The German Alphabet

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PA-Dutch Life is intended to promote the PA-Dutch culture. How about learning our aybecees (unseren ahbaysays). The German (PA-D) word for alphabet is Alphabet, pronounced ahlfabate (olfabate).. The German letter A is pronounced ah. Haben is pronounced hahben, not hayben or habben. The German Vater is pronounced fahter, similar to English father, which is what it means. In Pa-Dutch, the letter A is pronounced like English short o and, sometimes short u. Haben is pronounced hop but with a soft b sound instead of the p. The en is dropped; except in the plural when haben is pronounced h'en, a contraction of haben. German (PA-Dutch) conjugation of have, haben is: Ich habe (hop), du hast (husht), er hat (hut), wir haben ([mah,meer]h'en), dir htte (het), sie haben (h'en. [It should be noted that, for reasons lost in time, the German pronoun wir, meaning we, has become PA-Dutch mir(mah,meer).]


In another attempt to revive interest in our Pennsylvania-Dutch culture, I offer you my little essay on the letter B as it was used in the PA-D dialect.

One would thnk that the letter B is always pronounced bee; but not so. The German word for bed is Bett. Going to bed, a German might say. "Ich geh ins Bett". A PA-Dman would say, "Ich geh in'spett". Keep in mind that the sound is somewhere between a b and a p; but closer to p than b. However, if a PA-Dman said,"Under the bed; he would say, "Un'er dem Bett". Confusing, huh? An internal b is often pronounced vee. Aber, meaning but, is pronounced ahber in German; in PA-D, it is pronounced ovvo, short o, front and back. Sieben, meaning seven, is zeeben, zivva in PA-D. Then there are words like gebacken and geboren where the b is pronounced like a b. B at the end of a word was usually pronounced like a p. Leib was prounced lipe; Lob - lope. This transferred to English. The nickname Bob is pronounced Bahb in English; PA-Dmen pronounced it Bop. Crib, English C r i b, PA-Dmen said crip. We were robbed (ropdt).

There was a family in Newmanstown who spelled their name Bubp. It was pronounced Bup. I just checked the internet; there are lots of Bubps. I wonder if those who have removed from the PA-D influence pronounce it Bub. Returning to the front B; we have the case of Rebecca which, incidentally, was an alter name for Margaret at one time. The child was baptized Margaret; but was called Rebecca. Of course, the nickname for Rebecca was Becky, which the PA-Dmen pronounced Pecky; but with a soft g sound; so it sounded like Peggy. Even now, Peggy is a diminutive for Margaret.


The flame flickers; and grows fainter still. Must it gutter; and go out?

The letter C is pronounced tse (tsay) in German. There are very few words in the German language that begin with the letter C; and most of those are words or derivatives of words from other languages, e.g. Cafe, Cape, Caravan. There are several Ch words, e.g. Chauffeur, Chef, Chili. For some reason beyond my ken, the letter C is used very, very often in the grouping Sch which has the same sound as our Sh, e.g. Schach, the German word for chess. There are only three Sh words in my German dictionary; and they are Shampoo, Shorts [yes, shorts, as in a pair], and Show. C is also used in the grouping ch, e.g. Ich, meaning I, which is pronounced by sounding a short i, followed by a sound such as one makes when clearing one's throat. C is also used in the grouping chs, e.g. Fuchs, meaning fox, which is pronounced fooks as in looks. We have Da(ch), meaning roof'; and Da(chs), meaning badger. The first is pronounced doccchhh (fishbone in throat); the second, docks. It has the same use in PA-D as in German; that is, if a comparison pertains to an oral dialect. Schuylkill County is (was) pronounced Shoolkill Kahndeh in PA-D. The English school comes from the German Schul, pronounced Shool.


The German D is pronounced day; ah, bay, tsay, day. There isn't very much to say about its use. Up front it is always pronounced like an English D. At the end of syllables or words, it is pronounced more like a T than a D; but this is mainly because of the short, staccato-like pronunciation of the whole syllable or word. In PA-D the word Schul is pronounced Shool as in spool; but Schuld, meaning blame, or guilt, is pronounced shooldt, with the same duration as guilt; but with the tongue a little farther back; i.e. not touching the teeth. "'sis mei shooldt" (It's my fault).


