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The Phonetic Alphabet in Germany Posted by on Oct 16, 2018 in History, Language

Over the past few months I have been using the telephone more and more at work, which means when someone wants to spell their name or address to me they use the phonetic alphabet (also known as Funkalphabet). At first I was completely unprepared and once they started to spell something I would begin just writing the whole word down instead of the letter. Here is a post to help you learn the phonetic alphabet in German and also a bit about the history of it.

There are different names for the phonetic alphabet in Germany. This could be die Buchstabiertafel (the letter table), das Telefonalphabet (the telephone alphabet) or das Funkalphabet (the radio alphabet). It started in 1890 but instead of names for the letters they would have numbers. For example A would be 1 and to spell a word you would then say drei (3), eins (1), zwanzig (20). This was published in the Berliner Telefonbuch.

In 1903 the phonetic alphabet changed from numbers to names. The names were easier to remember than the numbers and less mistakes were made when giving someone information on the phone. The names used for the alphabet were biblical, and since then have not been changed too much.

Here is the phonetic alphabet:
A Anton
B Berta
C Cäsar
Ch Charlotte
D Dora
E Emil
F Friedrich
G Gustav
H Heinrich
I Ida
J Julius
K Kaufmann
L Ludwig
M Martha
N Nordpol
O Otto
Ö Ökonom
P Paula
Q Quelle
R Richard
S Siegfried
Sch Schule
ß Eszett (Scharfes S)
T Theodor
U Ulrich
Ü Übermut
V Viktor
W Wilhelm
X Xanthippe
Y Ypsilon
Z Zeppilin

 

I still find “Ida” difficult, as I always think you spell it like “Eder” – which is a typical German last name. The German and Austrian phonetic alphabets are very similar so you could also use this alphabet if speaking Austrian, there are only a couple of different words. Do you use the phonetic alphabet in your language?

Thanks for reading,
Larissa

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About the Author:Larissa

Hello I'm Larissa. I live in Germany and I am half German and half English. I love sharing my passion for Germany with you through my posts! Apart from writing posts I teach fitness classes in Munich.


Comments:

  1. Wilhelm:

    Many Americans may be familiar with the U.S. military phonetic alphabet.

    A- Alpha
    B- Bravo
    C- Charlie
    D-Delta
    E- Echo
    F-Foxtrot
    G- Gulf
    H- Hotel
    I- India
    J- Juliet
    K- Kilo
    L- Lima
    M- Mike
    N- November
    O- Oscar
    P- Papa
    Q- Quebec
    R- Romeo
    S- Sierra
    T- Tango
    U- Uniform
    V- Victor
    W- Whiskey
    X- X-Ray
    Y- Yankee
    Z- Zulu

  2. Lisa:

    We use a phonetic alphabet in the USA, primarily for police and in aviation. ABC would be alpha-bravo-charlie. The general public when spellin names will use words, but there is no standard and they often add “as in” when using it. So “A as in apple, B as in Boy, C as in … Clever”.

    what happens in German for A with umlaut?

  3. Lucas Keesling:

    I’m a pilot and we use the international phonetic alphabet which is very different from the one that you mention, you can find a long article about it here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Phonetic_Alphabet?wprov=sfti1

    I live in Mexico and a few years ago it used to be a bit different here compared to the standard (same as you mention between German and Austrian), but for about 10 years it has been switched to the international but you can still hear old letters on some radio frequencies and also the airlines call centers tend to use the old one.

    I would find it very hard to switch to the German version but find the differences interesting.


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