] no more than the only allowable pronunciation of the phoneme / r / viewed ). As relevant to the now widely accepted version of this standard " of standard German pronunciation" ( as the dictionary ), the pronunciation dictionary Duden ( Max Mangold ) apply, in which it is described in particular detail. ( However, note that some of the formulated there basic assumptions in phonetics and phonology also be seen differently and do not always reflect the latest research in these disciplines. ) Usually taught this debate norm in German lessons for foreigners and more or less accurately in single-and multi -lingual dictionaries of the German used.


The German language is plurizentrisch, that is, there is in fact no single pronunciation of standard German for the entire German -speaking world. The formulated as a standard standard pronunciation is a fiction, although as ( supposedly) uniform Ideal applies, but practically realized in different ways and is quite understood differing from each other in their ideal. So there are different pronunciation variants of the standard German who engage in the respective regions as a good example.

It is therefore unrealistic to say that only one of these different pronunciations of standard German the "right" would be ( and the one Ideal correspond ) and all other dialect- colored variations. This is still widely held view was once unchallenged as a prescriptive stance in grammar representation and didactics was common ( ie, as it was customary to prescribe how people should talk ).

Watch this standard can be variations, for example the fact that in radio and television not only a single pronunciation of the German language is used. Newscaster from Germany, Austria and Switzerland differ in their pronunciation of standard German. The preponderance of normal variation from the Federal Republic alone as a quantitative to describe ( because of the higher population in Germany there are more channels and these have a longer range ). But even within Germany can be observed differences when comparing the pronunciation of Bavarian and North German Radio and television spokesman for example.

Vowel system

The vowel system of German is around 15 ( monophthong ) vowel phonemes relatively large, the Spanish language, for example, has only five. This vowel phonemes are represented by the eight vowel letters a, e, i, o, u, ä, ö and ü, in foreign words and proper names in certain positions by y and rarely by é. Above all, i, u, y are used but in part also for reproducing consonants.

The vowel phonemes of the stressed syllables are often divided into pairs: / a ː / and / a /, / e ː / and / ɛ /, / i ː / and / ɪ /, / o ː / and / ɔ /, / u ː / and / ʊ /, / ɛ ː / and / ɛ /, / ø ː / and / œ / and / y ː / and / ʏ /. For phonological reasons these pairings, there are various approaches:

  • The distinguishing feature is the vowel quantity. The difference in the vocal quality follows the secondary thereof. Remains a problem in this approach, the position of the vowel / ɛ ː /, which is not closed despite its length.
  • The distinguishing feature is the vocal quality. The difference in the quantity of the following vowel secondary thereof. Remains a problem in this approach, in addition to the position of the vowel / ɛ ː / and that of the pair / a ː - a /, where, despite a difference in length is present in any of the quality. (In Low German -influenced pronunciation variants of standard German, however, is often a difference exists: The long vowel is a back vowel, short vowel, however, a front vowel, while both a- vowels are otherwise mostly articulated as central vowel in these existed, most likely, the phoneme / ɛ ː. / NOT, shown below, so that the analysis on the basis of the vocal quality is possible. )
  • The distinguishing feature is the syllable cut. The differences in vowel quality and vowel quantity follow secondarily it. Remains a problem in this approach, the question of whether there is an empirical basis for the assumption of a difference in syllable -section.

Closed ( long ) vowels are usually very short in unstressed position, eg / ɡeno ː m /, / vita ː l /

Ride / rɪt / and advised / ri ː t / differ, for example in the quality of each other as the notation of the International Phonetic Alphabet shows. The majority of the long vowel phonemes are so very closed and other phonemes than their short verschrifteten equivalents.

Similar vowel pairs stressed syllables as in English, there is in all Germanic languages.

/ ɛ ː / as in cheese is in the system of vowel pairs stressed syllables is an exception because it is the only long open vowel in German. In numerous varieties of the standard language, however, it falls with sound / e ː / together so that the vowels are pronounced the same in cheese and in reading. Therefore, the status of this text as a separate phoneme of German is controversial. The Duden pronunciation dictionary has since the 4th edition (2000) on the pronunciation variant way to pronounce the long / ɛ ː / as [e ː ].



Consonant system

The German consonant system has about 25 phonemes in comparison with other languages ​​on an average size. A special feature is the unusual affricate / pf /.

Various German consonants occur in pairs of the same place of articulation and manner of articulation of the same, namely the pairs / p- b, t -d, k- ɡ, s -z, ʃ - ʒ /. These pairs are often referred to as Fortis - Lenis pairs, as they are described as voiceless - voiced pairs only inadequate. With certain restrictions, include / tʃ dʒ - fv / to these pairs.

