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There is a street and U-Bahn station in Vienna called Handelskai. Over the speakers in subway and busses I always hear it pronounced like "Handelski". However, other "Kais" (eg. "Franz-Josefs-Kai") were pronounced "kai" / "kay". Why is this only word pronounced different?

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    Probably a glitch in the recording. I see no reason to pronounce it differently. Kudos for such an interesting observation, though!
    – Stephie
    Feb 9, 2015 at 10:36

3 Answers 3

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As the voice of Vienna public transport has changed two years ago, I don't know which you are referring to, but you may convince yourself by listening to the old announcements of Franz Kaida (http://www.fpdwl.at/forum/downloads/ansagen/u-bahn/6-stationsansagen-linie-u6/index.html) that he didn't say "kee" (English pronunciation) but an elongated "kay" which may sound like "kee" in the ears of an English native speaker – or a Polish one, which I can't tell. If you're not referring to the "old" voice, the new one of Angela Schneider is even better trained and certainly didn't let wrongly slip an "ee".

You can get the answer why "Kai" is pronounced like the French "quai" from etymological sources like the Deutsches Wörterbuch von Jacob und Wilhelm Grimm: "Kai" is, until today, often taken for a word of French origin and thus pronounced, although it is of Netherlandish origin ("Man findet in deutschem text häufig die franz. form, weil man das wort gewöhnlich für ein franz. hält, auch franz. ausspricht, schwerlich mit recht"). But this seems to be the case not only in Vienna or Austria, but also in several regions throughout Germany. Wherever the word has the French spelling outside French-speaking countries, of course, it is usually also pronounced that way.

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    Unfortunately, the audio recording seems to have been lost.
    – Carsten S
    Jun 24, 2022 at 9:00
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In Vienna, Kai is pronounced [keː] instead of [kaɪ̯].

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  • Could you please say something about the difference OP claims to hear? Are all other stations pronounced "atypically"?
    – Stephie
    Feb 10, 2015 at 5:45
  • I don't really know about that. Maybe it's just a speech computer that is unadapted.
    – Benjoyo
    Feb 10, 2015 at 13:26
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    No, not a computer. On the official homepage of Wiener Linien, there is a link to a making-of video for the sounds. There is also a fan page where you can find the full audio files of the older versions used until a few yours ago
    – Hulk
    Feb 11, 2015 at 6:08
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    As far as I know Kai = riverbank in English and all those places are pronounced [ke:] in Vienna.
    – Al Kepp
    Sep 7, 2019 at 11:40
  • @AlKepp: Does the word have a different meaning in Austria than in Germany? In Germany, a "Kai" is not simply a riverbank, but a wharf; a stretch of a shoreline which has been fortified with a vertical wall to enable the landing of ships. Jun 24, 2022 at 19:50
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It isn't pronounced differently, maybe the sound recording is different due to technical reasons. In Vienna, "Kai" is pronounced [ke:].

Till the end of the 19th century, most foreign words in Austrian German were French (or Latin or Yiddish, some were Italian and some from Slavic languages), not English, not Dutch. French was considered to be more noble, and English played no role at all.

The original spelling was "Handelsquai" from the French word "quai", see e.g. https://www.geschichtewiki.wien.gv.at/Handelskai and therefore the "quai" was also pronounced French-like.

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  • 'and therefore the "quai" was also pronounced French-like' - is that the reason for the pronunciation? I'm asking because in my impression, the "ai"/"ei" sound is always pronounced like something between 'ä' and 'e' by most speakers with Austrian pronunciation, no matter what word I'm looking at. Jun 24, 2022 at 19:54
  • @O. R. Mapper : Yes, it is, you're right. In this case, the French origin of the word "quai" is the reason for today's pronunciation of "-kai" in Vienna.
    – ASlateff
    Apr 17, 2023 at 18:29
  • Well ... do you have any references in support of that claim? I mean, anything that would convincingly overrule the factor that even the word spelt "Kai", which is pronounced [kai] by people from most parts of Germany, would be pronounced similar to [ke:] by people from Vienna, anyway? Apr 17, 2023 at 20:48
  • I live in Vienna, Austria, and was also born here. :-) The reference has already been linked in my answer above from Jun 24, 2022.
    – ASlateff
    Apr 17, 2023 at 21:07
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    The monophtongisation in Viennese dialect, which you might be talking about, is not a closed [e:], but an open [ɛ:]. So, the word "Kai" is pronounced [ke:] due to its French origin, but "Kaiser" is monophtongized pronounced [ˈkɛ:sa] in Viennese dialect, and [ˈkaɪzə] in official High German.
    – ASlateff
    Apr 17, 2023 at 21:18

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