The German E is pronounced ay; ah bay, tsay, day, ay. Up front it is pronounced ay; as in Edelwieiss (aydelvize), a word with which most of you are familiar. It is also pronounced like the English short E; as in Essen (meal). In some words, like Besuch and Gesuch, the pronunciation consists of sounding the first letter and adding the second syllable: b-sooch, g-sooch. The latter pronunciation has prevailed in PA-D; but the former has become p-sooch. In German, Besuch means visit; a Besucher is a visitor. In PA-D, the word psooch means ( meehr he'n psooch) [we have visitor(s) (company)]. "Ich geh' mei Daudie psoocha" means "I am going to visit my father". E at the end of a word is pronounced like an English short A. Kohle, coal, is pronounced Kola. Words ending in "le" are pronounced "la", not "el". Sptzle is pronounced Shpetzla. If you have never eaten Sptzle; you have missed a treat. You shold try Jgerschnitzel, a pork (or veal) cutlet, covered with Sptzle, and topped with a white wine and mushroom sauce. Vertrefflich.


The German letter F is pronounced eff, as in English. Ah bay say(not tsay,as appears in earlier essays) day ay eff. There isn't much to say about it. Up front, as in "fr", or behind, as in "auf", an F is an eff. In the middle as in Gift, it's still an eff. Speaking of "Gift"; there is, or was, a gift shop at Roadside America near Hamburg, PA, which advertised itself by means of that old cutesy, the German word "Haus". But, in this case, they used the word Haus in conjuncton with the word Gift: i.e. Gift Haus which, as those PA-Dutchmen should have known, means Poison House in English. I suppressed, with great difficulty, an impulse to ask the clerk where she kept the arsenic.


The German letter G is pronounced gay: ah bay say day ay eff gay. Up front, it is pronounced as in great; I guess you'd call it a hard G. Though George may be jorje in English; in German, it is Georg(gay-org). In PA-D, we said "Chorch". In words like gegangen(gone) and gefangen(caught), the last g is pronounced like the "ing" sound in bring and thing. In PA-D, we said gonga and k'fanga. Gang(gait) and lang(long) are pronounced like bong. Finger(finger) is pronounced like singer. In words like Morgen(morning) and sorgen(provide) the g is hard. In PA-D, we pronounced them morya and soriga. A g at the end of a word like Berg(mountain) and Tag(day) is also hard. In PA-D, we pronounced them borrick and dog. But words like eifrig(eager) and glaubig(religious) tended, at least in PA-D, to be pronounced like eifricchh and glaubicchh (remember the fishbone). "Husht sell"? PA-D for "Is that clear?". Second question. "Macht des avver ebbis aus"? "Does this really matter"?


The German letter H is pronounced ha: ah bay say day ay eff gay ha. It is sounded like the English H; in fact, I guess there is just one way to sound an H, by aspiration. The German language has no lisping sound for the "th" diphthong. The language once had an h after some words now ending in t, such as Roth, the German word for red, now spelled rot, and pronounced road. This was the source of our family names Roth and Eckenroth. Some Roths changed their name to Rhodes and Rhoades. Some Eckenroths became Eckenrodes and Eckenroads. So whenever you encounter a German word containing the "th" diphthong; pronounce it like a "d". That's how my name changed from Rieth to Reed.


The German letter I is pronounced half-way between English long E and English short i. Not as long as the English letter E; but somewhat staccato. Ah, bay, say, day, ay, eff. gay, ha, ee. Words beginning with I, are pronounced i, like our English short I, like "Idee" (Idea), iday; and "ist" (is).

There is an expression "Der Tpfelchen auf dem I" which, literally, means "The dot on the i" which corresponds to the English expression "The final touch". There was also once an expression "Crossing one's Ts; and dotting one's Is". Of course, now our keyboards do that for us.

"i" is also used as an interjection meaning "ugh". In Pa-D, we often said "Ei, yei, yei" which expressed dismay, disapproval, doubt, and disgust. A very useful and versatile expression.

An "i" inside a word is pronounced like the short English I.