The Fortis plosives / p, t, k / are aspirated in most varieties, with the aspiration in initial stressed syllables is strongest ( for example, in Taler [t ʰ a ː lɐ ] ), weaker in initial unstressed syllables (eg in father [fa ː t ʰ ɐ ] ) and weakest in Silbenauslaut ( for example, in seed [za ː t ( ʰ ) ] ). No aspiration has it in the combinations [ ʃt ʃp ] ( for example, in Stone [ ʃtaɪ̯n ], trace [ ʃpu ː ɐ̯ ] ).

The lenis consonants / b, d, ɡ, z, ʒ / are voiceless in most southern German varieties. To illustrate this, they are often [ b, d, ɡ̊, Z, ʒ̊ ] as quoted. It is controversial, in which the phonetic difference between the voiceless lenis consonants and also voiceless consonants is Fortis. Typically, it will be described as a difference in tension of the articulation, however, sometimes a difference in the duration of the articulation, being usually assumed that one of these properties, the other has the consequence.

In most varieties the opposition between Fortis and Lenis is lifted in Silbenauslaut (see devoicing ).

In several Central and South German varieties, the opposition between Fortis and Lenis is lifted in syllable, sometimes only in initial stressed syllables, partly in all cases ( within German consonant weakening).

The pair / f -v / is not one of the Fortis - Lenis pairs because / v / is voiced in the southern German varieties. Usually, the South German pronunciation is given as the voiced approximants [ ʋ ]. However, there are Southern German varieties that differ between a Fortis -f ( [ f], for example, in criminal [ ʃtrɛ ː flɪç ] to MHG criminally ) and a Lenis- f ( [v ], for example, in polite [ Ho ː v̥lɪç ] to MHG hovelîch ), analogous to the opposition of Fortis s ( [s ] ) and Lenis- s ( [Z ] ).


A typical feature of the phonotactic structure of German words are relatively complex consonant clusters in the word stems conjugated forms and the Wortfuge that often seem particularly complex in the written, graphotaktischen form (because of the used di-and trigraphs ) (eg kleckste, show off, cold sweat, write, seriously shrinking so seufztest, will walk, knut grows, think, Autumn, now, writing, editing).


Word stress

In German words prevails stem stress before, ie it stresses the first syllable of the root: ". Teach, teacher, teacher, didactic, teaching staff teach, " Some prefixes and suffixes, however, draw the emphasis on yourself " ( From lan- che before -le- sen, Bä thickness - rei ). "

In compound words ( compound words ), the first word ( determiner ) is emphasized almost exclusively. Exceptions are, for example, miles and centuries. The stressed syllable is spoken more and become louder as compared to unstressed (dynamic accent).

For foreign words in German, no rules can be stated, as the emphasis is often taken along with the word.


The German has three different melody patterns, namely, falling, rising and floating ( progressive ) intonation. The falling intonation identifies the set deadline in declarative sentences and word questions such as in the following sentences: When are you coming? - I am now. The floating intonation is used at breaks such as between main and subordinate clauses. The rising intonation is typical of issues (also ruling ), such as: Do you eat like chocolate? Also word questions can be spoken with rising intonation, if you want to give them a friendly tone.

An exception is the Swiss High German, where the rising intonation is also found in declarative sentences.

The main emphasis is in the set on the Rhema, usually towards the end of the sentence. The increasing or decreasing the voice is carried out starting from the last stressed syllable in the sentence. When a falling intonation that syllable is spoken slightly higher than the foregoing. The following syllables then fall below the level of the sentence. If the last stressed syllable of a word, this tune movement takes place within the word. With rising intonation, the last stressed syllable is spoken analogy a little deeper.


The German language is characterized by a so-called " dotted rhythm ".

The stressed syllable dominates in the German unstressed syllables not only in their sonority but also in terms of their length: following on a stressed syllable unstressed syllables are spoken almost always shorter.

Pronunciation rules

Vowel letters

Vowel letters and their vocal quality

  • A is [ a] or [a ː ] spoken ( Vokalphonempaar / a / - / a ː /) in unstressed open syllable: [a].
  • ä is [ ɛ ] or [ ɛ ː ] spoken ( Vokalphonempaar / ɛ / - / ɛ ː /) in unstressed open syllable: [ ɛ ].
  • E is [ ɛ ] or [e ː ] spoken ( Vokalphonempaar / ɛ / - / e ː /) in unstressed open syllable: [e ] or [ ə ].
  • é [e ː ] spoken ( unstressed [e ] ) ( Variety, Andre).
  • I [ ɪ ] or [i ː ] spoken ( Vokalphonempaar / ɪ / - / i ː /) in unstressed open syllable: [ i].
  • O is [ ɔ ] and [o ː ] spoken ( Vokalphonempaar / ɔ / - / o ː /) in unstressed open syllable: [ o].
  • ö is [œ ] or [ ø ː ] spoken ( Vokalphonempaar / œ / - / ø ː /) in unstressed open syllable: [ ø ].
  • U is [ ʊ ] or [u ː ] spoken ( Vokalphonempaar / ʊ / - / u ː /) in unstressed open syllable: [ u].
  • ü be y [ ʏ ] or [y ː ] spoken ( Vokalphonempaar / ʏ / - / y ː /) in unstressed open syllable: [y ].

