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My little daughter, allthough not being in school yet, is very keen in writing words - naturally, she writes them as she thinks they are written by translating each sound to a letter.

Recently, she wrote the word

Efeu

as

Efoi

and I had to admit, that this made more sense than the correct spelling.

Interesting thing here is, that in some written dialect it is also used like that, for example in well-known expression our region:

(Weck, Worscht un Woi)

Does anyone know, why the letter eu were picked to describe the sound of oi?

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1 Answer 1

up vote 4 down vote accepted

First I want to mention the similarity of "äu" and "eu". You could say that "Hoiser" would be a better fit than "Häuser" (because of the sound), but if you look at the (written) singular "Haus", then it is more understandable to use "äu" instead of "oi".

But how did it develop: According to "Die Entstehung der neuhochdeutschen Schriftsprache" (pages 132, 133) we first had the "ou" sound:

frouwe (Frau, woman)

Around 1350 this started to change to "au":

frauwe

This "au" was also used in combination with "w" ("auw" or just "aw"):

nauw (neu, new)
getrawer (Getreuer, follower)

From 1485 this was changing to "ew", "euw":

neuw
getrewer

and from there it was a small step to "neu"/"Getreuer" as we use it today.

From "ou" to "au" was a coherent step, because they sound similar, "oi" would be not an option here. Then the development changed to "eu", not only because it sounds similar (maybe especially in the 15th century), but because of its similarity in the written language. This written similarity I wanted to show with my "äu"-example in the beginning, because language develops on both paths, written and spoken, simultaneously.

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1  
So in one sentence: The reason is etymological rather than phonetical? (trying to sound clever here) –  Jules Feb 3 '12 at 14:06
2  
I haven't taken into account that the sounds varied over time, so seems to be a good explanation - thanks! –  Geziefer Feb 3 '12 at 15:25
    
@Jules, that the reason is etymological was clear from the beginning, wasn't it? :) I just tried to rebuild the path the change has taken. –  John Smithers Feb 3 '12 at 15:59

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