Is there a Standard German Pronunciation?

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What does it mean and how does it help sylby?

If you’re learning German, you may have struggled with one of the tricky new sounds. And perhaps you’ve wondered, while practicing, if there is a standard German pronunciation. In this article, we’ll give you a brief overview of its merits and its weaknesses.

by Pauline Reiß

A standard describes the norm of a language that covers all areas of grammar. This includes, for example, the articles of nouns, verb forms, but also the pronunciation of words. However, most people do not always speak standard. Nevertheless, when learning a language, many learners orient themselves to the standard. New sounds need to be learned and learners want to improve pronunciation to be easily understood everywhere. It would be too much to also learn regional dialects, for example, Bairisch or Berlinerisch. At sylby, we also follow the standard to make language learning easy. However, we sometimes reveal secrets about variations in our learning videos.

A brief historical overview

The standard German pronunciation has its roots on the theater stages of the 19th century. During performances of serious plays, the actors could often not be understood well, which led to problems. Therefore, at the end of the 19th century, attempts were made in Berlin to develop a standard pronunciation. At the same time, the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) was invented.

North German was chosen as the model for standard German because it had been praised by Goethe for its clear pronunciation. If Goethe had praised Low German at that time, perhaps we would be speaking Low German in Germany today, and sylby would be practicing completely different sounds with you. The choice was highly subjective and there were debates about how the pronunciation should be. Eventually, the first rules for German pronunciation were written based on North German. The pronunciation quickly caught on in everyday life, as the uniform way of speaking was helpful when traveling. However, much more variation was allowed in this new uniform way of speaking than was initially codified.

Today’s standard

There is still a language system in Germany that is considered the standard and is called High German. But in practice, there are also at least 15 other ways of speaking and dialects that belong to German. None of them, however, is taught in school. Instead, High German is used as the standard in the classroom, even though no one speaks it exactly that way in everyday life. Everyone has their own way of speaking, depending on age, region and environment. This is also true for users of sylby or language learners. You have the same right as others to develop your own way of speaking. If you want to learn more about the topic, make sure to follow this link to our article about language and discrimination.

There are also regular deviations from the standard that occur in almost all German speakers, such as the systematic alignment of sounds. For example, n before b is often realized rather as [m]. This can be heard well in the word üben [y:bən] ‘to practice’, which is usually pronounced übm [y:bm] instead of [y:bən]. This is not unusual, as most alignments are related to the fact that words are easier to pronounce that way.

Is setting a standard useful at all?

There are both advantages and disadvantages to standardizing language. One advantage is that standard pronunciation can help make it easier for people to communicate with each other. It can also be helpful in language learning to have a standard pronunciation as a guide. In German, the pronunciation of a word does not always match the spelling, so it is helpful to have a standard to guide you. However, standardizing the language too strictly can also be perceived as limiting and possibly lead to the suppression of dialects or regional variants.

It is important to emphasize that language is always changing and variations are perfectly normal. However, the standardization of language is also always political or an instrument of power. Whether you end up pronouncing every word perfectly as in standard German is not important. That’s why it’s very important to us at sylby to consciously allow variation and not just train to a certain norm. There fore, the model that sylby works with has been trained on standard pronunciation, but with room for variation. It is also important that users understand that there is no perfect pronunciation and that variations and individual expressions are always part of the language.


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