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Anglicisms are common in German, but often they don't follow either the usual German pronunciation rules or the English pronunciation. Examples (pronunciations use IPA):

TV Series (English) / TV-Serie (German)

  • English pronunciation: /tiː'viː'sɪɹiz/
  • French pronunciation of the word "série": /se'ʁi/
  • German pronunciation: /tifau'sɛʁiə/
  • German pronunciation if German pronunciation rules were followed: /tefauzeːʁiə/ (as "serie" is pronounced in "Fernsehserie")

Computer

  • English pronunciation: /kəmpjutə/ (UK) , /kəmpjuɾəɹ/ (US)
  • German pronunciation: /kɔmpjuːtɐ/
  • German pronunciation if German pronunciation rules were followed: /kɔmputɐ/

Band (musical group)

  • English pronunciation: /bænd/ (US)
  • German pronunciation: /bænt/
  • German pronunciation if German pronunciation rules were followed: /bant/

Sandwich

  • English pronunciation: /sændwɪt͡ʃ/
  • German pronunciation: /sentwit͡ʃ/ , /sentvit͡ʃ/
  • German pronunciation if German pronunciation rules were followed: /zantviç/

I've seen this inconsistency in other languages in which most native speakers are not familiar with English, but that is not the case in Germany. Is there a reason for this mix between English and German in the pronunciation of these words?

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    Who the heck says /tifau'sɛʁiə/?
    – Janka
    Commented Feb 26 at 13:33
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    I'm not convinced there really are "rules" as such for borrowed words. I think in general German likes to stick to the original pronunciation more than English, but there are many other factors involved. Are the sounds that don't exist in the borrowing language? Would the spelling be difficult to interpret? Was the word recently borrowed or has it been around for a while. German also combines native and foreign components, e.g. "ausflippen". A lot of these words are from youth culture, and I'm pretty sure the kids aren't that interested in "rules".
    – RDBury
    Commented Feb 26 at 13:35
  • @Janka slowgerman.com/2024/02/06/die-tv-serie-der-bergdoktor-sg-265 . Hearing it again, I'm not sure if the S in "Serie" is pronounced /z/ or /s/ anymore. Commented Feb 26 at 15:03
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    @AlanEvangelista it is also Tefau-Serie there, not Tifau-Serie. It would've been extremely odd to pronounce the T as English and the V as German. Maybe the "die" in "die TV-Serie" tripped you up here.
    – Chieron
    Commented Feb 26 at 23:18
  • @Chieron I hear /i/ instead of /e/ (the same phonem of the first vowel in "Serie") in the first syllable of "TV" in the link above and in forvo.com/search/tv-serie. I hear the exactly same vowel said in forvo.com/word/tea. Maybe it's a problem with my hearing. Commented Feb 26 at 23:49

2 Answers 2

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The basic pronunciation rule for English (and French and Italian) loan words in German is “take the original pronunciation (not the spelling!) and adapt it to standard German phonology (*)”. Let's take “Band” (musical group) as an example: The English pronunciation is /bænd/. The German pronunciation is what you get if the phonemes of /bænd/ are replaced by their closest relatives (**) in German: First, there is no /æ/ in German, so it's replaced by /ɛ/. Second, there are no final voiced plosives in (most variants of) German, so /d/ is unvoiced to /t/. The result is /bɛnt/.

For loan words from other languages, such as Spanish, Dutch, Danish, or Russian, the spelling has a larger impact, since most German speakers are not aware of (some aspects of) the native pronunciation.

(*) Actually, it's a slightly extended German phonology that includes a small number of sounds that do not occur in native words, such as /ʒ/, a few nasal vowels, possibly also /w/.

(**) That is, what German speakers perceive as the closest relative. This may not agree with what English or French speakers would consider as the closest relative.