An "i" at the end of a word is part of the diphthong "ei" which is pronounced "eye". Kinderei (childishness) and Sauferei (drinking, i.e. boozing). In Pa-D, we said "kinnish" for childish; and "gesauf" for boozing. We called a farm a Bauerei; but the earlier PA Dutchmen called it a Plantash or plantation. Wills into the 1800s (I am currently translating one written in 1810) used those words.

Well, I guess that's it for I; for I have nothing more to say about I.


The German letter J is spelled Jot; and pronounced Yot; ah, bay, say, day, ay, eff, gay, ha, ee, yot. Words starting with J like Ja and Johannes are pronounced Yah and Yohonnes. The German word for Jew is Jude pronounced Yooda. The adjective takes an umlauted "u" (jdisch) which is pronounced yiddish, a word with which most of us are familiar. Yiddish, like PA-D, is a German dialect, with a sprinkling of hebrew words. I can't think of any words with "j" in the middle except participles and past participles such as gejammert (wailed) geyommert, and compound words such as Halbjahr (a half year) holpyore. There are no words ending in J; so it appears that my little essay is finished.


The German letter K is pronounced kah; ah, bay, say, day, ay, eff, gay, hah, ee, yot, kah. There isn't much one can say about the letter K. It is used a lot in German instead of our English C. For example, our calendar becomes their Kalender; our cabinet is their Kabinette; our camera is their Kamera. As in English, K is used in conjunction with C to form the grapheme ck which becomes the phoneme k; e.g. Backe (cheek) and backen (bake).

In PAD, the K is usually pronounced like a hard G; although there are K sounds in Kotz (cat), koom (come), Korrapet (carpet, and others. Some hard G words are Greft, German Kraft, strength, gronk, krank, ill, grotzen, kratzen, scratch, Glutz, Klotz, block, and others. The PAD dialect where I was raised used Glutz or Glutzkupp as a colloquialism, meaning a stubborn person, literally a blockhead. "Doo doomer Glutz" [You dumb block(head)] was a fairly common epithet. When tempers flared this sometimes became "Doo fahdommtah Glutzkupp" [You damned blockhead]. One could also say, "Sei net glutzkeppich" [Don't be stubborn]. All this was so long ago; I'm amazed that I remember so much [Des is so lung zoorick; 'sis hot tzoo glauvva as meer so feel fore koomt].

L, M, N

The letters L, M, and N are pronounced and sounded much as in English; except that they tend to be somewhat staccato, clipped, so to speak. L is "ell"; but is aspirated more forcefully and sounded shorter than our lingering "ellll". Likewise, M and N, which, in English, tend to emmm and ennn; but, in German, are chopped off, em and en. Having said that; there isn't much left to say on the subject, therefore, some thoughts at random.

German is generally regarded as a harsh language. PAD is much softer. Not being expert, in fact, not even proficient, in the German language, I am unable to discuss the various dialects that may exist in Germany. There were North German, South German, Swiss, Alsatian and other dialects. After a century these developed into a very distinct and fairly unified Pennsylvania Dutch dialect. There are those who say that the Pennsylvania Dutch dialect is not, as is generally supposed, a corrupt form of German. They assert that it is a legitimate South German dialect (with later added elements of English) consisting largely of the characteristics of the Pfalz dialect. Pennsylvania Dutch, says one, is characterized by an abundance of nasalized terminal vowel sounds, with a peculiar drawl and prolonged intonation. Huh? It is said that the Pennsylvania Dutch language is easily intelligible to the Germans living today in the Rhine country. Poems published in Germany, in 1880, in the Palatinate German language can be enjoyed and understood in almost their entirety by a literate Pennsylvania Dutchman. My own infrequent correspondence with folks in Germany disclosed words, which I had regarded as corruptions of German words, that were actually in common use in Germany. One which comes to mind is "Hensching" from German "Handschuh" literally "hand shoe" meaning "glove". My correspondent said his grandmother used the "Hensching" form.

