Consonants may be classified according to the point and manner of articulation. Consonants may be articulated in the throat (laryngeals), at the uvula (uvulars), at the palate (palatals or velars), the alveolar ridge just behind the teeth (alveolars), at the teeth (dentals), and at the lips (labials). Consonants may be articulated in a brief manner that stops the flow of vowels (stops), or in a continuous way (called either fricatives or continuants). There are also consonants directed through the nasal cavity, called sonants or nasals. A third way of distinguishing consonants regards whether the vocal cords are vibrated (voiced consonants) or not (unvoiced).
The following classes are important for German. The sound values are as pronounced in English.
Stops Continuants Sonants/nasals
Voiced b v m
Unvoiced p f
Voiced d n r? (or uvular)
Voiced g l
Unvoiced k χ (German ch)
Changes in German Pronunciation according to Position
The bold print below represents the English sounds, the italics represents the German letter. The voiced stops b, d, and g become unvoiced at the end of a syllable (this is a simplified explanation). The sound of the German consonant indicated by the letter in italics is indicated by the English value in bold print.
der d und t böse b gibt p Tage g Tag k (χ)
Sohn, lese z ist, s
The letter w is pronounced as v, and v as f; z is pronounced as ts; j is y.
From German to English
English and German are cousins; they descend from a common origin. Note the following transformations.
t > d d > th t > s s > t v > f g > y b > f
Tochter dick, dünn hat hassen Vater sagen was? selb
Daughter thick, thin has hate Father say what? self
trinken Bruder essen Weg
drink brother eat way
O and U are close to each other; E and I are close to each other. The consonants ch have a one sound following e or i and another sound following a, o, or u.
Umlaut. The two dots over a vowel (a, o, or u) indicate a change in sound. Umlaut over a is the easiest; the sound is changed to that of e. Umlaut over o or u indicates a shift toward the sound of i or e. Thus the sound of ch is different in Tochter and Töchter, in Buch and Bücher. The sound of ö or ü is best learned by listening and practice.
Etymology is the study of word origins. Someone once said, “Etymology is the science in which vowels count for nothing and consonants very little.” Actually, with a little imagination, one can see the connection between many English words and their German counterparts. With practice one can even begin to see regular patterns in the way both consonants and vowels shift in the transition from one language to the other.
Germans like to make compound words whenever they can. Here are some make-believe examples we would have if we did the same thing in English. German compounds are made up of basic roots plus prefixes, suffixes, infixes, and other word-formation elements.
The feeling you get when your dog greets you with a lick in the face =
dogfacelickishness (or should it be doglickfaceishness?)
The science of studying the garbage of celebrities =
celebritygarbology or richandfamousdumpstersurfinggossiplearningcraft.
Try these real German compounds:
Stille(n) Sonntagvormittag* Take this one apart; clue: think of the Christmas hymn Stille Nacht. What would a stille Sonn-tag-vor-mit-tag be?
selbstverständlich* selbst = self verstand(en) = understanding –lich (cf. Engl –ly)
The following are some of our German cousins (cognates). Some hints: a word following der, die, or das (and capitalized) is a noun (all nouns are capitalized in German) German verbs are generally cited in the infinitive form ending in –en. Adjectives may resemble nouns, but they will not be capitalized. See if you can guess the English equivalent:
der Vater, die Mutter, der Bruder, Die Schwester, der Sohn, die Tochter, das Knie, der Arm, der Finger, der Elbogen, das Bett, das Boot, springen, singen, schwimmen, fischen, lieben, sagen, lacheln, die Post, die Luftpost, die Postkarte, die Lederhosen, englisch, wünschen, der Fuss, das Herz, das Fieber, das Fussballfeld, wandern, studieren, die Schule, die Universität, das Volk, das Auto, der Wagen, der Volkswagen.
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