Vowel quantity

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The sound of the words Bahn and Bann in comparison. Bahn (above) is spoken with a long [a:], Bann (below) with a short [a].

In linguistics, vowel quantity is the quantity , that is, the length of spoken vowels . Vowels can be spoken short or long in many languages.

The vowel trapezoid , which describes the vowel quality , takes into account the characteristics "vertical position of the tongue", "horizontal position of the tongue" and "lip position". With the vowel quantity , another dimension is added to this model.

Vowel quantity in German


There was already an opposition between short and long vowels in early Germanic . In the scientific literature on Germanic, long vowels are indicated by an overline or a circumflex .

Old High German

At the transition to Old High German were in 7./8. Century two of the ancient Germanic diphthongs to long vowels: ai became before r, w, h to ē, and au before h or dentals became ahd. Ō. Examples:

  • got. saiws → ahd. sē (o) "see"
  • got. rauþs → ahd. red "red"

Conversely, in the 8th / 9th Century two of the ancient Germanic long vowels diphthong: ē became ahd. Ia / ie, and ō became ahd. Uo. Examples:

  • got. hēr → ahd. hiar / here "here"
  • got. brōþar → ahd. bruodar "brother"

In addition to ē and ō, the long vowels ā, ī and ū also appeared in Old High German. Most of the vowels were spoken briefly; long vowels were not specially marked in most manuscripts. Occasionally it was marked by double writing the vowel letter, more often by diacritical marks such as circumflex or acute ; In modern scientific literature, on the other hand, diacritics (usually overlines) are set systematically. In Old High German, long vowels did not only appear in stem syllables, but very often also in affixes .

Middle High German

In Middle High German , the Old High German opposition between long and short vowels essentially persisted. In the scientific literature, Middle High German long vowels are usually marked with a circumflex, more rarely with an overline.

Early New High German

One of the most important changes that vowelism has undergone at the transition to New High German is the early New High German vowel stretch in open syllable. This vowel stretching forms the basis of today's opposition between short and long vowels in minimal pairs such as Bahn [baːn] vs. Spell [ban]. As Aleksander Szulc has shown, this change was already observable in Central German in the 12th century. From there it spread and reached Upper German in the 14th century. The vowel expansion took place in all short vowels, which in Middle High German were not followed by a geminate, but a simple intervowel consonant. It was not marked in writing. Since the gemination was lost at the same time and the short vowels obtained were now regularly in front of doubled consonant letters, it was not necessary to mark the long vowels.

Likewise since the 12th century - again based on the Central German-speaking area - conversely, many of the long vowels that still existed from Old High German were shortened. Long vowels before consonant clusters such as ht and r + consonant were particularly affected . Examples:

  • mhd. brāhte → nhd. brought
  • mhd. lērche → nhd. lark
  • mhd. listen → nhd. listen


With regard to the quantity of vowels in German, three phenomena are of particular interest:

  • the opposition closed long and short open vowels (eg. pose / Posse or [⁠ o: ⁠] / [⁠ ɔ ⁠] )
  • the opposition of long closed and short closed vowels ( greed / giraffe or [i:] / [i])
  • have singular short vowels that no long "counterpart" and only in reducing syllables and affixes occur ( [⁠ ə ⁠] , [⁠ ɐ ⁠] )

Vowel length and word accent

In stressed syllables: long closed vs. short open vowels

Vowel sounds are spoken long or short in stressed syllables. A special feature of German is that the change in vowel quantity changes or eliminates the meaning of the word.

Long and short vowels in stressed syllables
example Short
example Remarks
[aː] Railway [baːn] [a] Spell [ban] Individual phoneticians have noticed that the vowel [a] is also undergoing a change in quality. This is undoubtedly the case in some German dialects, such as Bavarian . When it comes to standard German , most authors and the pronunciation dictionary of the Duden series assume that minimal pairs like Bahn / Bann do not differ significantly in terms of vowel quality .
[ɛː] ask [ˈbɛːtə] [ɛ] bed [ˈbɛtə] In large parts of the northern German-speaking area, the long [ɛː] sound is omitted. The word girl z. B. There is not spoken [ˈmɛːtçən], but [ˈmeːtçən], so with a long [eː].
[eː] pray [ˈbeːtə]
[iː] Rent [ˈmiːtə] [ɪ] Middle [ˈmɪtə]
[O] Poland [ˈpoːlən] [ɔ] Pollen [ˈpɔlən]
[O] Cave [ˈhøːlə] [œ] Hell [ˈhœlə]
[uː] Repentance [ˈbuːsə] [ʊ] Buses [ˈbʊsə]
[yː] feel [ˈfyːlə] [ʏ] fill [ˈfʏlə]

