What’s up with those e’s? The Dehnungs-e Posted by Sten on Dec 12, 2017 in Culture, Geography, Grammar, History, Language
Last Friday, we discussed the Dehnungs-h and how it was quite a curious, unnecessary concept in German. Today, we look at the Dehnungs-e, a concept that does pretty much the same thing, but is much less widespread. Other than after an i, it feels strange to many Germans as well. One famous example of such strange application of the Dehnungs-e in use is the name of the city of Soest.
In the video above, at 0:47, you can hear “Wippen der Soester Bürgerschützen” (rocking of the Soest Civilian Marksmen). The reporter says Sooster, but you write Soester. So what is going on here, why does German not just use two oo, or a Dehnungs-h (Sohst) or something else to indicate a long o?
It is because of history, like so many oddities in language. It may come from Sosat, which was related to the early Germanic sod-saten, which means something like “those situated close to the well”.
The combination with e is only found in place names or older family names. It is especially widespread around the Niederrhein region and Westfalen (Westphalia) in the west of Germany. Some examples:
Bloem (family name)
Goes (family name)
Ziehen, Bier… Combinations with i
While a Dehnungs-e is not seen often in a diphthong between o and e, it is quite common in words with i.
The point of the video above is that the word Bier is said a lot. Then you get a good idea of how it is pronounced. It would be pronounced the exact same way without the Dehnungs-e though! Bir should be pronounced the same way.
This also exists in words like verlieren (to lose). That combination is more common than not, actually.
In very, very rare cases, you even have a Dehnungs-e AND Dehnungs-h! An example is ziehen (to pull) or sieht (sees, declinated from the verb sehen – to see).
However, you will never find ie at the beginning of a word. Then you take out the Dehnungs-e and simply write i. Such as in ihr (her).
Of course, there are exceptions to this rule as well, such as Wir (we) or Tiger (tiger).
The weird “exception”: Ziesar
Listen closely to what the narrator says: Die Burg Ziesar wird belagert (Castle Ziesar will be besieged). What happened there? First, she says Zi, as in Zieh – a long i. And then, instead of muting the e as you would expect with a Dehnungs-e, she pronounces it: esar – Zi-esar. So, this is not a Dehnungs-e at all, but just looks like one. The reason for this coincidence is probably the origin of the place name: It comes from the Slavic za jezero (behind the lake).
You may sometimes see words like können with oe: koennen. That is because the Umlaut-o was not recognized or accepted by the software used, in most cases. I discussed this phenomenon in a previous article.
Even rarer Dehnungs-letters
There are very rare combinations with Dehnungs-i and Dehnungs-w or Dehnungs-u. We will go through them quickly.
The Dehnungs-i is most prominent in the name of the city Duisburg, pronounced as Düsburg. Back in the day, it was pronounced as Dusburg, and the i was there to indicate that the u had to be pronounced long. Another example is the widespread family name Voigt (pronounced Vohgt). And other than in some names, the Dehnungs-i is not used.
The w as a stretching letter is widespread in Eastern Germany, and has a Slavic origin. It is often seen at the end of words, such as Treptow, which is pronounced as Treptoh – the w is silent. It is not found in anything else than names, either.
The Dehnungs-u is very, very rare. The only example I could find is the place name Pouch, which is pronounced with a long o – as Pohch, basically. It is a strange exception!
There has been a lot of criticism against the Dehnungs-letters. Should we keep them? Should we abandon them? What do you think? Let me know in the comments below!
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