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AFAIK a short "ä" is always pronounced /ɛ/ in German, but is there a consensus among native German speakers about the pronunciation of a long "ä" ? Different sources say different things about it:

  • "ä" is always pronounced /ɛ:/, a longer version of the phoneme of the letter "e" in the English word "bed" (US pronunciation in IPA syntax: /bɛd/)

  • "ä" is always pronounced /e:/, a longer version of the first phoneme of the letter "A" in the English word "April" (US pronunciation in IPA syntax: /ˈeɪ.pɹəl/)

However, the pronunciation I hear in different German words is not consistent with any of those two rules. Example: in http://joycep.myweb.port.ac.uk/pronounce/vowelae.html , "Mädchen" is pronounced /ˈmeːtçən/ , "kläglich" /klɛ:gliç/ , "wählen" /ˈvɛːlən/ and "Währung" /ˈveːʁʊŋ/ . Is it a regional difference?

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    I think it comes from laziness. Pronouncing Mädchen with /eː/ doesn't require you to open your mouth as wide as with /ɛ:/ Commented Jul 30, 2020 at 21:52
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    There's surely some regionality involved. In standard eastern Austrian, long "ä" is always realized as [e:] (sehen == sähen), as far as I can tell; and I believe it tends to become an actual [ɛː] the more northern you go in Germany. Anyway, we're talking about phonetics here, so [square brackets] are appropriate. The underlying phoneme is always /ɛː/, contrasting with /eː/. Commented Jul 31, 2020 at 6:41
  • ^ that, and not to mention expression of kind of dramatic emphasis. Commented Jul 31, 2020 at 6:56
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    @phipsgabler However, the Northern German pronunciation of Städte sounds like 'Steete' Commented Jul 31, 2020 at 11:09
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    @phipsgabler Isn't the pronunciation the other way around in Germany? According to en.wiktionary.org/wiki/M%C3%A4dchen , german.stackexchange.com/questions/6782/… and forum.wordreference.com/threads/e-und-%C3%A4.134616 , the long "ä" is pronounced [e:] in Northern Germany. Commented Jul 31, 2020 at 11:46

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In standard German, a short "ä" is indeed pronounced /ɛ/.

In standard German, a long "ä" is pronounced [ɛː], but the pronunciation differs in some dialects. For instance, it is pronounced [eː] in northern Germany. As the media usually follows a northern dialect, it is common to hear a long "ä" pronounced as [e:] in German movies, TV series and news broadcasting.

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  • The media don't follow the Berlin dialect -- which is a relatively young, eclectic metrolect -- at all! (At least not outside of Mario Barth's TV show and the regional broadcaster RBB.) If they did, they would, e.g., say ick for ich or ooch instead of auch. At most, the media follow an accent, and that would probably be the one of Hanover. NB that in regard of TV broadcasters, Cologne and Munich are much bigger locations than Berlin, and Hamburg arguably exceeds Berlin for print media. Commented Jul 31, 2020 at 14:37
  • @amadeusamadeus Thanks for the feedback. As the recently successful "Dark" TV series was produced in Berlin and its surroundings, I have (probably incorrectly) generalized that most movies and series were produced and filmed there. I'll fix my answer. Commented Jul 31, 2020 at 17:46

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