A second special feature is that the short vowel also shifts in quality compared to the long vowel: the tongue is less arched and the mouth is more open.

Phonologists have repeatedly argued about whether minimal pairs like the ones mentioned above are primarily determined by the opposition of the vowel quantity or the vowel quality. The syllable cut model promised a fundamental clarification , which, because it could not be empirically substantiated, was discarded in the middle of the 20th century, later and later. a. but was brought up again by Theo Vennemann.

Whether vowels are spoken short or long depends in many cases on how many and which consonant sounds follow the syllable end:

Appearance of long and short vowels in stressed syllables
Long vowels Short vowels
  • Vowels that appear at the end of a syllable are regularly pronounced long in stressed syllables:
there , snow , how , where , shoe
  • Vowels followed by exactly 1 consonant sound are pronounced long in some words and short in others. Here are examples of long vowels:
Valley [taːl], sea [meːɐ̯], lid [liːt], can [ˈdoːzə], good [ɡuːt]
  • Vowels followed by a syllable joint that consists of the consonant clusters [bl], [dl], [gl], [br], [dr], [gr] are always spoken long:
Koblenz , eagle , igloo , zebra , hydra , Sigrid
  • Further consonant clusters that do not produce vowel shortening can result in inflection and derivative forms:
paints , fetches , lived , greatest , ride
  • Vowels followed by exactly 1 consonant sound are pronounced long in some words and short in others. Here are examples of short vowels:
ab [ap], ebb [ˈɛbə], with [mɪt], sun [ˈzɔnə], kiss [kʊs]
  • Vowels before [⁠ ʃ ⁠] , [⁠ ç ⁠] or [⁠ x ⁠] or [⁠ χ ⁠] appear to be mostly spoken briefly:
Frog [fʀɔʃ], me [ɪç], thing [ˈzaχə]
Fear [aŋst], human [mɛnʃ], peak [ˈɡɪpfl̩], listen [ˈhɔʁçn̩], fear [fʊʁçt]
In unstressed syllables: closed vs. open short vowels

Short vowels predominate in unstressed syllables. These can be closed or open:

Short vowels in unstressed syllables
short vowel
Examples open
short vowel
[e] Menu [meˈnyː] [ɛ] Menthol [mɛnˈtoːl]
[i] criminal [kʀimiˈnɛl], July [ˈjuːli] [ɪ] Crystal [kʀɪsˈtal], risk [ˈvaːknɪs], doctor [ˈɛːɐ̯ʦtɪn], eternal [ˈeːvɪç]
[O] porous [poˈʀøːs], car [ˈaʊ̯to] [ɔ] Portrait [pɔʁˈtʀɛː]
[O] Ecology [ˌøkoloˈɡiː] [œ] Estrogen [œstʀogeːn]
[u] Music [muˈziːk], tofu [ˈtoːfu] [ʊ] Nutmeg [mʊsˈkaːt], exercise [ˈyːbʊŋ], together [ʦuˈzamən]
[y] Hyperbola [hyˈpɛʁbl̩] [ʏ] Hypnosis [hʏpˈnoːzə]
- - [a] Wallpaper [taˈpeːtə], keyboard [t a staˈtuːɐ̯]
The sound [a] is always spoken openly.

Such vowels are usually closed when no or at most a single consonant sound follows. They are open when [⁠ ʃ ⁠] , a Affrikat (such as [ks] [pf] or [ts]) or more different consonant sounds follow. Closed vowels also only appear in suffixes in exceptional cases.

