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Would German-speaking people notice the difference of pronunciation between iShelf and iSelf?

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Yes, they would.

iShelf is pronounced [aɪʃɛlf] and iSelf is pronounced [aɪsɛlf]. The differing sounds [ʃ] and [s] are both part of the German phoneme repertoire and distinguishing them is essential to understand the German language. For example, the German words Busch ([bʊʃ]) and Bus ([bʊs]) or Sex ([sɛks]) and Schecks ([ʃɛks]) only differ by that sound. Thus German ears are trained to that difference and will notice it.

By contrast, Germans usually have problems in recognising the difference between man ([mæn]) and men ([mɛn]), as [æ] is not part of the German phoneme repertoire.

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    Does their language need to comprise a phoneme for them to recognize such a difference? If one says mään (“man”) and menn (“men”), it’s quite distinguishable. More than, say, “jews” and “juice”. – dakab Jan 31 '16 at 10:16
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    @dakab: Does their language need to comprise a phoneme for them to recognize such a difference? – If the phonemes are close, it certainly helps and it’s the only reason I could think of why distinguishing the two could fail at all. Germans certainly have no trouble in distinguishing [æ] from [þ] (one of the English th sounds), though both are not German phonemes. — If one says mään (“man”) and menn (“men”), it’s quite distinguishable. – Yes, but that would be [mɛːn] vs. [mɛn]. The former has little to do with actual English pronunciation. – Wrzlprmft Jan 31 '16 at 10:27
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    Busch:Bus is not an appropriate minimal pair here, because whether phonemes are distinguished also depends on their syllabic position. In final/coda position, German has /-ʃ/ and /-s/ indeed (and no /-z/), but in initial/onset position it natively only has /ʃ-/ and /z-/ (no /s-/). Originally, initial /s-/ can be a dialectal allophone (e.g. /staɪn/ in Hamburg), but there are loan words now to make minimal pairs or even triples (in Standard German at least), e.g. Sex:sechs:Schecks (plus Checks /tʃ-/, Jacks /(d)ʒ-/, Specks, steck’s, schmeck’s, schleck’s as required – Swags?). – Crissov Jan 31 '16 at 11:29
  • @Wrzlprmft: By mään, I meant /mæn/, the common English pronunciation of “man”, which certainly has sth. to do with English. I doubt that “man” and “men”—properly vocalized—are difficult for Germans to differentiate. – dakab Jan 31 '16 at 11:47
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    @dakab: I doubt that “man” and “men”—properly vocalized—are difficult for Germans to differentiate. – Well, I have no statistics on this, but I have heard German native speakers claim that man and men do not differ in pronunciation at least three times in my life. – Wrzlprmft Jan 31 '16 at 15:29
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Absolutely. [s] and [ʃ] represent different phonemes in German (just as in English), so speakers of German will distinguish them.

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