Glottal stops in German

merquiades

Senior Member
English (USA Northeast)
Hello. With words starting with vowels, German is said to add a glottal stop systematically. How does one pronounce this sound? I only hear it within an utterance when a noun is preceded by a pronoun or article: Sie ʔisst die ʔÄpfel and in this case I see it just as a pause to keep the two vowels from slurring together. It's not easy to start with a pause.

From Wikipedia on German phonology: In many varieties of standard German, the glottal stop, [ʔ], occurs in careful speech before word stems that begin with a vowel. It is much more frequent in northern varieties than in the south. It is not usually considered a phoneme. In colloquial and dialectal speech, [ʔ] is often omitted, especially when the word beginning with a vowel is unstressed
The preceding quote gives the impression that the glottal stop is optional and not so important. Do you agree?
 
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  • berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    German isn't much different from other European languages. Words starting with a vowel are usually realised with a preceding glottal stop (except in liaisons with consonants at the end of the preceding word). The main reason why glottal stops are discussed so often is because they play an important role in separating phonemes morphemes as in beerdigen, where the two adjacent es must be pronounced in separation. But in no case is it phonemic.
     
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    Ben Jamin

    Senior Member
    Polish
    German isn't much different from other European languages. Words starting with a vowel are usually realised with a preceding glottal stop (except in liaisons with consonants at the end of the preceding word). The main reason why glottal stops are discussed so often is because they play an important role in separating phonemes as in beerdigen, where the two adjacent es must be pronounced in separation. But in no case is it phonemic.
    Sorry, I didn't get it. Do you mean that beginning an utterance with a glottal stop is common or uncommon in many languages? I can agree that separating two words following quickly one after another usually involves a glottal stop, but at the beginning?
     

    Dymn

    Senior Member
    Not necessarily. As I said, the issue is about morpheme boundaries. Be- is a prefix.
    The main reason why glottal stops are discussed so often is because they play an important role in separating phonemes as in beerdigen
    So did you mean morphemes here?

    I'd be interested in patterns of vowels from different words coalescing into the same syllable. As I gather word-internally the separation is obligatory, but for example would "keine Ahnung" be pronounced with "neah" in the same syllable? Or even "kein Ahnung"? I guess the latter would be understood as a grammar error rather than casual pronunciation. This is mostly for the sake of curiosity, since for me as a learner it's always best to clearly separate vowels, although I can't get myself to do glottal stops.
     

    Penyafort

    Senior Member
    Catalan (Catalonia), Spanish (Spain)
    Funny how German speakers do that in other languages too. I know a German woman whose Spanish is flawless and yet one of her very few mistakes has to do with this: she just can't help separating the Bea in Beatriz in a way no Spanish speaker would.
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    I'd be interested in patterns of vowels from different words coalescing into the same syllable. As I gather word-internally the separation is obligatory, but for example would "keine Ahnung" be pronounced with "neah" in the same syllable? Or even "kein Ahnung"? I guess the latter would be understood as a grammar error rather than casual pronunciation. This is mostly for the sake of curiosity, since for me as a learner it's always best to clearly separate vowels, although I can't get myself to do glottal stops.
    The important thing is that the vowels be separated sufficiently. Mostly by a glottal stop but not necessarily. Glottal stops are still not phonemic. I will record you keine Ahnung with and without glottal stop in a way that it would still be regarded as natual and let you judge for yourself.
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    I will record you keine Ahnung with and without glottal stop in a way that it would still be regarded as natual and let you judge for yourself.
    Here you go: keineAhnung.m4a
    The second version, the one without a glottal stop, sounds a bit sloppy to a German ear but still natural.

    In the case of beerdigen, separating the two vowels is more difficult because they are more similar then those in keine Ahnung. You would therefore more likely, in fact almost certainly, insert a glottal stop to support the separation.
     

    merquiades

    Senior Member
    English (USA Northeast)
    Not necessarily. As I said, the issue is about morpheme boundaries. Be- is a prefix.

