Representing "th" as "f" (thread --> Fred)

Discussion in 'Deutsch (German)' started by Dan2, Oct 12, 2013.

  1. Dan2

    Dan2 Senior Member

    US English
    Anmerkung der Moderatorin: Von hier abgespalten.

    < ... >

    I hate to highlight an error, but it's all in the interest of science :) (phonetic science). It's hard to imagine a NS of English being guilty of such a typo, so this "throm" for "from" suggests something interesting going on in the German perception of English "th". It reminds me of the joking use of "Fred" for (forum-) Thread that I saw once.

    We know that foreign sounds are often replaced by the perceived-closest native ones. English speakers typically use their "sh" for the ich-Laut, for ex. Now we usually think of Germans (and French speakers) as replacing English unvoiced "th" with /s/. Question: does the perception also exist that our "th" "sounds like" or "is closest to" /f/? (There are actually very non-standard dialects of English in which "th" is replaced by /f/.)
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 14, 2013
  2. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    < ... >
    I am afraid you are over-interpreting a simple typo here.
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 14, 2013
  3. Dan2

    Dan2 Senior Member

    US English
    Hmm. I'm not convinced that that's correct. We have the following facts:

    1. There are minority Am Eng dialects where voiceless "th" has become [f] (and voiced "th" [v]; I won't keep repeating this).

    2. The same is reported for Cockney and some other British-Isles dialects. (There's a Wiki page discussing this phenomenon, which shows someone proudly wearing a T-shirt that reads "Norf London".)

    3. "th" and [f] are similar acoustically. If you speak a language without "th", and thus find "th" difficult, [f] is not a surprising replacement.

    Returning to German,
    4. There are literally millions of occurrences of the phrase "in diesem Fred" on the web, and doubtless millions more with Fred for Thread in other contexts. (I wasn't aware of how widespread this was when I wrote my previous post.) Why "Fred" of all words if there were no association between the two sounds?

    5. Hutschi replaced one letter, "f", with two unrelated letters. This would be an absolutely bizarre "typo" if there were no mental association between "th" and "f". (Once the association is made, over-correction is as likely as under-correction: th for f as well as f for th.)

    So all I was asking in the previous post was: Are any of you aware of German speakers using [f] as a replacement for "th"? Or simply that "th" in some contexts sounds to you like an [f]?

    (Also, if Hutschi has any thoughts on this, they'd be very welcome.)

  4. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    No there aren't. You mustn't take Google hit estimates seriously. If you page through the hits you will find that the list is exhausted at 304.

    No it is not. Not if the next word starts with "th" as in this case. It is probably one of those typos which occur because your brain is already further advanced in the sentence than your fingers.

    I've ever come across that.
  5. Hutschi

    Hutschi Senior Member

    Dresden, Universum
    German, Germany
    This was simply a typo. But it is an interesting class of typos. I know how to write it. My brain, however, put wrong letters to the keyboard. (Indeed it is a similar sound. It would be indeed bizarre if there were no connection. )
    I noticed that I more frequently made such kinds of typos, also in German. It is like "Versprechen" with a keybord, because I did not hit the neighbour key.
    (This is off topic, because it was by accident. It does not reflect my dialect, but may reflect the cause of language changes. It cannot be fully explained by chance but there may be a linguistic rule.)

    "in diesem Fred"

    This is neither dialect nor typo but a joke.
    It is like using "Imehl" for "e-mail".
    It switches to another (coll.) style "mit Augenzwinkern". It is a wordplay.
    Like "Mehl der Woche" instead of "Mail der Woche" in "Topfgeldjäger".

    They do not switch to dialect mode but to play mode.
  6. Dan2

    Dan2 Senior Member

    US English
    This is admittedly off-topic, but is such an important point, bearing directly on how people use the internet to determine correct language usage, that I think it deserves discussion in the various language forums.

    I'm sympathetic to what you say, because I myself often tell people that they can't trust the initial number of hits reported in a Google search.

    I use the default (or only) Google option of showing 10 results per page and having at the bottom of the page a row of 10 pointers to the first 10 pages. It is common to be told, for ex., "About 340,000 results", but then when you click on page 10 (which should show results 91-100) to see that the results end at, say, #57, and the links to pages beyond 6 to have disappeared. A message implies that the rest are too similar to the ones already shown. It's not clear how someone doing language research should interpret that.

