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I encountered the word "Typ" (en:type) which has a 'y' serving as a vowel; in this case a 'ü', I believe.

Is this a singular case or are there more words in which 'y' is used as a vowel?

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3  
Yes, the letter Y is part of the standard German alphabet. Is there anything further than that you like to know? –  Takkat May 14 '12 at 6:41
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Consider it a surrogate vowel like it's also done in English: syllable, cylinder, bicycle. –  John Smithers May 14 '12 at 9:29
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Essentially, the letter "y" itself is no vowel in the German Language. The letter that are vowels in German are:

a, ä, e, i, o, ö, u, ü WIKIPEDIA

(On Wikipedia there is also mentioned É == ee, as in "Varieté" .)

Moreover, they WIKI article says that the letter "y" can be accounted as a vowel, since its pronunciation is often like the German "ü". In some circumstances it is pronounced as "j" (*), but in some cases that's true for "i" and "u", too (e.g. Qualle [ˈkvalə])

Strictly speaking, we have to consider the way how we pronounce the letter. That is, in "Typ" the vowel is a long ü.

Das Deutsche ist, was das Lautinventar betrifft, eine der vokalreichsten Sprachen der Welt. Zu den Vokalen des Standarddeutschen gehören der i-Laut in „Igel“, der i-Laut in „Iltis“, der e-Laut in „Eva“, der ä-Laut in „Käse“ (siehe unten), der e-Laut in „Esra“, der mit dem Buchstaben e wiedergegebene Laut in „Ute“, der a-Laut in „Pate“, der a-Laut in „Paste“, der o-Laut in „Ton“, der o-Laut in „von“, der u-Laut in „Ute“, der u-Laut in „Bus“, der ü-Laut in „Tüte“, der ü-Laut in „Küste“, der ö-Laut in „Flöte“, der ö-Laut in „öfter“ und der dem kurzen a-Laut ähnliche, aber doch klar von ihm unterschiedene Vokal am Ende des Wortes „Leder“ (durch die Buchstabenkombination „er“ repräsentiert; im Unterschied zu Schreibung und Aussprache des Wortes „Leda“). WIKIPEDIA

(The bold part is the vowel which covers "Typ".)

For that reason, we can count "y" as vowel. Though, note please that the y just occurs in adopted words from different languages. Words that are borrowed from Greek are pronounced as "ü". In all other cases the "y" is pronounced as in the "original language", therefore it also can be pronounced as "i" (Party, Hobby). WIKIPEDIA

In a nutshell: Besides of proper names there are no German words that have the letter "y". Thus, for the German language itself it is hard to say if it is a vowel or not. For the words from foreign languages we take the pronunciation of the other language. That don't makes the "y" a vowel in the German languages automatically, not least because there are a lot of "exceptions" where it isn't pronounced as vowel. I don't see "y" as a vowel of the German language and that's what you learn in school, too.


(*) I just want to mention a few words in which the y is spoken as consonant j:

  • Yeti [ˈjeːti]
  • Yoga [ˈjoːɡa] (alternative spelling: Joga)
  • Yacht [jaχt] (alternative spelling: Jacht)

For the sake of completeness, I shouldn't forget to mention diphthongs:

ei/ey/ai/ay/au/ao/eu/äu/oi/oy

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There are more words like "Yeti", e.g. "Yoga". –  Landei May 14 '12 at 7:58
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There are quite a lot words where “y” serves as a vowel (often words with a greek root): synkron, Synonym, Sympathie, Rhythmus, Lyrik, Tyrann, Mystik,... –  cgnieder May 14 '12 at 10:04
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@Em1 I have a bit of trouble with "foreign words". If you only go back far enough you can find some foreign root for loads of words, e.g. "Tafel"... –  cgnieder May 14 '12 at 12:39
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Well, I guess my point is this: both for the question and for learning German it is completely irrelevant if the words have been adapted some time in the past or not. Just like in English "y" can serve both as a vowel and as a consonant in German. –  cgnieder May 14 '12 at 17:00
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@HendrikVogt: I'd say Ymir ( de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ymir ) isn't a loan word, as it comes from German(ic) mythology. –  Landei May 21 '12 at 12:49
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A vowel is really primarily a type of sound rather than a letter. But the letters used to represent vowels can also be referred to as vowels (Vokalbuchstaben in German). In both English and German, Y sometimes represents a vowel and sometimes a consonant.

It looks like Y was originally introduced into the Roman alphabet solely for the purpose of transcribing the letter Y (ypsilon) - which is a vowel - in Greek words. See the following quote from Wikipedia (from the German page on the Roman alphabet):

"Weitere Veränderungen ergaben sich, nachdem das griechische Mutterland 146 v. Chr. unterworfen und dem Staatsgebiet der Römischen Republik eingegliedert worden war und verstärkter Bedarf entstand, griechische Namen und Fremdwörter in lateinischer Schrift wiederzugeben. Das griechische Ypsilon, das in der etruskischen Schreibform V schon in archaischer Zeit zur Schreibung des Vokals [u] (gemäß dem Lautwert auch im archaischen Griechisch, vgl. lat. burrus < πυρρός „rot”) und des Halbkonsonanten [w] in das lateinische Alphabet übernommen worden, wurde in klassischer Zeit mit dem auch im klassischen Griechisch mittlerweile gegebenen Lautwert [ü] noch einmal, diesmal in der Schreibform Y und aus dem Griechischen direkt, übernommen, blieb hierbei im Lateinischen aber als ein Fremdzeichen für die Schreibung griechischer Namen und Fremdwörter reserviert."

Since Y is called Ypsilon in German, and based on the fact that the only reasonably old German words I know are actually Greek, I'm guessing that for a while after the Roman alphabet began to be used for German, Y was only used for transcribing Greek words (and therefore only as a vowel), as had been the case in Latin. But this is only a conjecture.

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