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You may read the following two texts aloud:

Ich sage dir doch, entgegen aller Behauptungen ist Bob kein Baumeister! Er ist wirklich ein Bauer!

compare it with

Bob ist der Dümmste und erntet die dicksten Kartoffeln. Er ist wirklich ein Bauer!

I think chances are pretty high that you have spelled the first 'wirklich', which means 'in truth', in a different manner than the second one, which means 'to large extent'. At least if you are a German native from the Rhineland-Palatia.

The same can be done if you replace 'wirklich' by 'echt' or 'wahrhaftig'. I believe that English 'really' can be used with two meanings, too, and that both German and English tend to use the same words for both meanings in general. This phenomenon confuses me.

  1. What is the phonetic difference between the two pronunciations? I would even guess it is tonal, but I don't know.
  2. Are these pronunciations variants of the same word, or should they be considered two different words?
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Off topic, but related: Please avoid using "nicht wirklich" when in English one would use "not really". A correct translation would be "eigentlich nicht". – Hagen von Eitzen Jan 6 '13 at 11:13

Your first example uses the word "wirklich" in a wrong manner. Correctly it should be this:

Ich sage dir doch, entgegen aller Behauptungen ist Bob kein Baumeister! Er ist in Wirklichkeit ein Bauer!

or one of these:

[...] Er ist in Wahrheit ein Bauer!
[...] In Wirklichkeit ist er ein Bauer!
[...] In Wahrheit ist er ein Bauer!

So, in fact there are not two distinct versions of the word "wirklich".

And here is the correct translation of last sentence:

In Wirklichkeit gibt es also keine zwei verschiedenen Varianten des Wortes "wirklich".

while this is wrong: Wirklich gibt es also keine zwei verschiedenen Varianten des Wortes "wirklich".

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No inkling what for you've got the downvote but I fully agree. Wirklich in the first sentence doesn't only sound odd but it is wrong also. – Em1 Jan 1 '13 at 14:15
I think it is correct, when you assume that the other person has expressed strong disbelief of the fact of Bob being a Bauer once or twice before the snippet we see here... the intonation would need a strong emphasis on wirklich... long, loud and high pitched... try to ignore the second part of the first sentence and just say "Ich sage dir doch, er ist WIRKLICH ein Bauer." – Emanuel Jan 2 '13 at 12:25
I disagree. Compare for example: At least in colloquial speech the first sentence is nothing anybody would object. – shuhalo Jan 3 '13 at 11:12

The first wirklich would see a strong emphasis on wirklich probably involving all variables possible (duration, pitch, loudness, gesture).

The second wirklich will have an emphasis too, but it will be matched by an equally stressed Bauer. Without that stress on Bauer it would sound like the first wirklich and that would be confusing as it doesn't make sense.

Note that there is one specific emphasis that does apply in neither of the examples... a strong pitch raise between wirk and lich. That would sound (to me) like the meaning Hubert suggested in his answer and as such it is weird but not unheard of.

Is it one word? My first reaction was "of course" but then what do you do with "ihr"... is that one word or 3... to me it is 3 so why should wirklich be only 1. But then again if we go down this route, anstellen would be at least 5 words and I don't know if we want to do that... so I guess eventually it is a question of your personal perspective. To me both meanings are similar enough in core and grammar that it counts as one. Ihr has 3 totally different meanings with different grammar, hence 3... but that is just my opinion.

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While it sounds a bit antiquated, using wirklich in the sense of in Wahrheit / in Wirklichkeit can be found in German writing.

Man muß bei dieser Selbsterforschung nicht streng nur bei demjenigen stehenbleiben, was Pflicht und Moral angeht, sondern sein inneres Wesen in seinem ganzen Umfange und von allen Seiten nehmen. Wirklich ist es ein viel zu beschränkter Begriff, wenn man sich selbst gleichsam vor Gericht ziehen und nach Schuld und Unschuld fragen will. Die ganze Veredlung des Wesens, die möglichste Erhebung der Gesinnung, die größte Erweiterung der inneren Bestrebungen ist ebensowohl die Aufgabe, die der Mensch zu lösen hat, als die Reinheit seiner Handlungen.

Wilhelm von Humboldt, Briefe an eine Freundin

While I would be cautious to use wirklich in this sense, it could work as a stylistic device in some circumstances.

Even more antiquated (but not, apparently, in Austria) is wirklich as an attribute to distinguish a higher class of Geheimer Rat or Hofrat:

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