    So I never accept Google's first report of number of hits, but always click ahead, at least to page 20 or so. If the initial estimate doesn't change, I begin to assume it is reliable. In the case of "in diesem Fred" it was steady at 3+ million into the 20's pages (200+ results), which seemed significant. But Bernd is right that Google stops after a few hundred in this case, for whatever reason.

    However... both Yahoo and Bing report about 14,000 hits, and don't seem to give up like Google does.

    In any case, many people seem to use "Fred" and it is clearly widely known. That's all I wanted to establish.

    Thanks for the reply, Hutschi. I wasn't at all suggesting that [f] for "th" was dialect-specific, and I know that the internet use of "Fred" is not a typo.
    Das heißt, ein Wort zu schreiben, wie man es sagt. Genauso wie bei "Fred".:) Aber warum sagt ihr [frEd] (oder [frEt])? Bei uns neigt man überhaupt nicht, [frEd] zu sagen (wenn "thread" gemeint ist).

    Let me ask my question a different way, which may settle the issue. Consider older Germans whose English is weak, or even younger Germans who had no patience with English class. Certainly many of these people will be unable to pronounce English "th". Among those people, if you ask them to repeat after an English speaker, as best they can, sentences containing words like "thread" and "three", will they uniformly say "sret" and "sri", or will there be any tendency to say "fret" and "fri"?

    Anyway, I'm just curious about this. Not trying to prove anyone right or wrong.
  7. manfy Senior Member

    German - Austria
    I guess, it's hard to provide a generally valid answer, considering the variation in individual pronunciation and considering the word formation habits in different German dialects.

    Here's my thoughts about this:
    For a native German without any knowledge of English, who is asked to repeat various th-words, there's a good chance that he might replace the /th/ sound with the /f/ sound, but only when /th/ appears at the beginning of the word.
    I don't think that anybody would pronounce 'father' as 'fafer', simply because of the contrast of /f/ and /th/ in the same word.

    Now, anybody who has the most basic knowledge of English (let's say, just 6 months of basic English courses) will rarely go in that direction. Firstly, the creation of the sounds for /th/ and /f/ are distinctly different and secondly, because there are too many basic English words that would collide with improper phonem replacement (e.g. three vs. free, that vs fat, etc.)

    Concerning /s/ versus /th/ :
    Even though the actual sounds of these phonems are very different too, there is a tendency of native German speakers to go in that direction.
    In my opinion, this is due to the fact that the creation of these sounds is fairly similar. I just tried it out, it is just a slightly different positioning of the tongue.
    There is a speech impairment, called lisping (ger: lispeln), and that's when you pronounce the German /s/ like the English /th/.
    It's a minor defect and it's quite rare and for the German language it's not really a problem, since German does not use /th/ at all. However, it is still considered a speech defect and it's often made fun of, therefore German speakers usually try hard to avoid that.

    Based on this, it is conceivable that the brains of some native German speakers are practically hard-wired to avoid that lisping sound (here I guess it's more a psychological thing than a physical one) and as a result their pronunciation of /th/ comes out very similar to the German /s/.
    It's also obvious that the base language, i.e. the dialect and pronunciation you grew up with, plays an important factor, since the /s/ vs. /th/ issue is widely prevalent in some German-speaking regions and almost non-existent in others.

    Another reason for my theory above is, I've seen German native speakers who couldn't pronounce /th/ properly in Germany - even if they tried very hard! But once these very same people were removed from German environment and immersed into a primarily English-speaking environment, there were some that switched to proper /th/ pronunciation entirely within 2-3years, whereas 2 of them still got it wrong about 80% of the time after 5 years.
  8. Hutschi

    Hutschi Senior Member

    Dresden, Universum
    German, Germany
    "Th" is one of the hardest English sounds.
    As far as I see it, there are three kinds of German replacements:

    f (I often used this until a native English collegue showed me to say "l" and let the tongue there and speak "th".
    s (I often heard this)
    d (I suppose this is also used in some English accents. I often hear it in songs, for Example "In the upper room".)

    In German we have one characteristic sound shift for "st", standard is like English "sht" (scht), in the North they say "st" like English "stone".

    We often weaken and omit end syllables (this seems to be a kind of general rule - a part of universal grammar).
    In my home dialect much more was omitted than in standard. When I was a child I every times was told not to omit the end syllables.