The Pennsylvania-Dutch were actually exposed to three different forms of speech. Church services, for years, were conducted in literate German. The rest of the time they spoke their own idioms, i.e. Pennsylvania Dutch; and, in their contacts with others, they were exposed to English. As I know from my own experience with bi-lingualism, one tends to think in the language with which one is most familiar. I tend to think in English, then translating my thoughts into German. However, I can also think in PA-Dutch in words with which I am familiar; but, when I want to express a thought, the words for which I don't know, I must revert to thinking in English and then hunt for the PA-Dutch words I don't know; or have forgotten. My biggest problem with the German language is my limited vocabulary (Wortschatz, word treasury). Translating from PA-Dutch to English, one tends to use the PA-Dutch sentence construction; however, some of the purported colloquialisms, such as "Throw Mama from the train a kiss" are of doubtful authenticity. "Schmeiss die Mommie foom Drain e'n Buss"? I would say, "Schmeiss die Mommie e'n Buss foom Drain" or "Throw Mom a kiss from the train". "Mommie" was not the dimunutive "Mama". It meant mother, and all the variants thereof. "Throw the horse over the fence some hay"? I would say, "Schmeiss dem gowl wenich hoi ivvah dee fense" or "Throw the horse some hay over the fence". "Sell is geungk fah heit; ich dait glauvva". That's enough for today, I should think.


The biggest difference between the English "O" and the PA-D "O" is the ending. English speakers make the "o" sound by pursing the lips and blowing., as in "low". Speaking English with a PA-D accent, we don't do that. We round our mouths and make the "o"; but we stop there. We don't purse the lips and we don't blow. "How now, brown cow" sounds like "Hau nau, braun cau". Well, not exactly, but that's as close as I can come to the actual sound. You must hear it. No "w" sound on the end.

Also, we separate our words. In English, you say, "Iyam" and "weyare" and "yooware". With our PA-Dutch accent, we say, "I em" and "we ah" and "yoo ah". I'm not sure if this has something to do with the glottal catch. This is defined as Noun 1. glottal catch - a stop consonant articulated by releasing pressure at the glottis; as in the sudden onset of a vowel glottal plosive, glottal stop occlusive, plosive, plosive consonant, plosive speech sound, stop consonant, stop - a consonant produced by stopping the flow of air at some point and suddenly releasing it; "his stop consonants are too aspirated" That definition leaves a lot to be desired.

The space between the vocal cords is called the glottis. As the vocal cords vibrate, the resulting vibration produces a "buzzing" quality to the speech, called voice or voicing. I guess we stop and start our vibrations more sharply than those without our accent.


In German, the letter P is pronounced "pay". In PA-Dutch, the letter is often used as a B; and often replaced by a B. In German, P is sometimes used together with F to make a sound that can't be described. Try to make a p sound and an f sound as quickly as possible, one after the other. Believe me; it can be done; but it isn't easy. The shortest of these words is Pfad which means path or track. PA-Dutch, like most dialects, is based on laziness, or taking the easiest Pfad. We pronounced it "Baud". In Germany, a boy scout is called a Pfadfinder (Pfaud-fin-der). And, of course, a girl scout is a Pfadfinderin. The Palatine, with which all of us genealogists are familiar, is called die Pfalz. Pancakes are Pfannkuchen. In PA-Dutch, we call them Ponnakoocha. Lastly, the name Pfeiffer, in PA-Dutch, is pronounced Peiffer; and is sometimes spelled that way. A pfeiffer is a piper or whistler. Another expression which was rather common was "Ich peif dah droof" (literally, I whistle you! thereon) which meant, "I couldn't care less"! "Nothing doing"! "Forget it"!

The German word Pass is a noun meaning permit, passport. The German verb is "passen". The PA-Dutch used the word "pass" as a verb, as in English; but we pronounced it bos. Not boss; but a short explosive bos. We had an expression "Bos oof" which meant "watch your behavior" or "pay attention", depending on context. When we played pinochle or haasenpfeffer, we would say "Ich bos", or "Ich moos bosa". I always thought of it in the sense of I comply or submit; it was sometime before it dawned on me that it meant, "I pass".

Ph in German is pronounced f, just as in English.

Words beginning with pl were almost always pronounced bl in PA-Dutch. Platz, meaning place, was pronounced Blatz in PA-Dutch. Plauderei, meaning conversation, was pronounced Blauderei.

Poker, meaning poker, on the other hand was pronounced Poker. We used the English word police; and we pronounced it that way. Post was pronounced Pusht. But Preis (Price) was pronounced Breis. Propeller was Brobeller. Puppe (doll) was Bupp. Putzen (clean) was Bootza(as in foot).