Long vowels in unstressed syllables

Exceptionally, vowels are pronounced long in unstressed syllables:

Everyday life [ˈalˌt k], goodbye [l pˈvoːl]
  • in words with a stressed affix
Prefix : lecture [foːɐ̯tʀ Â k], unsightly [ʊnʃ o n]
Suffix : frenzy [ˌʀ zəˈʀaɪ̯], driving [ˌf ʀəˈʀaɪ̯], shooting səˈʀaɪ̯]
  • in some unstressed suffixes and in derivatives of words with these suffixes
  • in the suffixes -bar, -sal, -sam, -mut and -tum
wonderful [ˈvʊndɐb ɐ̯], tribulation [ˈtʀyːpz l], lonely [ˈaɪ̯nz m], humility [ˈdeːm t], antiquity [ˈaltɐt m] (but: date [ˈdaːt ʊ m]); humble [ˈdeːm tɪç], riches [ˈʀaɪ̯çt mɐ]
  • in many words ending in -in or -ian
Canopy [ˈbaldaχ n], baboon [ˈpaːviː n]; Rude [ˈɡʀoːbi̯ ɛː nçən]
  • in many words on -ar, -ir and -or
February [ˈfeːbʀu ɐ̯], jaguar [ˈjaːɡu̯ ɐ̯] (but: Oskar [ˈɔsk a ʁ]), tapir [ˈtaːp ɐ̯] (but: Emir [ˈeːm ɪ ʁ]), author [ˈaʊ̯t ɐ̯]; Corridor [ˈkɔʀid øː ɐ̯çən]
  • the sound [i:] in the Hebrew plural -im
Seraphim [ˈzeːʀaf m]
  • the sound [i:] in German proper names ends in -in
Erwin [ˈɛʁv n], Hölderlin [ˈhœldɐl n]
  • occasionally at the end of a word before a consonant letter, as well as from derivatives of such words
Balsam [ˈbalz m], home [ˈhaɪ̯m t], marriage [ˈhaɪ̯ˌʀ t], corpse [ˈlaɪ̯çn m], duke [ˈhɛʁʦ k], gem [ˈklaɪ̯n t], bishop [ˈbɪʃ o: f], (next to: [ˈbɪʃ ɔ f]); Fiends [ˈʃɔɪ̯ˌz ɛː lɐ], Kleinödchen [ˈklaɪ̯n øː tçən], bishops [ˈbɪʃ øː fə] (next to: [ˈbɪʃ œ fə])
  • rarely in the middle syllable
Alms [ˈalm zən] (cf. alcohol [ˈalk o hoːl])
  • in pronunciation variants and derivatives of words in which the syllable is otherwise stressed and long vowel
Jackal [ˈʃak l] (standard pronunciation: [ʃaˈkaːl]), passive [ˈpas f] (vs. [paˈs f]), vampire [ˈvamp ɐ̯] (vs. [vamˈp ɐ̯]), alogical [ˈal ɡɪʃ] (vs. logical [l ɡɪʃ]), alcohol [ˈalkoh l] (vs. [alkoˈh l])

Verifiability of the vowel length

The division into short and long vowels is not linked to a specific physical duration of the sound. One speaker's long vowels may be shorter than another speaker's short vowels. All that is required for communication is that a speaker makes an audible distinction between short and long vowels. For words in which the vowel quantity cannot be determined by comparing them in pairs, analogy is used.

Example: is the a in das short or long? This question cannot be decided based on the spelling. Rather, one proceeds in such a way that one modifies the word to be examined, but leaves the vowel to be examined unchanged: that , barrel , grasp , mass - until one comes across a pair of contrasts, mass / measure , on the basis of which one can clearly decide that the a in mass and therefore also in fasse , barrel , which is a short vowel.

The determination of a vowel quantity does not depend on an - inevitably fuzzy - subjective sensation that the vowel is pronounced more or less long, but on the classification into one of two sharply defined classes.


