ä - pronunciation

Dymn

Senior Member
Hallo Leute,

This question stems from this thread. I've heard various times (in Berlin, but also in TV from people that might come from elsewhere) the ä sound being audibly more closed than /ɛː/, something I would transcribe as /e/ (my ear is deaf to length so I don't know about it).

I've just checked the "Standard German phonology" article in Wikipedia and it mentions this:

Wikipedia said:
Northern German varieties influenced by Low German could be analyzed as lacking contrasting vowel quantity entirely:
  • /aː/ has a different quality than /a/ (see above).
  • These varieties also consistently lack /ɛː/, and use only /eː/ in its place.
So how common is this?

Danke
 
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  • berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    I think you mean /ɛ:/, not /ɛ/. The /ɛ:/-/e:/ > /e:/ merger is indeed very common. I think we aren't very far away from a complete merger, maybe a few decades. Then we would have only /ɛ/ and /e:/. For many speakers this is today already reality.
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    The merger is definitely towards /e:/. There is a general logic that long vowels are higher than their short counterparts (except for a). And that seems to push /ɛ:/ towards /e:/. I would not recommend going for a mid e. That could compromise a clear long-short separation.
     

    Thomas(CH)

    Senior Member
    German - Switzerland
    The pronounciation of "ä" differs a little bit with Germans and Austrians (and Swiss).

    The sound is very close to that of an "ae"-ending in the Latin language: Aquae helveticae.

    Tom
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    Swiss yes, Austrian is a bit different. Natively, ä doesn't exist in Austrian but only when speaking standard ("nach der Schrift"). Phonetically, local dialects (except in Vorarlberg, where people speak a dialect closer to Swiss German than to Austrian) only have /e/ (length is not distinguished), except in Viennese where the Bavarian phoneme /oɐ/ is realized [ɛ:], as in zwei = Bavarian [tsʋoɐ] = Viennese [tsʋɛ:].
     

    eamp

    Member
    German (Austria)
    Swiss yes, Austrian is a bit different. Natively, ä doesn't exist in Austrian but only when speaking standard ("nach der Schrift"). Phonetically, local dialects (except in Vorarlberg, where people speak a dialect closer to Swiss German than to Austrian) only have /e/ (length is not distinguished), except in Viennese where the Bavarian phoneme /oɐ/ is realized [ɛ:], as in zwei = Bavarian [tsʋoɐ] = Viennese [tsʋɛ:].
    No, the Viennese sound corresponding to Bavarian /oa/ is /a:/. /ɛ:/ is the result of monophthongization of /ai/ (from mhg. /i:/ and loans from the standard language). So breit = /bra:d/ but weit = /wɛ:d/ and the numbers 1, 2, 3 sound /a:ns/, /zwa:/, /drɛ:/. The same happens with /au/, which is realized as [ɔ:] (or [ɒ:]?).
    This monophthongization is not restricted to dialect though (insofar that still exists), so you will indeed hear /zwɛ:/ from speakers otherwise trying to stick close to the standard, but that is for any written <ei> or <ai>.

    For standard long /ä/ would also argue that the differentiation between /ɛ:/ and /e:/ is a spelling pronunciation everywhere. The distribution of the two sounds does not match any older stage of the language or dialect that I am aware of.
    So it seems to me that they were confused early on in the development of the standard language. Probably because there was too much variance in the treatment of the many mhg. front vowels between individual dialects. Then a difference in pronunciation was reintroduced after the spelling had been standardized.
    Though mhg. /æ:/ at least might have been preserved where the pronunciation difference was grammatically significant as in the Konjunktiv 2.
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    No, the Viennese sound corresponding to Bavarian /oa/ is /a:/. /ɛ:/ is the result of monophthongization of /ai/ (from mhg. /i:/ and loans from the standard language).
    Yes, you are right. The actual process was different. And there are many urban Austrian dialects where Bavarian /oɐ/ is indeed /a:/, even in words where you find /ɛ:/ in Viennese, e.g. in St. Pölten Meister is Maasta where 10km outside the farmers would say Moasta. Sorry for the oversimplification.
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    Auch im Singular (unverändert)?
    Yes, oa/a Stàndl - zwoa Stàndl (I think I made a mistake: Stàndl is better than Stàn(n)derl; the latter would be a serenade). I thought about oa/a Stànd - zwoa Ständ. But I doubt that could be called native. It is a loan from standard German. At any rate, whether you spell it Stend or Ständ (with "e" or "Umlaut-e" as the letters are called in Austrian) would be purely orthographic. It is the same sound as in des (=das).
     
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