    Listen here: How to pronounce Apple in English - Definition of Apple in English
    11 of the 12 samples start with a clearly audible glottal stop.
    I just realized that there is even supposed to be a glottal stop between a prefix and the root. That's why I thought Erinnerung was pronounced so strangely with no r. So this type of word is supposed to have as many as two glottal stops: ʔErʔinnerung. Apparently there are minimum pairs like vereisen and verreisen.
    I still don't get how to start a word with a glottal stop. I don't hear anything besides a vowel when any of these people pronounce Apple. A tutorial on youtube says it's the equivalent of a cough before the vowel.
    Just say "uh-oh" in English and you got it in between or the Glottal T in Cockney (wa?er) or some American accents. ;)
    Uh oh sounds like a pause. The cockney accent sounds like you are swallowing the T. Are you supposed to tense up your throat muscles before you start a word with a vowel?
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    I still don't get how to start a word with a glottal stop. I don't hear anything besides a vowel when any of these people pronounce Apple.
    Start exhaling and watch your airflow and start saying "apple". Did you continuously exhale of was there a brief period, even it only a few hundreds of a second, where you couldn't breathe? I do close my glottis ever so briefly before starting to speak. If I force myself to keep my glottis open all the time I can't say apple without making it sound like happle. I have recorded both versions: apple.m4a

    A tutorial on youtube says it's the equivalent of a cough before the vowel.
    That would be an aspirated glottal stop, wouldn't it?

    Apparently there are minimum pairs like vereisen and verreisen.
    Indeed.
     

    gburtonio

    Senior Member
    UK, English
    The general consensus of phoneticians of English is that an initial glottal stop before a word beginning with a a vowel is not the norm. In fact, there's a special term for this – 'hard attack' – for when it does happen (this is normally described as a means by which a word can be emphasised or as a form of liaison between two vowels). There is then typically a comment along the lines of German being very different in this respect …
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    The general consensus of phoneticians of English is that an initial glottal stop before a word beginning with a a vowel is not the norm. In fact, there's a special term for this – 'hard attack' – for when it does happen (this is normally described as a means by which a word can be emphasised or as a form of liaison between two vowels). There is then typically a comment along the lines of German being very different in this respect …
    We might be talking cross purposes here. In my last post I was talking about initial vowels in an utterance. Between morpheme boundaries and between words in connected speech, glottal stops are not required in German either, except in a few rare cases where very similar vowels join or where minimal pairs would otherwise be difficult to respect. This glottal stop might indeed be somewhat more frequent in German than in English but it is not mandatory and not phonemic.
     
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    fdb

    Senior Member
    French (France)
    When I was first learning German many many years ago somebody told me that initial vowels are always pronounced with a glottal stop, “like in Arabic”. At that time I knew nothing about Arabic, but later, when I studied that language (as it happens, in Germany) I realised at once that the onset in “Apfel” or the soft juncture in “beerdigen” were nothing remotely like the phonemic hamza in ʼamara or saʻala. That is what I call a glottal stop. My understanding is that the glottal onset is a feature of the deutsche Bühnensprache, like the alveolar (trilled) “r”, and of deliberate lento articulation, for example when speaking ultra-clearly on the telephone. It is not a feature of everyday speech.
     

    Frank78

    Senior Member
    German
    Uh oh sounds like a pause. The cockney accent sounds like you are swallowing the T. Are you supposed to tense up your throat muscles before you start a word with a vowel?

    Yeah it is basically a pause, or the opposite of a liaison.

    There are no (major) neck and throat muscles involved.

    Just try leaving your mouth open and exhale, stop and continue breathing out. When you exhale after the stop you should hear a little "pop sound" comming from your throat.

    Or could also try the "dentist's version": "ahhhh" (stop exhaling) "aaahh".
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    @fdb : The Arabic /?/ is often perceived as a devoiced [a] giving rise to transcriptions like Sanaa for صَنْعَاء or Safaa for صَفاء. There is indeed nothing remotely like this in German. I sometimes suspect in these discussions, people confuse aspirated and non-aspirated glottal stops or at least don't appreciate that there is an important difference between the two*. Would you agree?