Identification of the vowel length in stressed syllables

Vowel + 1 consonant sound

As previously shown in more detail, are vowel sounds, which in syllable articulated exactly one consonant or at the end of a word aloud follows, spoken in some words briefly in other long:

Way [v k] - way [v ɛ k]

A special feature of the German writing system is that the vowel quality is not marked by a special vowel graphem, but by a special grapheme for the following consonant ; after long vowels this consonant letter is spelled once, after short vowels it is doubled:

Me t [meːt] - Me tt [mɛt]

This handling of the vowel length is possible because in standard German - unlike z. As in Italian ( fato vs. fatto ,) Russian and Finnish - no double consonants loud there. The voiceless plosive [t], for example, only "explodes" once in the word Mett . Other consonants with a sharp syllable cut , i.e. after short vowels, are only about 20% longer than after long vowels. In many studies, no difference in length was found at all.

In German, the consonant letters b, d, f, g, l, m, n, p, r, s and t are doubled. Doubling the letter k becomes ck, z becomes tz. The grapheme ch, sch, chs, cks, x and pf mostly appear after short vowels and are never doubled.

In stressed syllables: Identification of the vowel quantity by consonant graphs
consonant after long vowel after short vowel Remarks
in the
at the
end of the word
grapheme Examples grapheme Examples
[b] [p] b Gabe [ˈɡaːbə], gave [gaːp] bb Crab [ˈkʀabə]
[ç] ch Conversation [ɡəˈʃpʀɛːç] ch avenge [ˈʀɛçən] Long vowels before [ç] are extremely rare.
[χ], [x] ch after [naːχ] ch Subject [faχ]
[ks] chs, ks Grew [Vuk] cookie [biscuit] chs, cks, x Fox [fʊks], blob [klɛks], witch [ˈhɛksə] Long vowels before [ks] are extremely rare.
[d] [t] d Paths [ˈpfaːdə], path [pfaːt] dd Paddle ['padl̩]
[f] f Hof [courtyard] ff hope [ˈhɔfən], Haff [haf]
[G] [k] G Days [ˈtaːɡə], day [taːk] gg Flag [ˈflaɡə]
[k] k Disgust [ˈeːkl̩] ck Corner [ˈɛkə] In proper names, ck occasionally comes after long vowels ( Mecklenburg [ˈmeːklənbʊʁk]).
[l] l Valley [taːl] ll Plate [ˈtɛlɐ]
[m] m Crumbs [ˈkʀyːməl] mm crooked [kʀʊm]
[n] n Tears [ˈtʀɛːnən] nn separate [ˈtʀɛnən]
[p] p Magnifying glass [ˈluːpə] pp Troop [ˈtʀʊpə]
[pf] - - pf Plait [ʦɔpf]
[r] r we [viːɐ̯] rr confused [vɪʁ]
[z] [s] s read [ˈleːzn̩], read [laːs] - - [z] is only pronounced after the long vowel at the end of the syllable.
[s] s, ß Nose [ˈnaːzə], fun [ʃpaːs] ss Cash register [ˈkasə], wet [nas]
[ʃ] sch Shower [ˈduːʃə] sch Indian ink [ˈtʊʃə] Long vowels before [ʃ] are very rare.
[t] t Council [ʀaːt] dd Rat [ˈʀatə]
[v] [f] v, w Lava [ˈlaːva], lion [ˈløːvə], good [bʀaːf] - - [v] is only pronounced after the long vowel at the end of the syllable.
[ts] z duzen [ˈduːʦn̩] tz Dozen [ˈdʊtsn̩t]

In most cases one can unequivocally infer the vowel quality and thus the pronunciation from the typeface . There are only a few exceptions; However, these include many of the most common words in the German language :

  • Short vowel before exactly 1 consonant letter:
from , on , to , that , it , has , in , with , whether , un- , of , what
  • Short vowel before exactly 1 consonant letter in some acronyms and shortened words:
FAZ , taz , TÜV ; Bus , locomotive , prof
  • Long vowel before more than 1 consonant letter:
Book , after , plush , language , growth
Other configurations

As shown above , vowels in open syllables are always long. In words like ja , so or du , in which the vowel at the end of the syllable or in the syllable joint is not followed by a consonant sound, the length does not need to be marked separately.

