The German Accent: Ain’t No Place for the English “T-H”

english-th-sound-tongue-between-teeth-german
“You just put your lips together and… blow.” — Image Credit: tiffany terry (https://www.flickr.com/photos/35168673@N03/) — Subject to CC Generic 2.0 Copyright.

I love my wife’s accent. It’s cute — sort of ambiguously European — with a rare subtlety which likely stems from so much time spent in the United States and her years of being married to me; an American book nerd who experiences heart palpitations whenever someone misuses the homophones “there” and “their.”

But who doesn’t enjoy a good foreign accent? They sound cool and unique. More attractive, even. (Except for that God-awful Cockney English accent. Holy shit.) So I cherish what precious little remains of my wife’s German accent, and record it whenever she lets fly with a real zinger. Yes, her mispronunciations make me laugh out loud, but I do not mean to mock her; I truly enjoy the linguistic differences. (And this road goes both ways, I’ll have you know: My wife laughs her sweet ass off whenever I try to say “ice cubes” in German. The word is “Eiswürfel,” pronounced, “Ice-vuhr-fell,” but I can’t stop saying “Ice-TZWUHR-fell.” Makes her lose her shit every time.)

One remnant of my wife’s accent is still going strong, however, and that is her total disregard for the English <th> sound, as in “theater,” “weather” or “Thor, God of Thunder.” (And yes, I am a comic book dork, as well as a fantasy nerd and sci-fi geek. I loved the movie Prometheus. It rocked so hard I’ve been hassling my wife to watch it with me since 2012.) So it was with much glee that I wrote down my wife’s quote the other day, after she came home from a particularly arduous day at work and demanded immediate relaxation, saying:

“I want to watch a movie so hard. We could even watch a sci-fi. We could even watch your ‘Pro-mee-toys.’ “

If you would like to read another classic mispronunciation post, check this one out: My German Wife Gets Stuck in Traffic, Struggles Adorably to Pronounce the English Letter ‘J’

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20 thoughts

  1. I’m laughing at this because I do the same with my German. He’s so good at speaking English but the little things catch him. I gleefully giggle and point it out since we’re playing ‘teach the American weird pronunciation sounds that do not in any way belong next to each other’ right now. ‘Th’ catches him off guard, too. Kind of adorable, really.

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  2. My boyfriend laughs about how I mispronounce fishmonger. I say monger like “minger” rather than with a hard g.

    Your wife probably also suffers from pronouncing names like they are pronounced in German where it indeed is Pro me toys.

    I had the same with Socrates. I keep saying Soo cra tess.

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  3. Yeah, ‘th’ is kinda tricky. I get it right most of the time, but sometimes the German in me does exactly that, yes… ;) I actually hate it when that happens, but native speakers keep saying it’s cute. ;)
    By the way, the German word is “Eiswürfel” without the -n at the end, even in the plural. ;)

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  4. My German husband is half British and has spent a fair bit of time in the U.S., so we have all kinds of fun with his accent, which, of course, I love. But the names thing – what MissConfig said. I’ve had to get used to him saying “Tsoysss” for Zeus, “TARE-mo-pühl” for the battle in “300” (we silly Americans say “Ther-MAH-poll-ee”, and “a-TAY-nah” for Athena. Sometimes I don’t recognize the person or place at first – like Xerxes = “Kzerkzes”. Egyptian names are fun, too. Ask your wife to pronounce King Tut’s full name, and then let her hear you say it in American. :-)

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  5. I doubt your wife will ever get the hang of the ‘th’ sound. My parents lived in the US for over 50 years and NEVER got the hang of the ‘th’. My father ran his own business in NYC and lost most of his accent accept for the ‘th’ problem. My mother also never could get the hard ‘ch’ sound… like ‘chair’ was always ‘share’ no matter how hard she tried!

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  6. I had no idea (after living there for 2 years) that there was a German word for ice cubes. I mean, there seem to be about 10 icecubes in all of Germany at any given time as every German I encountered considered ice cubes the work of the devil, so I’m just surprised there’s a word for them.

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  7. All these words sound fun. I’ll will try them out on my English partner tonight. I always find it very amusing to hear him attempt to say ‘Zwiebel’.
    When I first moved to the UK I tried hard to rid myself of my German accent because I hated the sound of it. I used to be really proud when people thought I was Irish or South African. Anything but German. Now, though, I love having a little bit of an accent left. I makes me who I am and it’s the best ice breaker.

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  8. My German wife’s th usage is a thing of beauty… she can slickly calibrate it to the local accent in the US…. because it does vary and German’s seem to pick up the subtleties. (Louisiana is a case in point..ie “da” instead of “the”) But long ago she got past that common th hurdle. Now only very few folk can even guess she was/is a native German speaker.

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  9. I do love a good German accent. Sadly, my husband comes from Osnabrück and learnt his English from the army boys via the British World Service and the guys who lived in the region. I don’t really want to know what he heard as a lot of the soldiers kept getting thrown out of bars on a regular basis….! Suffice to say, when we first met, his English was so good that I thought he was Danish LOL!

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  10. German “naked” and “night” are pretty close — after my bike was stolen (marking an initiation into being a true Berliner), I jokingly asked my neighbor if he would guard the front door to our building all night (or that’s what I intended to say). Apparently I asked him if he would guard the front door to our building naked. [That probably would have been a far better disincentive to thieves, come to think of it.]

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