    German has certainly no aspirated glottal stop except in unnaturally overarticulated speech.
    _______________________________________________________________
    * E.g. here:
    A tutorial on youtube says it's the equivalent of a cough before the vowel.
     

    gburtonio

    Senior Member
    UK, English
    We might be talking cross purposes here. In my last post I was talking about initial vowels in an utterance. Between morpheme boundaries and between words in connected speech, glottal stops are not required in German either, except in a few rare cases where very similar vowels join or where minimal pairs would otherwise be difficult to respect. This glottal stop might indeed be somewhat more frequent in German than in English but it is not mandatory and not phonemic.

    My post was more in response to yours about the recordings of 'apple' all featuring (apart from one) an initial glottal stop. Having said this, maybe a 'hard attack' would be expected here, since in making such a recording of a word in isolation, a speaker will by definition be 'emphasising' it (as per the explanations in the standard phonological accounts).

    It may be a case of degree. Obviously the amount of plosion created can vary; it's not particularly noticeable to me in any of the recordings you linked to. I think the 'hard attack' referred to in phonological accounts of English would involve a greater degree of plosion.
     
    I was once told by a native German-speaker that German sounds so "clipped" because of the necessarily precise enunciation of inflected word endings, which of course strengthens the oral muscles and gives precision throughout the language.

    I can't say that I've found that to be always true though!
     

    merquiades

    Senior Member
    English (USA Northeast)
    Yeah it is basically a pause, or the opposite of a liaison.

    There are no (major) neck and throat muscles involved.

    Just try leaving your mouth open and exhale, stop and continue breathing out. When you exhale after the stop you should hear a little "pop sound" comming from your throat.

    Or could also try the "dentist's version": "ahhhh" (stop exhaling) "aaahh".
    It's a bit more than a pause. I've been listening to an English woman repeating "That is not what I wanted at all". You close the throat quickly and then pop the following vowel. I can just transpose that. It's kind of rough to do that several times in a row though. Sie essen die Orangen und die Äpfel
     

    Frank78

    Senior Member
    German
    It's a bit more than a pause. I've been listening to an English woman repeating "That is not what I wanted at all". You close the throat quickly and then pop the following vowel. I can just transpose that. It's kind of rough to do that several times in a row though. Sie essen die Orangen und die Äpfel

    It is absolutely necessary to be understood. I remember your recordings in German and that was a big issue there. If you can't do the glottal stops just make a short pause that's enough to make it sound understandable.

    Have a look here. At the beginning the sentences are spoken the "French" way and it's nearly impossible for native speakers to recognize what is being said.

    How do you pronounce words ending with a T in American English? Do you say "great" or "grea?"

    By the way it's less like coughing but more like hiccups, i.e. you stop breathing and block the airflow not with your lips (that's why I said keep your mouth open) but back in your throat with your vocal folds.
     
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    merquiades

    Senior Member
    English (USA Northeast)
    It is absolutely necessary to be understood. I remember your recordings in German and that was a big issue there. If you can't do the glottal stops just make a short pause that's enough to make it sound understandable.

    Have a look here. At the beginning the sentences are spoken the "French" way and it's nearly impossible for native speakers to recognize what is being said.

    How do you pronounce words ending with a T in American English? Do you say "great" or "grea?"

    By the way it's less like coughing but more like hiccups, i.e. you stop breathing and block the airflow not with your lips (that's why I said keep your mouth open) but back in your throat with your vocal folds.
    Thanks for the video. It's good and instructive. I never thought prefixes were separated from verbs! I guess I must speak sometimes like at the beginning of the video.
    In great I pronounce a t but with no aspiration. I don't say grea?. Otherwise I link with a flap t. Great idea / greadidea, not like the frequent English grea?idea.

    I made a recording, forcing myself to make pauses. Is this better?
     
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