The reverse is true for vowels followed by several different consonant sounds. In most cases, they are short ( black , rust , desire ). Here, too, additional marking of the vowel shortening is neither possible nor necessary.

However, the rule does not apply without exception: in cough , cancer , moon , fruit , Vogt and desert z. B. the vowels are spoken long despite the following consonant clusters. Some bundles of consonant letters even regularly mark long vowels:

  • gd ( hunting , maid )
  • gs ( flights , tags )
  • ks ( biscuit , coke , piksen )
  • ts ( pilot , riddle , always )

Further consonant clusters that do not indicate a vowel abbreviation can arise in the syllable joint and with inflected forms of verbs and adjectives (see above ).

Function of expansion marks

Apart from the exceptions mentioned, the consonant graphs regularly make it clear whether vowels are spoken long or short. The so-called stretch marks only start at a point where there is no longer any doubt about the pronunciation of a vowel. They are redundant as length characters.

In the word number, for example, the sound [a:] would be spoken long even if the silent h were omitted. The vowel letter is followed by exactly 1 consonant letter (the l), so that the conditions for characterizing a long vowel are fully met. In the words Mal , Qual , Schal , Tal and Wal , which are written without a silent h, the length of the vowel is also beyond doubt.

Long vowels get along - graphemically speaking - without stretch marks. On the pronunciation side , however, the stretch marks confirm what the consonant graphs have already indicated. Vowels that have a stretch mark are always spoken long in stressed syllables. In some cases (e.g. sea / more , messenger / boats , mine / mine , was / true ) the expansion signs are also meaningful.

Orthographic problems in unstressed syllables

In unstressed syllables, the vowel quantity of spelling present several difficulties.

The - relatively rare - short closed vowels are easily confused by writers with the much more common short open vowels. Since the subsequent consonant letter latter in often doubled in but the former simply written, often occurs misspellings (z. B. "dilettante" instead dilettante , " Ellipse " instead of ellipse ).

Another difficulty is that short vowels have to be spelled with stretch marks:

  • in foreign words at the end of the word
Allah [ˈal a ] (next to: [aˈl ]), Korah [ˈkoːʀ a ]; Oldie [ˈoːld i ]
  • in some adverbs and conjunctions
maybe [f i ˈlaɪ̯çt], why [v i ˈzoː], although [v i ˈvoːl], probably [v o lˈan] (next to: [v lˈan]), well [v o lˈaʊ̯f] (next to: [v o: lˈaʊ̯f])

Vowel quantity in other languages

There is also a two-valued division into short and long vowels in many other languages. Often, however, the short and long vowels are arranged so differently in the vowel trapezoid that the short - long opposition is always accompanied by a clear difference in articulation.

In English , the minimal contrast resides in the pair

  • hit / ɪ / vs. heat / hiːt /

both on different tone durations and on different mouth openings; in other short-long pairs the difference in articulation is even clearer; several long vowels in Old English have also become diphthongs.

In English, the situation is made even more complicated by the fact that voiced consonants at the end of the syllable in some pronunciation variants ( accents ) result in vowel elongation , so that the difference in these special cases is almost exclusively limited to the quality. Here's an example:

A similar process in German language history has resulted in syllables ending in voiced consonants being elongated.

In Japanese , the vowel quantity is explicitly expressed in the syllabary. Each of the five vowels can appear elongated, and in many cases the length of a vowel is crucial. An example is given with the usual spelling in Kanji and phonetic spelling in the syllabary Hiragana :

  • 少女 / し ょ う じ ょ shōjo [ ɕoːdʑo ], German 'girl' - 処女 / し ょ じ ょ shojo [ ɕodʑo ], German 'virgin'

There are languages ​​in which the vowel quantity is not used at all as a distinguishing feature, for example in Polish , Spanish or Modern Greek , and there are seldom languages ​​that know three vowel qualities. The Estonian knows the three vowel qualities: long - medium - short , as is the Chaladschische and Kemmyn dialect of Cornish .

Vowel quantity as the metric basis of ancient poetry

In ancient Greek and Latin , the entire poetry is not based on word stress and rhyme, as in German, but on the quantity of syllables, for which the vowel quantity is decisive in addition to the characteristic open / closed.

