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More than any other phrase in German I have a problem pronouncing zum mitnehmen. According to how I read the word mitnehmen I should be using 3 syllables: mit-neh-men, but when I hear German native speakers say this word, it sounds to me like they're only using 2 syllables: mit-nehm.

Is this because they are just saying it very quickly, but they're still using all three syllables? Or are they actually only using 2 syllables?

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    Listen carefully, you may hear mitnehmn. Dropping the e before n is a common feature of Northern German dialects. – Janka Apr 14 '17 at 12:13
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It is mit-neh-men, Germans often say it quickly and "verschlucken" the last syllable

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    You are right, (some) Germans do this. I've never heard Austrians leaving out this last syllable. They just pronounce it a little bit different (last syllable sounds like »man«: »mit-ne-man«, but always with 3 syllables. – Hubert Schölnast Apr 14 '17 at 10:41
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The formal pronunciation is /ˈmɪtˌneːmən/, that is, three syllables /ˈmɪt/, /ˌneː/, and /mən/. In colloquial speech, the /ə/ is usually dropped and the /n/ becomes syllabic, resulting in /ˈmɪtˌneːmn̩/. That's still three syllables: /ˈmɪt/, /ˌneː/, and /mn̩/. Now assimilation may take place: If the syllabic /n̩/ is assimilated to the preceding /m/, this results in a syllabic /m̩/, that is, /ˈmɪtˌneːm̩/. Now that looks like a two-syllable word, but it's still perceived as three syllables by native speakers: /ˈmɪt/, /ˌneː/, and /m̩/. (Yes, the last syllable consists only of a long /m/ sound.)

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  • This only occurs in northern parts of German sprachraum. So the statement "the /ə/ is usually dropped" is not correct. It should be "the /ə/ is dropped in the northern regions of Germany". And: Please split your answer into at least two paragraphs, it will become better readable. – Hubert Schölnast Apr 15 '17 at 14:27
  • I really like /ˈmɪtˌneːm̩/ being presented as - still - a three-syllable word but with syllabic m. Very good approach also for language teaching. Thank you! – Christian Geiselmann Apr 19 '17 at 15:59
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The question whether a syllable is really there in the speech signal is highly arbitrary. Very often a speaker thinks they've pronounced an ending, and the listeners think they've heard it, but when you measure the length of the segments objectively, there is no trace of the final syllable. Therefore, paradoxically, there is definitely a trend towards shortened pronunciation, but it is practically impossible to decide whether it occurs or not in any given utterance.

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You can always look for the number of syllables of a word under Worttrennung on Duden.de

To answer your question, the Duden says;

Worttrennung: mit|neh|men

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    The orthography Duden specifies whether (and if so, how) a word can be hyphenated, but "hyphenation syllables" need not agree with "pronunciation syllables". For instance, "eben" consists of two syllables, but it cannot be hyphenated. – Uwe Apr 14 '17 at 13:10
  • @Uwe I am not sure that eben consists of two syllables. Because other online dictionaries approves ( silbentrennung24.de/wort/eben ) that eben has only one syllable, while the the emphasis is [ˈeːbn̩] like it has two syllables. – Ad Infinitum Apr 14 '17 at 13:28
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    Both "eben" and "leben" have the same number of "pronunciation syllables", namely two, at least in careful speech. The reason why "leben" has two "hyphenation syllables", whereas "eben" has only one, is that there is a special hyphenation rule that prevents single vowels from being hyphenated from the rest of the word (i.e., "le-ben" but not "e-ben"). – Uwe Apr 14 '17 at 13:35
  • @Uwe Hmm, interesting. Then, "eben" is a kind of exception. Because what i know is Worttrennung = Silbertrennung. Thanks for the info. – Ad Infinitum Apr 14 '17 at 13:51
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    Hubert, my Duden sais nothing about how a word should be pronounced. It only sais how it should be written. (Okay, admittedly they set a mark to indicate where should be the stress in the word. But that's all they do regarding pronunciation. - Referring here to Duden. Deutsches Universalwörterbuch A-Z. Mannheim, Wien, Zürich 1989. 1815 pages.) – Christian Geiselmann Apr 19 '17 at 15:55
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mitnemn

This is a classic case of not pronouncing the ending of words properly in order to save energy.

In German you'd call this: Verschlucken der Wortendung.

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