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  • If the spelling is ignored, why some Germans pronounce Sandwich as /sentvit͡ʃ/ (with the w letter pronounced as /v/) ? German phonology has /w/ (or at least /u/ , which is very similar). Commented Feb 26 at 15:09
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    @AlanEvangelista There is no /w/ in German phonology. There is /ʊ̯/, but only as second part of a diphthong, not as a syllable-initial consonant.
    – Uwe
    Commented Feb 26 at 15:47
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    @AlanEvangelista On the other hand, it's true that the spelling is not completely ignored. That applies for instance to “b” and “v” in Spanish: In Spanish, “b” and “v” are pronounced identically: after a pause or a nasal consonant as a stop, otherwise as a fricative. If Spanish words are imported to German, “b” is always /b/ and “v” is always /v/.
    – Uwe
    Commented Feb 26 at 15:59
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    @redsonja Not sure why it drives you mad. The UK and the US pronounce the A in words like "band" differently and Germans had to pick one of the two; they just didn't pick the one you're more familiar with. On the other hand, they are nearer the UK pronunciation of "computer" (with a /t/) than the US one (with a /ɾ/) . Commented Feb 27 at 19:55
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    I feel compelled to note that German is not unusual in this respect, most languages handle loanwords like this, attempting to preserve pronunciation as much as possible. English is the strange case, with our common insistence on preserving spelling (or mostly preserving spelling, but getting rid of diacritical marks or their equivalents) instead of preserving pronunciation. Commented Feb 29 at 16:50
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Those are inconsistencies introduced by both the speaker not being used to the English pronounciation and overcorrecting it, and you not being used to the variety of German dialects and their somewhat off vowel pronounciation.

The general “rule” is that we try to retain the pronounciation from the foreign language but fail at the attempt. And another “rule” is that we don't spell in the foreign language, so abbreviations follow German spelling.

In particular:

  • TV-Serie — must be /teːfauzeːʁiə/ If you heard an /e/ or /i/ for the first vowel, you misheard or that speaker does something very odd.
  • Computer — yes, it's /kɔmpjuːtɐ/. That /pj/ does not exist in German so it sticks out and people try to copy it. And getting that thing correct, no one cares about the rest then.
  • Band — yes, /bænt/. Typical German Auslautverhärtung. It's a habit. We can't change it, even if we wanted.
  • Sandwich — I think this is a bad example because people only use this word when they talk about that comical american version of the Butterbrot. So they mispronounce it on purpose. I do. I say /zantviç/.
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  • Isn't Butterbrot just one slice of bread with butter? A sandwich always has two slices and other things between them, like cheese and ham. Anyway, I don't understand why people "mispronounce it on purpose" Commented Feb 26 at 15:13
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    The third and imho most relevant rule is that you can't look overzealous in using English pronunciation in a German sentence. If you pronounce "Computer" or "Apple Mac" or "Band" like an American in a German sentence as a German native speaker you look like a showoff or nerd.
    – HalvarF
    Commented Feb 26 at 18:27
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    I have no idea what @Janka is on about, if you go to a cafe or bakery where I've lived (for me having been BW and Franconia) and ask for a Butterbrot they'll definitely give you a slice of bread with butter. That said most bakeries wouldn't call it a sandwich, it'll be X + name of the bread or Brötchen mit X where X is whatever filling they're putting in. Trendier cafes will often call it a sandwich though because Denglish is seen as the trendy thing to do there. My German friends use either the German or Denglish term depending on the person Commented Feb 27 at 11:25
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    A Butterbrot in Switzerland is just one slice of bread with butter... @Janka, please consider cultural and regional differences before making a statement. de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Butterbrot
    – Thomas
    Commented Feb 27 at 16:50
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    The pronunciation of English abbreviations in German is actually quite unpredictable. Compare “NATO” /ˈnato/, “NASA” /ˈnaza/, “USA” /uːʔɛsˈʔaː/ “FBI” /ɛfbɪˈaɪ̯/, “CIA” /sɪaɪ̯ˈɛɪ̯/.
    – Uwe
    Commented Feb 27 at 22:13

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