The Pronounciation of German Loanwords in English. An Analysis of Phonological Differences

Term Paper, 2007
17 Pages, Grade: 2


Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2 Contrastive Phonology of German and English
2.1 Consonants
2.2 Monophthongs
2.3 Diphthongs

3 German Loanwords in English
3.1 Definition of Loanwords
3.2 The Context and History of German Loanwords in English
3.3 Classification of Loanwords

4 Methodology, Data Collection and Hypothesis
4.1 The Most Frequent Borrowings
4.2 Hypothesis

5 Analysis of Phonological Differences
5.1 Results of Audio Recording
5.2 Analysis
5.2.1 Consonantal differences
5.2.2 Differences among Monophthongs
5.2.3 Differences among Diphthongs

6 Conclusion

7 References

1 Introduction

“English does not have many German loanwords – at least not many of common use – but those it does have are a rather more mixed bunch than such stereotypic lists might imply.” (Stubbs 1998:19) With his statement, Stubbs refers to those linguists who claim that the small number of German loanwords in English only originate from specific historical contexts. In his paper, he wants to revise this belief and show that also more general terms are adapted from German to English. My paper will focus on the pronunciation of the most frequent German borrowings in English, which derive from different contexts. It will point out the influence of English phonology on the realization of these loanwords by native speakers of English. First, I will emphasise the main differences between English and German phonology. A short overview of historical incidents will illustrate the impact of German on the English vocabulary. A definition describes what is meant by the term loanwords and a classification will distinguish between different types of loanwords. In order to get presentable information about the most frequently occurring loanwords, I collected my data from different corpora and I checked the phonetic realization using two pronunciation dictionaries, namely the Longman Pronunciation Dictionary and the English Pronunciation Dictionary by Wells and Jones. Additionally, I taped three native speakers of British English for my investigation. I will provide the list of borrowings, which represents my data collection via the two online corpora Oxford English Dictionary (OED) and the British National Corpus (BNC). The list will concentrate on the latest loanwords occurring in English since 1800. The study of the etymology is useful in order to show that these words are direct loans from German. According to the comparison of German and English phonological particularities, and using the list as a basis, I will formulate a hypothesis about the changes in the pronunciation. After that, my paper will show the results of the recording of the three native speakers. Simultaneously, the words will be analysed with respect to their phonetic realization. Finally, I will sum up the main results and conclude whether the hypothesis is relevant.

2 Contrastive Phonology of German and English

In order to be able to analyse the phonology of German loanwords in English, it is necessary to give an overview of the main phonological differences between English and German. Therefore, this paragraph will show the corresponding consonant and vowel inventories and point out where they vary. My research is based on the vowel and consonant system of Received Pronunciation, which represents the most prestigious, generally accepted accent of British English.

2.1 Consonants

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

(Kortmann 2005:182)

Regarding the table of consonants above, and given the fact that some consonants from the German system are missing in the English one and vice versa, we expect that native speakers of English will have difficulties in pronouncing certain German loanwords, which contain consonants that are not available in the English inventory. At least, the result will not sound like the original German word.

For example, English lacks the fricatives /ç/ and /x/, in German also known as the ich-Laut and ach-Laut. It is debatable whether the affricates /pf/, /ts/ and /ks/ should be regarded as one phoneme each or as two separate phonemes. Most linguists agree that these affricates exist in the German but not in the English consonant inventory.

Besides the complete absence of certain consonants, there are also consonants which occur in both languages, but their phonemic realization differs between English and German. This phenomenon indicates that both languages use different allophones. For example, the pronunciation of /r/ in British English is post-alveolar, whereas in German it is uvular. Moreover, German uses a clear /l/ in every position, while English makes a distinction between clear [l] and dark [ɫ]. The usage of final devoicing, i.e. the voiceless articulation of obstruents like /b/, /d/ and /g/ at the end of a syllable, is a typical German phenomenon and does not occur in English (Kortmann 1998:181-182). Another typical feature of German is the phenomenon that vocalic onsets are often preceded by a glottal stop /ʔ/ (Cannon 1994:114).

2.2 Monophthongs

English monophthongs:

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

German monophthongs:

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

(English monophthongs: (German monophthongs based on:

The most striking difference between the English and the German vowel system is that English lacks all rounded front vowels like /y:/ and /ø/. English does not use /e:/, /ɛ:/ and /o:/, either. The monophthongs /æ/, /ʌ/, /ɔ/ and /ɜ:/, which can be found in English, are not present in German (Kortmann 1998:182-183).

2.3 Diphthongs

English diphthongs:

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

(, accessed 10 November 2007)

German diphthongs:

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten


In contrast to English, which has eight diphthongs, the German vowel system contains only three, namely /ai/, /ɔi/ and /aʊ/ (Kortmann 1998:183).

3 German Loanwords in English

3.1 Definition of Loanwords

A loanword is an expression, which is directly adapted from one language to another language. Loanwords can also be referred to as “borrowings” [INT2].

The implementation of loans from foreign languages into the English vocabulary is a natural phenomenon. A language is always dynamic, i.e. changes are normal and the development of the vocabulary continues constantly. It is always influenced by words from other languages (Stubbs 1998:21).

When two languages get in contact, it is very likely that words are borrowed by one language from the other. Adopting the linguistic features typical of one language is easier within two languages, which belong to the same language group, as it is the case with English and German. The larger the typological distance between two languages, the more difficult is the transfer of linguistic items. But English and German are both West Germanic languages and the forms are partly similar.

English has borrowed some German words which are lexically more similar to the original than phonetically. Thus the graphemes resemble each other more than the phonetic realizations. That is because new phonemes are rarely adopted by a language. Therefore the question arouses how German loanwords are pronounced in English.

(Cannon 1994:113-114)


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The Pronounciation of German Loanwords in English. An Analysis of Phonological Differences
University of Marburg  (Fremdsprachliche Philologien)
Contrastive Linguistics
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pronounciation, german, loanwords, english, analysis, phonological, differences
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Stefanie Dietzel (Author), 2007, The Pronounciation of German Loanwords in English. An Analysis of Phonological Differences, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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