Vowel letter combinations

Vowel letters that do not represent the syllable nucleus of the stressed syllable are spoken unsilbisch or consonantal under certain conditions ( and, with the syllabic vowel together a diphthong ). This concerns on the one hand vowel letters that follow other vowel letters, and on the other vowel letters, the other vowel letters precede ( usually after consonant letters):

  • Usually referred to as short syllabic vowel unsilbischer vocal (classical diphthongs ) spoken: ai, ay, ao, au, oi, oy, ui (this is the basic rule and can be used productively, for example, for the dialect spelling: ai, oi, above, among others, etc.), with an additional change of vowel quality: egg, ey, eu, AEU ( in proper names sometimes ui, uy, euy: pronounced like eu ).
  • Often called unsilbischer vowel syllabic vowel ( short or long) spoken: ia, IAE io etc. (ie only partially ), ya, ye, yo, etc., including UAE, uo, etc., similar in many cases during ea, eo ' (ideal ), oa (or oi in words from the French instead of above ), OEO ' ( homeopathy ) and the like. Unsilbisches i (similarly e ) and especially y corresponds often a [ j] u unsilbisches (similar sometimes o) may in certain cases [v ] are spoken regularly by q ( qu [ kv ] ), sometimes after k, s, t, g, etc. ( Biscuit, Suite, case, sometimes even in possibly, linguistics).

Ii and uu (except after q) are, however, always spoken disyllabic ( initiate, vacuum).

Must be distinguished from special vowel letter combinations that have their own phonetic value ( di-and trigraphs ): aa, ee, oo, ie ( the length marking, see below); in foreign words also ou (debate how u), eu regularly ( such as ö ) in the ending EUR, as well as many exceptional cases; in proper names also ae ( such as ä or long a: Aerzen, Raesfeld ), oe ( such as ö or long o: Bonhoeffer, Soest ), oi ( as long o: Voigt ), ue (such as ü or long u: Ueckermuende, Buer ), ui, uy ( as long ü: Duisburg, Huy ), oey, öö ( as long ö: Oeynhausen, Gööck ), uu ( as long u: Luuk ).

Distinguishing vowel quantity and quality on individual vowels

The German spelling denotes the quantity (length) and hence the quality ( closed / open) of the vowels only partially right. Nevertheless, the distinction between long and short, respectively. closed and open vowels, and therefore the decision as to which phoneme a Vokalphonempaares is to choose are usually inferred from the case.

That there is a long vowel can be obtained by

  • Doubling the vowel letter (aa, ee, oo, eg, as in tea),
  • (if it is not proper names, only when i) by following a mute e (ie as in love ) or
  • By a following mute h ( ah, ah, eh, ih, ieh, oh, uh, uh, uh, as in number, search, able wehst him draw, worth, breakfast in proper names also yh as in Pyhra )

Be made ​​clear.

It should be noted that these letter combinations are not always to be read within a word as di-and trigraphs, but also partially separated:

  • Aa, ee, oo, ou will usually expressed in words, which consist of several full- vowel syllables ( except at the end of a word and the last syllable before -r ( e)), spoken separately - especially when the second vowel letter belongs to a suffix: Canaan, zoological, Orient; ideally, ideas, industrial, industries. At the end of a word and before -r ( e ), however, as a long vowel: idea Zoo Industrial; Galley, govern, piano. The pronunciation he is in this position, but often, sometimes ambiguous ee: see Study / Board, Premiere, azalea,
  • H in ah, ah, eh, etc. is then not mute when another full vowel follows (except in front of the native word outputs / suffixes -ig, - I, -ung ): Uhu, maple, alcohol, nihilistic.

Individual vowel letters are quite regular long when they are in open syllables ( as the first "e " in " life " or the " a" in "guess ").

An open syllable is present when, in word, a single consonant letter plus vowel letter follows. For a single consonant letter usually belongs to the next syllable.

Briefly, however, vowels are often closed syllables, especially when the word syllables followed by further ( " edge ", " hip ", " cloud ").

Therefore, the rule infers that two identical consonants letters ( just as "ck " and " tz " ) after a single vowel whose brief signal ( for example, " Sun", " err ", " rat ", "ground" ), since the double consonant shown belongs to both syllables, and thus makes the first syllable to a closed.

