Pronouncing English words in German texts

Gail Armstrong of openbrackets recently mentioned a subject that sometimes irritates me: how do I, as a native speaker of English, pronounce English words that have entered the German language and are pronounced ‘wrongly’?

bq. The only times I’ve failed to understand what for the love of Pierre a French person was saying have been when English words were involved.

bq. I once spent many minutes talking with someone about Dire Straits and another group called Deer Straats, certain that we were speaking of two different bands, and so struck by the similarities. I’m still looking for a recording by another band called Tallkeen Eds.

bq. I have regular bouts of panic when having to ask for an American product. Upon entering KFC (ka eff say), say, does one order a byoockette or a bouquet, and is it salade de chou or ze slow on the side? Who knows.

On the whole, I pronounce the words the way the Germans do, but when it comes to the products, problems arise. For instance, there is a chocolate and caramel bar called Twix in Britain. In Germany it was originally called Raider. However, this was pronounced not raider but rider. Later, they changed the name to Twix, for perhaps obvious reasons, and there was a much-repeated exhortation in their TV ads ‘Raider is now Twix’. Yet they laughed at me when I tried to buy a peanut bar called Nuts, pronouncing it ‘Noots’. Vick had its spelling changed to Wick, of course.

I have sometimes annoyed people by repeating all the English words in the TV advertisements in order to improve my German accent. I still find it hard to pronounce the last word in the shampoo name ‘Head and Shoulders’ – something like shooowwlders – preceded by ‘hett ‘ ent’. The Douglas saying ‘Come in and find out’ (apparently taken by many Germans to mean ‘Come in and then manage to find your way out again’) is pronounced staccato, with lots of glottal stops: Come ‘ in ‘ and ‘ find ‘ out. (See report by PapaScott).

Today I heard on the radio that John Carey won the Iowa primary, but later I found out it was John Kerry.

11 thoughts on “Pronouncing English words in German texts

  1. I remember one professor of political science at the Univ. of Vienna, Austria, who made a point of pronouncing all English words as if they were German words.

    He argued that Americans always “raped” German and other foreign words by “Americanizing” them, so he simply wanted to return the favour.

  2. Margaret Marks’s entry “Pronouncing English words in German texts” reminds me of something I’ve been meaning to blog for a while. I’m reading Anton Gill’s book A Dance Between Flames: Berlin Between the Wars (which I recommend to anyone interested…

  3. Hi Margaret

    As much as I concur with you on German pronunciation of English words (although I always pronounce them the English way in an attempt to educate them…), I must point out that the Spanish lead the way in mispronunciation of English words, most particularly the names of rock/pop groups – it ranges from “Hudas Priste”(Judas Priest) through “Hethro Tool” (Jethro Tull) to the one and only “Deeray Straee” (Dire Straits of course…).
    My theory on the German is that if we pronouce it right enough times they might take the hint…


    Paul Thomas (pronounced “Tom Ass” by most people who meet me….)

  4. > Vick had its spelling changed to Wick, of course.

    It’s Vicks, actually, but they wisely dropped the ‘s’ for the German market at the same time.

    Raw-bean Tcheff-rye Schtocksss (to quote a registrar)

  5. I agree with you, Margaret – the German pronounciation for many English words, drives me nuts on a bad day:

    Kemping – camping
    Reck and Roll – rock & roll

    I must admit that in gerneral I go along with it on place names (Lon-Don or Edin-Burg) but stick to the English pronounciation on the rest.

    But I sometimes have a problem in the US too- how do the Americans pronounce the place Des Moines, for example – like it’s spelt or as in the French or something completely different?

  6. John: In the States, it’s usually pronounced “DE moyn.”

    It’s interesting to listen to Spanish-language TV in the States to hear differences in product names: Colgate toothpaste is Col-ga-tay, for example.

  7. I recall from a Madrid Dept. store the amount of time I wasted ín the Music Dept. trying to correct the salesgirl’s pronunciation of the 1970’s Irish balladeer Hil-Burp Oooh-saliva-in-the-van (Gilbert O’Sullivan).

    In Germany, it must have been the black spiky hair that was the reason – right up to re-unification – why East Berlin young-vampire look-alikes of the British Punk-Rock Band,The Cure,labelled themselves Dog Show entrants: Krufties or Krofties.

  8. I usually pronounce the English (in Italian, which I speak as a learned language from when I lived there), unless it’s utterly unrecognizable in Italian.

    For example, acronyms: “UCLA” is You-See-Ell-Ay in English, but “ookla” (roughly) in Italian. I would never use the English in Italian for something like that.

    The Italians, though, are very positive and friendly about hearing English words pronounced with an American accent, and furthermore they freely adopt English words. I always get a positive reaction from using the American pronounciation of an English word that the Italians adopted. Maybe it would be different in France. :)

  9. It’s really only with product names where the problem arises. Well, perhaps where something is given an English name. I don’t suppose the Italians can pronounce them any better than the Germans, but I don’t get Italian tv here so I can’t tell. Don’t know how many English product names the French use. Anyway, you can’t pronounce SIDA like AIDS or OTAN like NATO!

  10. Americans humilate all words they borrow from other languages.
    Porsche sounding like porsch
    ü is particularly troublesome for them thus their “uber-false” pronunciation of also the french words like “Déjà vu” coming out like descha vu.
    In face of that my mispronunciation of that bloody “v” letter is only minor, yet I am reminded by them every time it sounds like a w. then they are “as kind as” to repeat it for me and it doesn’t sound a fuckin bit different to what I said.

    Furthermore I’d like to remark that Austrian doesn’t humilate foreign words to such an extent as Germans do.
    Colgate … truly terrible.
    Michelin .. Jesus Christ goddamit.

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