Shwa for German
Der Schwa Alphabet für Deutsch

German is an easy language to read, once you know how the letters are pronounced, but there are often multiple ways to write the same sounds. For example, the common surname Mayer could also be spelled Meyer Maier Meier Majer Mejer Mayr Meyr (and more). Walther Burckhardt could also be Walter Burkhart, and so on.

In addition, there are a number of di- and tri-graphs - ch ng sch dsch tsch ss - and a diaeresis, also known as an umlaut or trema, over ä ö ü which may or may not disappear when capitalized, or sometimes turn into an e. And sometimes ss or sz is written as ß, which has no uppercase form.

German distinguishes long and short vowels, but there's no consistent way to represent this. Long vowels may be written with a following h, while short vowels may be indicated by doubling the following consonant. Or long vowels may simply be doubled, although ie is used instead of ii.

There are also sound changes that aren't spelled, like the devoicing of b d g v z zh to p t k f s sh at the end of syllables. The digraph ch represents x after back vowels, but ç after front vowels or at the beginning of a syllable (only in the suffix -chen). The clusters sp st are also pronounced shp sht as in Spiel Stein.

Finally, there are two oddities for which German spelling is notorious: capitalization of nouns, and the creation of compound nouns. The former is merely quaint, while the latter seems incomprehensible until you realize that we do the same thing in English...but with spaces separating each word. Isn't golf cart easier to read than Golfplatzfahrzeug?

All these problems are solved by Shwa. Every sound has its own letter, although long vowels use the Long mark and diphthongs use a semivowel. When pronunciation changes in a certain situation, the spelling reflects that. And compound words are written with spaces between components.

Consonants

There are 21 consonants, plus 3 more used only in foreign words (in italics).

backen danken Dschungel genug
packen tanken zwanzig Tscheche kommen
waren See Jalousie
fahren ich essen schön acht
müssen nein eng
liegen ja haben Rohr

Vowels

Here are the German vowels :

bitten bieten
Betten Männer beten bäten
Wasser baten weiten Bauten
Bütten wüten
Böttingen böten
Bottich Booten Beute
Butten buhten
eine einer einen eines

There are 8 short vowels, 8 long vowels, 1 reduced vowel (the second vowel in the words eine, einer , einen and eines) for unstressed syllables, and 3 diphthongs. In many dialects, the mid-open front vowel ä has merged with the mid-closed e. As in English, the distinction between long and short vowels is more one of tenseness than length. In fact, the two closest vowels, the ones distinguished most by length alone, are the vowels of bäten and Betten and they're not even written with the same base vowel!

Samples

Now that you've learned the letters, why don't you try reading a sentence?


Laufet, Brüder, eure Bahn, Freudig, wie ein Held zum Siegen.


© 2002-2015 Shwa shwa@shwa.org 06may15