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A diphthong (from ancient Greek δίς dís , German 'twice' and φθόγγος phthóngos , German 'sound' ) is a double sound made up of two different vowels within a single syllable. Synonymous terms for it are also double vowel , double sound , twilight or two sound .

The best-known spellings of diphthongs in German are ei, au, äu and eu; ai, oi and ui are rare . Diphthongs occur in almost all languages.

Differentiation between diphthong and hiat

A diphthong can be distinguished from a hiat : while a diphthong is assigned to a single syllable (e.g. au s, l ei -se ), a hiat is at the transition between two syllables (e.g. Ch a-o s, Rotar i-e r, Rad i-o , B o-a , R u-i ne ).

While diphthongs are generally not allowed to be separated, a hyphenation is allowed with hiiat .


One distinguishes between:

  • falling diphthongs, in which the main emphasis is on the first part (e.g. German au, ei etc.) and in which the tongue movement runs from "below" to "above".
  • rising diphthongs, with the weight on the second part (e.g. French [ wa ] in words like loi ). Here the tongue movement runs from “up” to “down”.
  • centering diphthongs, in which the tongue movement is in the direction of a middle tongue vowel (e.g. English [ ɪə̯ ] as in pier or Alemannic [ iə̯ ] as in Lied ).
  • floating diphthongs in which the tongue movement is horizontal (e.g. German [ uɪ̯ ] as in hui, pfui )
  • Sometimes long diphthongs differ from short ones (e.g. Bern German [ aːu̯ ] vs. [ au̯ ] as in Schtaau 'Stahl' vs. Schtau 'Stall').

Diphthongs in German

Standard diphthongs

The German phonetic system has the following four diphthongs with different notations:

  • au [⁠ aʊ̯ ⁠] in House
  • ei, ai, ey, ay [⁠ ⁠] in glue, corn, Speyer, Mayer
  • eu gs [⁠ ɔʏ̯ ⁠] in hay, runners
  • ui [⁠ ʊɪ̯ ⁠] in fui, hui

It is [⁠ ʊɪ̯ ⁠] limited to a small group of words and is partially in descriptions, as well as the loan words occurring in diphthongs [⁠ ɛɪ̯ ⁠] , such as mail or fake, and [⁠ ɔʊ̯ ⁠] as in Soul or code called "peripheral" than.


At the end of the syllable, the almost open central vowel [Im] (“Tiefschwa”) is a pronunciation variant of the consonantic final [ ʁ ]. Although these are phonetic realizations of phoneme connections, from an articulatory point of view, the following sounds can also be understood as diphthongs:

In reducing syllables such as B. in child he [ˈkɪndɐ], the [ɐ] is however purely monophthongic.

Rare and dialectal diphthongs

The diphthongs uɪ̯ and ɛɪ̯ exist on the lexical periphery; Examples are ugh !, Uigure and ey !, Spray, Schwejk . Likewise also œɪ̯ possible if, for example, feature open "ö" is spoken.

In some proper names, the graph <ie> does not represent the sound [iː] (long “i”), but the diphthong [iə] . An example of this is the name of the Brandenburg town of Ziesar , in which the “e” is pronounced separately from the “i”. The Slavic origin of the name (from za jezero "behind the lake") has an effect here . Bavarian-Austrian place names such as Lienz and Dienten and Alemannic place names such as Brienz and Spiez are also pronounced diphthong .

A few more diphthongs exist in German dialects. Examples from Upper Bavarian (Southeast Central Bavarian):

  • ãu in Stãuz'n 'Mücke'
  • ea in Keaz'n 'candle'
  • ẽa in ẽana 'you'
  • ẽi in schnẽi 'fast'
  • ia in via Kia 'four cows'
  • oa in two stoa 'two starlings', with an open o in contrast to the nasalized one:
  • õa in õa Stõa 'a stone' with a nasalized o
  • õi in õi 'down'
  • ou in grouß , large '
  • among others in Bua 'Bub'
  • ui in vui z'vui G'fui 'way too much feeling'

Examples from Ripuarian :

  • ew in Kew's 'box', Mews 'crap', news 'nest'
  • oa in Koat 'cord', Hoa 'hair', Poats 'door', Joa 'year'
  • oi in Hoi 'hay', Schnoits 'mustache', Schroijel 'shriveled up'
  • ou in Sou 'Sau', Bou 'Bau', Rou 'rest', broue 'brew'
  • öi in Möisch 'sparrow', Köisch 'kitchen', döije 'press', nöi 'new'
  • ue in Wuesch 'Wurst', Knueschel 'Gooseberry', Ue 'Uhr', 'Ohr'
  • üe in üe 'you', 'your', hüere 'hear', vüe 'for', 'before', füe 'fire'

Sound history and phonology

The original diphthong "ie" was used in the Central German dialects as early as the 11th – 12th centuries. Century monophthonged , while he still occurs in Bavarian and Alemannic to this day. In today's written German, “ie” is just a graph for a long “i”, such as B. in love, bee .

From a phonological point of view, diphthongs have the same vowel quantity as long vowels (if one considers them each as a phoneme) . According to the new as well as the old German spelling, diphthongs can be followed by  a " ß " - as with long vowels - but not an "ss", as are no other doubled consonants, "tz" or "ck", but only the simple one Consonant letter.

Nevertheless, the diphthongs are considered a problem case, since in linguistics it is discussed whether they have the value of one or two phoneme digits , i.e. are monophonematic or biphonematic . Various arguments have been constructed that support the respective theses. In order to support the biphonematic thesis, minimal pairs were formed, such as r au her [au] vs. R ei her [ai], Lau er [au] vs. L ei er [ai] or Ei le [ai] vs. Eu le [ᴐy] to show that only the first or the second part of the diphthong is in opposition to the corresponding other part. There are also some arguments for the monophonematic thesis, for example the one that, from a linguistic perspective, the diphthongs emerged from a monophthong , i.e. from a simple vowel. The Middle High German mîn niuwes hûs became my new house . Furthermore, diphthongs are not split into two syllables; H. the syllable boundary is never between the two vowels, which in turn supports the thesis of twosomes as a phoneme position.

spelling, orthography

Just like long vowels , diphthongs in German nowadays never come before doubled consonant letters, before 'ck', 'tz', 'pf', and only rarely before 'x' (e.g. in smirk ).

Diphthongs in other languages

Of the European languages, especially Catalan and Graubünden Romance are rich in diphthongs, the latter e.g. B. with place names like Rueun .

In standard Chinese there are the diphthongs / ai̯ / (example: , ài  - "love"), / ei̯ / ( , shéi  - "who"), / aʊ̯ / ( , hǎo  - "good"), / oʊ̯ / ( , yǒu  - "have"). In addition, there are also the sequences / ja / ( , liǎ  - “lovers”), / jɛ / ( , jié  - “holiday”), / wa / ( ) by preceding the half-vowels / w / and / j / to monophthongs , guāng  - "light"), / wɔ / ( , duō  - "much"), / jʊ / ( , xiōng  - "older brother"), and on diphthongs a number of triphthongs.


As Diphthongie for Doppeltönigkeit a sub sound is referred to when speaking due to disease or nervous irritation of the vocal cords.

See also


  • Gunther Schunk: Study book for an introduction to German linguistics. From sound to word. Königshausen & Neumann, Würzburg 1997, ISBN 3-8260-1413-8 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Diphthong  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: Zwielaut  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. The new rules for spelling: the s-spelling