We often used p in place of b. The German word Besuch meant "visit"; besuchen meant "to visit". In PA-Dutch, the pronunciation became "psooch", both noun and verb. "Meer h'en Psooch" meant "we have company (visitors)'". "Ich hop een psoocht" meant "I visited him". Behalten, in German, means to keep. We said "polta". "Doo konnsht des polta". "You may keep it".

In English, Bob was Bop; club was clup; public was puplic; problems were proplems; and so on, and on, and on. Genoongk? Enough? Olrecht. OK.


Never having written the PA-Dutch Dialect in my earlier years, I am not too sure about the number of words there were containing Qs. The letter is pronounced koo in German. It is sounded "kv". I think that most of the words we used that contained Qs were English words with a PA-Dutch pronunciation. Words like quart, which we pronounced "gvort", and square, for which we said shgvair. Impossible? No it isn't; just say shhh and then growl with a gv sound instead of a gr sound. See! E'n Shtick Koocha. Of course, there were some German words that were very similar to their English counterparts, such as Quartett and Quintett which we pronounced gvortet and qvintet. Well, I guess it's time to quit; 's is tzeit fah shtuppa.


In German, the letter "R" is pronounced "air". Generally speaking, the German "R" is sounded like the English "R". In the PA-Dutch dialect, it isn't sounded at all some of the time. I can still hear my father pronounce the English word "her"; it came out an explosive - "HAH', no "R"sound at all.

And so it was with the "R" sound in PA-Dutch. Words ending in "er" became "ah"; "finger" became "fingah" and "immer" became "immah"' but short, staccato, not aaah. Beer comes out "beeah" with the "ah" less accented. Words beginning with "R" sounded just as in English, Raus and Rauch and Rausch.

Words with an "R" inside the word are another matter. Two illustrations come to mind. "Berg", meaning "mountain", is pronounced "Bairg" in German; in PA-Dutch it is pronounced "Bo-rick" (two syllables, bo as in borrow). On the other hand, the word for "north", which in German is "Nord", was pronounced "Not", no "R" sound at all. Similarly, when we said "horse" in English, we pronounced it without the rollimg sound that it gets from most English-speaking people. It wasn't pronounced like "Nord", with no "R" sound at all; but neither was there a rolling "R". Nor was it pronounced like the "hoss" of the westerns. We started to say "horse" just as you say "horse"; but we didn't roll the "R". I don't know how to write the sound. Round the mouth and blow; then raise the tongue and continue to blow; then touch the tongue to the teeth and continue to blow; and you hear "horse". But if you don't raise the tongue; you will hear the PA-Dutch version. That's the best I can do. Ich wins! h eyecch Glick (I wish you (plural) luck).


There isn't much one can say about the letter "s"; an "s" is an "ssss". You put your tongue against your front teeth, and blow. There are oddities about the written letter which have caused some genealogists some grief. In old Gothic German, with which I am somewhat (kinda?) familiar, the lower case "s" took two forms, one much like our modern "s" [oh yes, back in colonial times, the English "s" often looked much like the following German "s"], and a form that closely resembled the English letter "f"; the difference being that the bar went only half-way across. To make matters worse, when a double "s" was used; the first was often written like the one that resembled the English "f"; and the second was written like the one that resembled the English "s". There was also a combined form which resembled an"f" and the number 3 joined together, causing it to look like the capital letter "B". It was called the ess-zett ligature; although I'm not quite sure why; since it is a combination of two esses, not an ess and a zett (an "s" and a "z"). It is somewhat confusing unless one is aware of these variations. I hope I haven't compounded the confusion. Also, the German capital S is easily mistaken for a capital G. As well as making it more difficult to read the already hard to read gothic script; one could also mistake proper names by mistaking esses for effs, double esses for capital Bs, and capital esses for capital Gs. I have a classic example in a name on a tombstone in the old Swamp Church Cemetery in Blainsport, PA. The name has been transcribed as "Gebwanger" by no less a person than William Frederic Worner, librarian of the Lancaster County Historical Society, in 1935. It has been reprinted as such all these years. The tombstone is old and stained and eroded; but, through perseverance, and repeated applications of shaving cream, and squeegeeing, I was, after four trips to the cemetery from my summer home in Cocalico, able to decipher the name as Schwanger. Mr. Worner had mistaken the S for a G, the c for an e, and the h for a b. So all these years, genealogists have been looking for Gebwangers when they should have been looking for Schwangers. My ancestor Catharina Schwanger would have been lost to me, had I not persisted in questioning Mr Worner's transcription. And so endeth my little dissertation on the letter "s". I thank you for your kind attention.