See also


  • Charles VJ Russ: The length of the vowel in German. A diachronic investigation. In: Files of the 5th International Germanist Congress Cambridge 1975. Vol. II, Bern / Frankfurt a. M. 1976, pp. 131-138.

Web links

Wiktionary: short vowel  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: long vowel  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ A b Rolf Bergmann, Claudine Moulin, Nikolaus Ruge: Old and Middle High German . Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2011, ISBN 978-3-8252-3534-5 , p. 74 ( limited preview in Google Book search).
  2. William Brown: Old High German Grammar I . 15th edition. Niemeyer, Tübingen 2004, ISBN 3-484-10861-4 , p. 15th f . ( limited preview in Google Book search).
  3. Aleksander Szulc: Historical Phonology of German . Max Niemeyer, Tübingen 1987, p. 124 f . ; Thomas Klein: Designation of length and stretching in Middle Franconian in the 12th and 13th centuries , in: Hans Fix (Hrsg.): Quantitätsproblematik und Metrik. Greifswald Symposium on Germanic Grammar , Amsterdam, Atlanta, 1995, ISBN 90-5183-889-1 , pp. 41-72 ( limited preview in Google book search).
  4. ^ Renata Szczepaniak: The phonological-typological change of German from a syllable to a word language . De Gruyter, Berlin 2007, ISBN 978-3-11-019274-2 , pp. 233 ( limited preview in Google Book search). Wilhelm Schmidt: History of the German language . A textbook for studying German. 6th edition. Hirzel, Stuttgart 1993, p. 237 .
  5. ^ Renata Szczepaniak: The phonological-typological change of German from a syllable to a word language . De Gruyter, Berlin 2007, ISBN 978-3-11-019274-2 , pp. 233 f .
  6. ^ Renata Szczepaniak: The phonological-typological change of German from a syllable to a word language . De Gruyter, Berlin 2007, ISBN 978-3-11-019274-2 , pp. 198 .
  7. Thordis Hennings: Introduction to Middle High German . 3. Edition. De Gruyter, Berlin, Boston 2012, ISBN 978-3-11-025958-2 , pp. 37 ( limited preview in Google Book search). Renata Szczepaniak: The phonological-typological change of German from a syllable to a word language . De Gruyter, Berlin 2007, ISBN 978-3-11-019274-2 , pp. 236 f .
  8. For example Andreas Scheiner: The German stage pronunciation and our school German. In: Gustav Fr. Schuller: Program of the Evangelical High School AB in Medgyes (Mediasch) for the school year 1902/03. P. 45 ( limited preview in Google Book search).
  9. ^ Stefan Müller-Dittloff: Interferences of the substandard in West Central German using the example of Idar-Oberstein . A contrast and error analysis study, Franz Steiner Verlag, Stuttgart 2001, ISBN 3-515-07910-6 , p. 104.
  10. a b A list of exceptions to this rule can be found in the Wiktionary .
  11. Duden: The pronunciation dictionary. 6th edition. Duden, Mannheim 2005, ISBN 3-411-04066-1 .
  12. a b Duden: The pronunciation dictionary. 6th edition. Duden, Mannheim 2005, ISBN 3-411-04066-1 , pp. 69-107.
  13. Katharina Böttger: The most common mistakes Russian learners of German make. A handbook for teachers. Waxmann, Münster 2008, ISBN 978-3-8309-1979-7 , p. 41.
  14. Helmut Spiekermann: Syllable cut in standard syllables? Acoustic-phonetic evidence, p. 93; Michael Bommes, Christina Noack, Doris Tophinke (eds.): Language as Form . Festschrift for Utz Maas on his 60th birthday. Westdeutscher Verlag, Wiesbaden 2002, ISBN 3-531-13891-X , pp. 87-100 ( limited preview in Google book search).
  15. Utz Maas : Phonology. Westdeutscher Verlag, Opladen 1999; Helmut Spiekermann: Syllable cuts in German dialects. Max Niemeyer, Tübingen 2000.
  16. See also stretching c .
  17. A comprehensive list can be found in the Wiktionary .