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My understanding is that "Umlaut" represents the diacritical marks over 'a', 'o', 'u', etc.

But what is an "Ablaut"?

The topic came up in the comments on this question.

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"Umlaut" has two meanings: it could be the diacritical mark, or the change of vowel sound (e.g. foot->feet). Also, see Wikipedia's Ablaut vs. umlaut. –  Tim N Aug 1 '11 at 19:03
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up vote 3 down vote accepted

"Ablaut" is a linguistic term symonymous to apophony:

A vowel change, characteristic of Indo-European languages, that accompanies a change in grammatical function; for example, i, a, u in sing, sang, sung.The Free Dictionary

The term was first introduced by Jacob Grimm who defines it as follows:

ABLAUT, m. permutatio vocalium literarum, geregelter übergang des vocals der wurzel in einen andern; ein edles und ihr wesentliches vermögen der deutschen sprache, verschieden von umlaut.Deutsches Wörterbuch von Jacob Grimm und Wilhelm Grimm

Examples in German woud be:

singen, sang, gesungen
stehe, stand, gestanden
reissen, riss, gerissen

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What is the difference between foot-feet (umlaut) and singen-sang (ablaut)? –  Tim N Aug 2 '11 at 7:19
    
@Tim N. My guess is that the difference between "foot-feet" are represented by an umlaut only in GERMAN. Meaning that they would probably be "ablauts" in English. –  Tom Au Aug 5 '11 at 20:05
    
@Tom: In the Wikipedia article, the vowel change between the English words "foot" and "feet" is listed as an umlaut (the change of sound, not the diacritic). –  Tim N Aug 5 '11 at 20:33
    
@Tim: I answered your question here: german.stackexchange.com/questions/9425/… (it was a bit long for a comment). –  fifaltra Jan 2 at 13:44
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