German Word of the Week: Fremdaussprechen

Behold the German (or "German") menu for McDonald's:

170309_McMenue_Landingpage_Teaser_948 (1)

Holy superfluous nipple, you might be thinking: it's almost all in English! This must make ordering a breeze even if you don't know German.

Not so fast. If you just waltz up to the counter and announce you want a "McWrap Chicken Caesar" the way you'd ordinarily pronounce it in English, there's about a 50/50 chance the clerk will look at you with befuddlement. And nobody likes to be befuddled. Or just plain fuddled, for that matter. Wait, where the hell did that word come from?

Where was I? Oh, right. If you want to be understood the first time, you're well-advised to butcher the pronunciation of "McWrap Chicken Caesar" so it sounds the way Germans would pronounce it. Germans consider it hip as hell to read English and write English, but not many can actually pronounce it.

Take the Big Mac. The "a" sound in Mac does not exist in German. German vowels tend sound more pinched and nasal and front-of-mouth than English vowels. Also, the standalone letter "c" is rarely used in modern German, having been replaced with the much more straightforward "k". The word for Caesar in German is Kaiser. Explains a lot, doesn't it?

So a German would pronounced Mac much more like "meck" (which a German, in turn, would spell Mäc). And a hapless Teuton with a high-school education would look at the meaningless letter-salad "Caesar", which breaks about 8 rules of German orthography, and pronounce it "TSAY-zarr"). "Big Tasty Bacon" becomes "Beg Testy Beckon".

Germans are aware of how ridiculous it is to use English words you can't pronounce. There's even a series of books (g) mocking the Deutsche Bahn (a favorite German pastime) based on the English phrase German train conductors always say at the end of announcements: "Thank you for traveling with Deutsche Bahn". The books are called "Senk ju vor träwelling", which mangles German spelling to re-create, for Germans, the butchery of words in English. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

So whenever I go to a store or a fast food place or cafe here in Germany and encounter English words, I gotta say 'em all wrong. Of course I could insist on the proper English pronunciation, and attach a short homily on how you shouldn't butcher words in languages you don't understand, but I prefer to be served spitless beer and dine unslapped.

I do as the Romans do, and pronounce my own beloved mother tongue as if my mouth were full or marbles. It always leaves me feeling soiled, as if I were begging for change in a red-light district by by reciting the Second Inaugural Address while wearing a crotchless Abe Lincoln costume.

Oddly enough, German doesn't actually seem to have a word for the phenomenon of having to pronounce your own language incorrectly to be understood in a foreign country. So I'm going to make one: Fremdaussprechen. Fremd for foreign or alien, and aussprechen for pronounce.

9 thoughts on “German Word of the Week: Fremdaussprechen

  1. Du weisst doch dass ich Deinen “Schulter” fuer solche Beschwerde sein moechte, oder?

    Ich kann Dich bei einem “life musique scho” trosten.

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  2. I suspect that is one of the reasons Subway failed in Germany. Ordering is a loose-loose proposition for all parties involved:

    -If you don’t speak English, you can’t pronounce anything on the menu and feel stupid.
    -Native speaker: the minimum wage Sandwich Artist won’t understand you.
    -High school English: you feel stupid, the other customers think you are a snob, and the Sandwich Artist won’t understand you either.

    No need to adopt the language policy of France, but we are still in Germany.
    I am OK calling a burger a burger, but otherwise just please have a menu composed primarily of German (or at least pronounceable) words.

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  3. Same here, in French-speking Switzerland. Unlike in France, English isn’t outlawed, so it’s everywhere. Many Swiss companies think it’s a good idea to use English product names, because then nobody can pronounce them correctly (a so-called Helvetic compromise: everybody is equally unhappy). Add to this German words, which, after 8 years of German in school, everybody should be able to pronounce correctly, but actually cannot. I still don’t know how to pronounce “Bircher-müesli” so that I’m understood …

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  4. English isn’t “outlawed” herein France, least of all in fast-food restaurants (it may be subtitled/captioned… I don’t really pay attention anymore), and we’re just as bad as the Germans, only with our own free interpretation of the vowels, as you can guess 🙂

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  5. Now that English is no longer a European language, Mr Juncker spoke to his Florentine student audience in French. Since most Florentines have only rudimentary French, and are verboten from English, I recommend that he speak McDonaldsese instead.

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