misterious ö-vowels

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misterious ö-vowels

Post by Andi » Wed Apr 05, 2006 2:13 pm

I've just read somewehre in your "PHASES" that you had problems with the german Umlaut ö. And that you needed words which contain this vowel to get acostumed to its sound. That made me wonder if you never discoverd, that there are a lot of ös in the english language, too.
I've just made up the following silly sentence:

The early bird has learned to murder with her words.

As a native german speaker I can clearly hear:

The örly börd has lörned to mörder with hör wörds. :wink:

Even an ä can be heard in words like

that, where, care, fair, . . .

(thät, whäre, cäre, fär, . . .)

What is strange to me is, that you use spellings like ea, i, u, e, o for one single sound, where a German would simply write an ö all the time.
Perhaps this is part of the problem with illiteracy as you mention in your article.
And it seems somehow to be related to the chroma-hearing-phenomene: For some it is just obvious, and others can't hear it. But I hope, this will change soon with the help of your fantastic program.

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Post by paul-donnelly » Thu Apr 06, 2006 10:53 pm

Maybe it's because I'm not pronouncing ö right, but I don't consider it the same as the words in your list at all. In my dialect of English those vowels are pronounced with the tip of the tongue raised near the roof of the mouth for the duration of the vowel. I don't pronounce ö like that (please tell me if I should). In addition, murder is prounounced "murdur" around here. You might spell it phonetically as mrdr, since the letter r takes over the vowel which precedes it.

Also, I prononce the word "that" differently from the other words you list.

I think this has to do with the English dialects that you and I are familiar with.

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Post by aruffo » Fri Apr 07, 2006 4:24 pm

Paul has the right idea-- listening to the perceived sound is very misleading, so you'll wanna concentrate on how the mouth forms the words.

I've pegged the characteristic German accent as habitually keeping the tip of the tongue raised to just behind the top row of teeth, and also keeping the back of the throat closed (in a slack, relaxed/disengaged way, not tensely held shut). This makes the umlauts unusual because they open the throat-- perhaps the German tendency to keep the throat closed is why these vowels were specifically identified (where they are not in English).

Specifically, I discovered:

Say the American O as in "took". Notice that your throat opening is narrow. Widen that opening and you're saying ö.

Say the American O as in "cool". Widen that throat opening and you're saying ü.

Say the first half of the letter A (the "eh" sound before it slides into the "ee" sound). Widen that throat opening and you're saying ä.

I've got some studies which demonstrate how native speakers of different languages have different categorical boundaries for the same phonemic sounds. It's entirely possible that each of you would hear the same sound and put that sound into a totally different mental category.

In the case of "the early bird has learned to murder with her words"-- if you say it in straight American, you'll notice that the back of your throat is closed, and the vowels sound like ordinary American vowels; but if you keep the back of your throat open you will definitely hear all the ö sounds. I think it's a mental-category issue, where the American listener distinguishes sharply between closed and open throat and the German listener (probably) picks up on the fact that the "er" in "early" is slightly open.

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Post by KosciaK » Sat Apr 08, 2006 2:57 am


There might be a one more important issue. Even native Germans may say all these umlauts differently depending on the region of Germany they come from and they live in. As far as I know there are some differencies in accent and pronunciation between regions - just as differencies between regions in England


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Post by Andi » Mon Apr 17, 2006 3:35 pm

Of course you are both right!
@Chris: One can learn to speak a correct Ö (if such a thing really exists?) by analysing how far to open the throath and where to place the tongue and so on, but i doubt, that any child learns to speak that way...
It's entirely possible that each of you would hear the same sound and put that sound into a totally different mental category.

Defenitely! And I have always wonderd, why you write e.g. "EAR" and "hEAR" and "lEARn" which all contain the same letters EAR but "learn" is pronounced completely different...

@KosciaK: Of course an Ö can be pronounced in many different ways and still be recocnized as an Ö (the Ös in my bad english sentence at the start of this topic don't sound all the same to me either, but they have alle some kind of "Öness" :wink: )
And when you take an Ä: This Umlaut is the hardest for any german child to distinguishe from a (german sounding!) E, because if you sound it out while speaking you might pronounce it completely wrong (speaking of throath and tongue). But there is no chance in misunderstanding the word, its just a matter of misSPELLing it!


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