    The "s" sound may have in minimum three distinct variants, soft (voiced), hard (unvoiced) and very hard (unvoiced sharp)
    But the voiced-unvoiced distinction seems to be regionally. I do not see a word at the moment where it changes the meaning.
  9. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    I don't know any dialect that distinguishes voiced, unvoiced lenis/short and unvoiced fortis/long. Which did you have in mind?
  10. eamp Member

    German (Austria)
    The "th" between vowels and in "the", "there" etc. is a different sound though since it's voiced. I have never heard that replaced by /f/. The stereotypical German accent in the English speaking world seem to be to replace this sound by /z/, though I have not actually heard a native German speaker do that, except as a joke. (Might be because in the south voiced /z/ doesn't exist so is not available as replacement for [ð], could be more common in the north.) Mostly I hear (and use myself by mistake) /d/, which also seems to be used by some native English speakers (or some sound I can't distinguish from /d/).
    Unvoiced "th" does indeed sound closest to /f/ for me, I especially have trouble distinguishing "death" and "deaf" which still gives me pause now and then when I hear it.
    For the combination "thr" though I used to read and say "tr" for years for some reason, not sure if there is a phonological reason for this or something just went wrong in my brain specifically to cause this association... took me a while to notice the difference between "trash" and "thrash" at least. Also "thread", "tread", "threat", "treat" (uncertainty on how the "ea" should be pronounced, plus trouble with final voiced vs. unvoiced distinction).
  11. Glockenblume Senior Member

    Deutsch (Hochdeutsch und "Frängisch")
    "I do not see a word at the moment where it changes the meaning."

    There are few:
    - die weise Frau - die weiße Frau
    - reisen - reißen
    - ???
  12. Hutschi

    Hutschi Senior Member

    Dresden, Universum
    German, Germany
    Good examples. Thank you.
  13. Nebenbei Member

    German (Switzerland)
    My uncle (southern german) consistantly turns th into s: "I read it in sis sread"
  14. Frank78

    Frank78 Senior Member

    I don't think it's a simple typo. I'm also in a Hi-Fi forum where plenty of members write "Fred" instead of "Thread". Actually I already wanted to ask here if it has become a common expression.
  15. Hutschi

    Hutschi Senior Member

    Dresden, Universum
    German, Germany
    There is a special acusto-linguistic effect.

    When I hear something, before I recognize it, it goes through my ear und is compressed by my brain.
    After some training as child (language acquisition) my brain works like a filter and before special training I hear the sounds and adapt them to my own system.
    This means, I hear "f" or "s" instead ot the "th" sound. (In my case I heard "f").
    It needs a lot of training to readjust both listening and speaking if you are older than 14...16 years.

    The easiest and most complete is if you grow up bilinguistically.

    Ear+brain (and nerves) reduce the bandwidth.

    But as I mentioned the transfer thread->Fred is a linguistic joke, based on some language rules, of course.
    Last edited: Oct 16, 2013
  16. Dan2

    Dan2 Senior Member

    US English
    Very interesting posts! A much clearer picture is emerging. Thanks very much to everyone who replied. -Dan
  17. Demiurg

    Demiurg Senior Member

    Yes. It's simlilar to writing "Edith meint" if you edit a posting.
  18. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    I must say I find this absolutely baffling. ... Reading the statements from two native speakers, Hutschi and eamp, that they could mix up [θ] and [f]. I have never ever heard that from a German speaker. I am not familiar with Hutschis native accent but I am quite familiar with Viennese (eamp lives there according to his profile; my wife is from the area and her entire family still live there) whereas I hear the stereotypical [θ] and confusion all the time. I personally have no problems distinguishing all of these sounds but sequences of <s> and <th> sound still constitute a bit of a tongue twister for me and I have to concentrate to get any "Dreher" in things like This is the south.
  19. Hutschi

    Hutschi Senior Member

    Dresden, Universum
    German, Germany
    Hi, one of the problems may be that my English teacher was a non-native speaker (I am not considering "English for you" by Diana Löser in TV here).
    To me "th" is much more near "f" than to "s". But this can be a result of non-native environment.
    I could receive almost no English until German unification - except in songs (with overlaying music).
  20. ablativ Senior Member

    With all due respect to the others, berndf's statements in this thread could be mine - if my English were as good as his ;).