The letter T is called "tay" in German. It is generally pronounced like the English "T". Tag(day) is pronounced "tawg"; Hut(hat) is pronounced "hoot". In PA-D, Tag is pronounced "dawg". Hut is pronounced "hood"; but like "mood", not like "good". You can appreciate the difference between pronouncing T and D by doing it. Notice the position of the jaw and the tongue. D may be pronounced by leaving the jaw slack and lifting the tongue against the roof of the mouth; but to enunciate a T, one must lift the jaw and thrust the tongue forward against the teeth. More effort. D is easier.

The diphthong "th" exists in German script; but it is not pronounced like the English "th"; but, rather, like the "T". There aren't many German words that begin with "th". Most of them are words with Greek derivations like Theater and Theologe. There are Thron(throne) and Theke(counter). They are pronounced "T", without the lisp; and also in PA-D. Ofhand, I can think of only three words that have the diphthong somewhere in the middle of the word. One of them is Diphthong; one is Diphtherie, and the third is not a word but a proper name, Walther. They are pronounced Diftong, diftari, and Volter. The PA-Dutch probably never heard of diphthong; diphtherie was pronounced difteeri; and Walther was Vauldah. This ends my little literary effort. I thank you for your kind attention.


Der Buchstabe U, the letter U, is pronounced "oo" in German. It is sounded much like the English U; but I can't think of any words in which the u is pronounced like the u in mud. It is quite commonly seen as the first letter of the German prefix "un", which is used to denote the negative; as in "unartig" meaning 'naughty". "Artig" means "good, kind, well-behaved"; and "unartig" is, of course, the opposite or negative. "Bekannt" is "known"; "unbekannt" is "unknown."Zufrieden" is "satisfied"; "unzufrieden" is "dissatisfied". Just as in English. All are pronounced "oon", not "ooon", "oon".

The letter U is also used quite a bit with an umlaut. That consists of those two dots you see above vowels in German script. The umlaut over the letter U changes the pronunciation from "oo" to somewhere between short i and "ee", with rounded lips. The word Grund, meaning ground, is pronounced "groond"; but the word Gründer, meaning founder(noun), is pronounced "greender". Für is pronounced "feer". If you can't type a "ü"; you can substitute "ue", as in fuer.

U is used with other vowels to form diphthongs. A as in ach is pronounced "occhh"; au as in auch is pronounced "ahcchh". äu as in Häuser is pronounced "hoyser". E as in es is pronounced "es"; eu as in euch is pronounced "oycchh".

The PA-Dutch "U" is treated the same way with some exceptions. Unser (our) is pronounced "oonsah". Haüser(houses) is pronounced "heisah", not "hoysah". Euch is pronounced "eicchh", not "oycchh". Durch (through) is pronounced "dorricchh", not doorcchh. Furch (to be afraid) is pronounced "foricchh". "Icchh foricchh micchh" is how we say 'I am afraid" in PA-Dutch. It is much more involved in German. "Ich habe furcht vor etwas/etwer".

(I have fear of something/somebody).

Then there is Schmutz, which in German, means dirt; but in PA-Dutch means grease. It is pronounced a very short "oo", like being punched in the solar plexus. Schmutzig is dirty in German, greasy in PA-D. Schmutzen, in German, to make dirty; in PA-D, to grease, as in "Icchh muss dee machine schmootza lussa" (I must get the car greased"). Remember grease joints? Today we no longer need to schmootz the machine.

Finally, we have schmusen which means to cuddle, just like our word shmooze. And you thought you couldn't speak German. So much for the letter U. I thank you for your kind attention. Un' vergesst net; alles für Spass; un' nix für ungut.


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Contributed by Richard Emlin Reed.


Last Modified Sunday, 08-Feb-2009 06:46:35 MST

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