ä vs. e

James Bates

Banned
Urdu
Is there any audible difference between "ä" and "e" in Standard German? I mean, the word "gefällt" sounds as if it were "gefellt" (with a short "e" sound) to my ears. Similarly, the word "spät" sounds as if it were "speet" (with a long "e" sound).
 
  • James Bates

    Banned
    Urdu
    Okay, just one question: if I substitute short "e" for short "ä" and long "e" for long "ä", will my pronunciation be considered incorrect? What I mean is, will I still be within the bounds of the numerous German dialects? Or is there no dialect that makes such substitutions?
     

    Aurin

    Senior Member
    Alemania (alemán)
    I think you will be understood pronouncing the "ä" as "e" and be within the bounds of German dialects. I know that the habitants of Hamburg don´t pronounce "ä" as "ä" but as "ee".
     

    Voxy

    Senior Member
    Deutschland, deutsch
    I think you will be understood pronouncing the "ä" as "e" and be within the bounds of German dialects. I know that the habitants of Hamburg don´t pronounce "ä" as "ä" but as "ee".
    True.
    In general, the "ä" is more openly spoken than the "e". Imagine and
    speak aloud an "e", open your mouth a little bit more while speaking,
    as you've originally intended to do. You'll get a German "ä" almost ever,
    just by opening the mouth a bit more.

    Voxy
     

    Outsider

    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Portugal)
    You can also listen to the raw vowel sounds here. "E" is represented as [e] in the chart; "ä" is represented by the Greek letter epsilon.
     

    gaer

    Senior Member
    US-English
    You can also listen to the raw vowel sounds here. "E" is represented as [e] in the chart; "ä" is represented by the Greek letter epsilon.
    The problem (or one problem) is that when vowels are isolated, they don't necessarily reflect what happens when they are part of words.

    That was why I was attempting to find out if there is some kind of consensus regarding the pronounciation of "spät" as represented by sound files.

    Gaer
     

    aleksk

    Senior Member
    македонски, Macedonian
    I'm not neither native English nor German speaker, but I really don't think ä sounds like the "a" in cat at all. As a matter of fact, I've never heard anyone pronounce it like that. I've just now attempted to pronounce a few German words containing this vowel that way and not only does it not sound right, but it sounds terrible. As far as I can tell, German ä is just somewhat more open than German e (not that open nonetheless), but still completely far away from the sound quality of the suggested English vowel. I think the difference between the two German vowels is very subtle, and ä must not be confused with the English vowel, which is quite distinctive.

    Furthermore, I dare say that one would be better off pronouncing the two German vowels the same way, compared to pronouncing the German ä as the mentioned English sound.
     

    Toadie

    Senior Member
    English
    I have heard spät pronounced like that before by native speakers. Also, words like "hässlich" seem like they would be pronounced this way.
     

    aleksk

    Senior Member
    македонски, Macedonian
    I have heard spät pronounced like that before by native speakers. Also, words like "hässlich" seem like they would be pronounced this way.
    I think you may be mishearing Toadie. When there's no equivalent sound in your language, it's only natural to look for (what sounds to you) the most similar sound, and after a while you train your brain to hear that sound in foreign words. Of course the whole process is taking place at unconscious level, and you're not aware of the substitutions you make. There have been studies about this occurrence. The same happens when English natives equate the short "i" (as in fish) with the German short "i" (as in Fisch) - I opened a thread about how these two sounds relate here.

    Since I don't have either of the two sounds we are talking about here in my native language, I am able to hear the difference much better. You know, equating foreign sounds with similar ones in your native language may be the easiest thing to do, the path of least resistance, but ultimately it leads to bad German pronunciation. Studying the position of the lips and tongue, practicing patiently with an instructor or on your own (with the help of a commercial software maybe), examining minimal pairs etc. is the right way to get the sounds right.
     

    gaer

    Senior Member
    US-English
    I think you may be mishearing Toadie. When there's no equivalent sound in your language, it's only natural to look for (what sounds to you) the most similar sound, and after a while you train your brain to hear that sound in foreign words. Of course the whole process is taking place at unconscious level, and you're not aware of the substitutions you make. There have been studies about this occurrence. The same happens when English natives equate the short "i" (as in fish) with the German short "i" (as in Fisch) - I opened a thread about how these two sounds relate here.
    I agree. When I attempt to speak German, I inevitably use sounds that are English. I am aware of it, and it annoys me.

    However, if Germans used those same sounds, they would sound "foreign to me", foreign meaning "non-German".

    It is natural, for instance, for someone who knows only English as a child to say "spät" to rhyme either with "late" or "mat" for the simple reason that vowel sounds, in English, do not occur in between those two sounds.

    I truly think that all discussions of pronunciation that do not relate to sound files/recordings are pointless. They are too vague and too easily misunderstood/misunterpreted.
    Since I don't have either of the two sounds we are talking about here in my native language, I am able to hear the difference much better. You know, equating foreign sounds with similar ones in your native language may be the easiest thing to do, the path of least resistance, but ultimately it leads to bad German pronunciation.
    This is true, although if the vowel sounds you pick from your own language are close, you will be understood. You will have an "accent".
    Studying the position of the lips and tongue, practicing patiently with an instructor or on your own (with the help of a commercial software maybe), examining minimal pairs etc. is the right way to get the sounds right.
    However, if your sentence structure, grammar, etc. is very good, your accent may be rather "strong" (obviously non-German) and yet you may be understood very well. I think it is much more important to learn to HEAR subtle differences, because that is crucial in listening to conversations. Without that "fine-tuning" in listening, you will misunderstand what you hear.

    Gaer
     

    Acrolect

    Senior Member
    German, Austria
    In many Austrian dialects - not in Standard Austrian German, though, AFAIK - there is no difference between the two vowels (so actually they are not two vowels, just two letters).

    I have a problem with the suggestion that German ä is similar to the vowel in English cat, because there is considerable variation among English varieties. There might be a similarity if we consider some American English varieties, but in many English English varieties, the vowel is closer to [a] than to [e].
     

    aleksk

    Senior Member
    македонски, Macedonian
    I agree with you completely Gaer, especially about the listening part. There are very well designed and produced self-study English courses aimed specifically at listening comprehension at advanced level. I haven't been able to locate such equivalent German courses, unfortunately. Listening to podcasts where a transcript is available helps a lot, though.

    Acrolect, I agree with you as well. You only prove my point that pronouncing ä as the suggested English vowel sounds strange to a native German speaker (at least to an Austrian).
     

    Kajjo

    Senior Member
    1) spät and cat are not at all similar.

    2) In many German areas long ä and long e are pronounced the same. Everything else has been discussed in the thread Jana provided the link for.

    We somewhat agreed on this:
    MrMagoo said:
    Du kannst ein "ä" immer wie ein "e" aussprechen, ein "e" jedoch nicht wie ein "ä"
    Kajjo said:
    daß standardsprachliche Muttersprachler überwiegend "eh" verwenden, aber automatisch häufig "ä" sagen, wenn Sie das Wort extra-deutlich aussprechen wollen oder gar silbisch sprechen.
    Kajjo
     
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