    Yesterday we had company from Vienna. Both of them (a married couple roughly my age) told me when showing them this thread they would never mix up 'th' and 'f'. They pronounce "three" sometimes like "schrie" or they (induding myself) mix up "th" and "s" when speaking fast and/or carelessly.
  21. Hutschi

    Hutschi Senior Member

    Dresden, Universum
    German, Germany
    I heard (from native American speakers) even "th" spoken with a "d" sound. (I hear it at least as "d" sound.)
    Here it found its way into written text.

    So there may be different representations of "th" in English regional coll. language resulting in different renditions.

    And we found: It much depends on your language environment/experience how you hear it, and how you speak it.

    I would never speak three as "schrie" but may be as "frie" (my approximation with German spelling).
    But I see it is possible, now.
    Last edited: Oct 17, 2013
  22. manfy Senior Member

    German - Austria
    Oh yes, that's quite normal, especially in the rap genre. Rappers usually try to mimic the 'don't-care street language'.
    I remember the fairly popular song 'In da club' by the artist '50 Cent'.

    In my first post I totally forgot about the substitution of /th/ by /d/. Some native German English speakers do that too, and inadvertently, with this they are doing the same as native English speakers. Unfortunately though, this does not work with every /th/ word; it depends on the position of /th/ and the surrounding vowels or syllables.
    e.g. 'that -> dat', 'the -> da' sounds quite ok, BUT e.g. 'thug -> dug' is totally off and you probably wouldn't hear that from a native English speaker.

    When I speak English very quickly, some /th/ sounds will probably be perceived as /d/, whereas others not at all. I'm not doing that intentionally in any way and I couldn't even tell you the system, how my brain substitutes the full /th/ sound with other, shorter derivatives. That's just something I picked up over 20 years in different English speaking environments.

    Regarding the thread -> Fred replacement, I think the source of this might also be found in the high times of texting (SMS) and blogging!?
    I remember that people were starting to become extremely creative when it came to shortening the words in order to stay below the 160 character limit or simply to minimize typing work -- actually, cryptic is more accurate than creative.
    E.g., the replacement of 'with' by 'wif' is still very common here in SMS.
  23. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    Thug starts with a completely different sound than that and the ([θ] rather than [ð]) which just happen to be spelled the same for historical reasons (many, may centuries ago, the two sounds were allophonic variations of the same phoneme). Of course, [θ] wouldn't be replaced by a [d], only [ð] would.
  24. Hutschi

    Hutschi Senior Member

    Dresden, Universum
    German, Germany
    Another question: may it be spoken sometimes with a sound between German "w" and "f"? ("w" like English "v", not like "double-u"))
    (a kind of slightly voice "f"?)
  25. Schlabberlatz Senior Member

    German - Germany
    I remember a professor of English telling how he met someone from - iirc - Ireland who pronounced [θ] like [t]. Which made him laugh when that man said the word "third" (-> "turd").
  26. manfy Senior Member

    German - Austria
    Off the top of my head I can't quite figure out what sound you're talking about with between "w" and "f".
    But in any case, I'd say everything is possible!
    Over the years I've heard some very weird pronunciations and dialects from native speakers. And the funny thing is, those pronunciations do make perfect sense within the entirety of pronunciations in that dialect.

    The real problem starts when non-native speakers start mixing pronunciations from standard English and various different dialects. The result is simply horrible and often incomprehensible. BTW, the same is true for German and all other languages I know.
    Therefore it's ALWAYS advisable for learners of any new language to stick to the proper pronunciation of standard language at first. The actual pronunciation of each individual will change and evolve over time, based on their environment and exposure to that target language.

    This is very true and in fact it is a crucial function of human brains. Without it, auditory communication would practically be impossible.
    If your brain were unable to map unknown sounds to known equivalents (i.e. your brain's internal language), then you would be able to understand ONLY people who speak with the very same pitch, speed, frequency, and pronunciation as you do.

    So, this 'filter for auditory events' is very important and it's not easy to learn it consciously, it is something that develops sub-consciously in your language center.
    That's what I often call 'being sensitized' to the sound variations of certain languages.
    And this is a real problem between western languages which are primarily grammar based and syntax based and tonal languages like Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese.
    The same word can have 6 totally different meanings, depending on intonation. A westerner who is not sensitized to those tonal differences, effectively might not hear them because the brain is filtering them out.
    Last edited: Oct 18, 2013

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