Conversely, therefore indicates a single consonant letter (including ß, its use is justified in this very functional segregation to " ss" ), the length of the preceding vowel in ( " crown ", " hear ", " advise ", "Dimensions " ), as he as I said, the vowel can stand in an open syllable. ( Exception: the consonant letter x - before "x", a single vowel letter is always talked briefly, such as " witch ", " ax ". )

Also are long vowels which, although in closed syllables, but which can be extended so that an open syllable is produced. In " hear " it is a closed syllable, " higher " to " hear " is open, therefore the "ö" in will " hear " spoken long.

Also are long vowels which, although in closed syllables, which are not expandable to open syllables, which are recognizable but built in parallel to such extensible syllables. " Fruit " has a recognizable parallel construction to " praising " (from " praise " ) because of the discussion here instead of b is actually the letter p would be expected.

So can be generalized: Long are vowels before the consonants "b ", " d", " g", " ß" ( if "t", "s" or "st " follows ) and before "gd " and " ks ". ( These mark the long debate, since they instead expected of otherwise " p", " t", " k ", " s", " kt" and " x " / " chs " are. ) The predictability of vowel length is especially that consonant letters thus independent of the extensibility of the syllables. See: "Fruit " / " praising " (long ) vs. "Optical" (short), " cancer " / " live " vs. " Meatball ", " eloquent " / " invites " vs. "Nice", " Vogt " / " shall " vs. " Champagne ", " humor " vs. " Almost ", " maid " / " hunting " vs. "Act ", " biscuit" / " prick " vs. " Fix". In proper names, this also applies to "w " (instead of "f" ) and "sd " (instead of "st " ): " Drew ", " Dresden ".

Before other consonant clusters of letters, the vowels are usually short ( since this often involves closed syllables). However, there are some, which vowels may occur sooner or later ( " ch ", "st ", " chs ", " nd ", "rd ", etc.) or are generally long ( "br ", " small ", "tr ", etc.); particularly in di-and Trigrafen: before "ch", "sh" mostly short, in front of " ph", "th" usually long).

Individual vowels in words of closed syllables with a single consonant letter at the end, but have not extended form with a long vowel (usually function words and prefixes ), as for example in " with ", " from ", " to ", "un - "( according to the old spelling and " that "," mis - " ), are usually spoken short ( but long ," the "," now ", before " r " ," the "," he "," we ", " for", " ur "). This debate rule is applied under certain conditions on nouns and adjectives: When ( orthographic ) are not yet fully integrated words from English and French ( "Top", "fit", "bus", "chic" ), in so-called shortcut words ( " TUV", " MAZ " ), for some inscrutable word components ( " blackberry "). In general, this rule applies to words with "x" ( see above), and (if it be exceptionally occur ) for words with "y " at the end ( " fax "; " Andrei ", " ahoj "). According to the old spelling this was also true for some of the words with "ß", " nut ", " boss ", " eat ". The short pronunciation of the vowel in such words, where the consonant twice represented missing orthographically word-finally, is partly open from the fact that there are related forms with orthographically labeled short vowel ( short vowel in "in" wg. "Inside", ". " wg " fit. " wg " fitter ", " bus ". wg " buses "," top beat "," nut nuts ", whereas long: " " wg. " biotope biotopes "," foot " ," wg. " wg. " feet").

In proper names ( family and geographic names ), the vowel brevity are not always clearly defined before double consonants shown. In particular, "ck", "ff ", " ss" and " tz ", but also others, " Zeiss " get there not exclusively after short vowels before ( " Bismarck ", " Hauff ", " Hartz ", " Kneipp ", " Württemberg" ). Thus, a single vowel before these double letters be exceptionally long: " Buckow ", " Mecklenburg ", " Bonhoeffer ", " large ", " Lietzensee ".

Since in Switzerland instead of Eszetts "ss" in use, signaled there "ss" is the only double consonant letter (outside of proper names) not the shortness of the preceding vowel; Length or shortness of the vowel is therefore in this case is not predictable ( as usual in front of the di-and Trigrafen "ch", "sh ", etc.).

German pronunciation in classical singing

In comparison with the spoken theater stage, the (classical ) vocal music of a slightly varied pronunciation served.

  • The better understanding of sung language sake schwa is often sung as [ ɛ ].
  • The r is always pronounced in classical music with the tip of the tongue as [r ]. This is also true for the ending- it, if that is not easy r at the end of words omitted.
  • The glottal stop in initial vowel is sometimes perceived as unattractive in music, he often falls away in favor of an aspirated Tonansatzes, but this leads to technical problems and singing to an impairment of understanding of the text.

Apart from the consonants are in classical music usually very much forced as in spoken German. This also serves to better speech intelligibility.