In this first section, I share my personal thoughts on some terms that play an important role in this project and are often confused with one another, using the example of the German language, the Germans, and Germany.
D I A L E C T
A German dialect is a traditional local variety of the German language that has the characteristics of an independent language—its own phonetics, its own grammar, and its own lexis. As for the latter, different things can be called differently in different regions, so that even Germans themselves do not understand each other. Thus, a dialect can be called an unofficial language.
German dialects emerged at the beginning of the Middle Ages during the migration of peoples, when the nomadic Germanic tribes settled and developed their own languages. Sometimes these areas were separated by no more than a river or a mountain range. Since people did not leave their villages and towns for centuries, it did not bother anyone that just ten kilometers away people spoke a completely different language. With growing trade and improved travel opportunities, however, the need for a common language that everyone could understand and speak finally arose. Today's Standard German is therefore merely a compromise. Some tribes rejected it, which resulted in their own languages becoming independent (such as present-day Luxembourgish), while other tribes slowly weaned themselves from their mother tongue. The mass media, especially radio, gave an additional boost to the spread and development of this common language. Many dialects eventually adapted to today's Standard German, while others gradually disappeared completely because they were no longer needed. Today a trend can be observed that with each new generation fewer and fewer people speak their native dialect.
A C C E N T
Since each dialect or language has typical linguistic features, and German speakers come from different regions and countries, it is completely natural that they (mostly unconsciously) transfer the pronunciation habits of their native dialect or language to (standard) German. The audible result is a (regional or foreign) accent.
If we orientate ourselves on the German standard pronunciation, even in Germany relatively few people really speak accent-free German, although language changes over time so that many originally dialectal features are now also considered standard language. To this day, the city of Hanover is considered to be the epicenter of the German standard pronunciation, which does not automatically mean that all Hanoverians speak clear standard German and all other Germans have a regional accent—sometimes it is the opposite.
P R O N U N C I A T I O N
What do most people mean when they say, "Your German is great"? And what is the first thing you notice when you hear someone speaking a foreign language? There is a widespread phenomenon in our society: 1) If you know a foreign language poorly or not at all, i.e. you have no idea about grammar and lexis, but you say one single sentence to a native speaker without an accent, he thinks, "Wow, he speaks so well!", even though you just said one sentence. And the other way around: 2) If you have a perfect command of a foreign language, don't make any grammatical mistakes and speak fluently, but have a very strong accent of your native language, the native speaker, provided he understands you, will think, "Okay, his German is not the best. Perhaps he hasn't been learning it that long." What does that tell us? Your language level does not automatically match the level of your pronunciation. If someone, for instance, has a C2 certificate, that doesn't mean that this person speaks without an accent. And there are also A1 learners who, for various reasons, have a good pronunciation: they are still very young, they have a musical ear, or they have been dealing with German phonetics right from the start.
P H O N E T I C S
Phonetics is a branch of linguistics that studies the perception and production of human language sounds; therefore, on top of grammar, lexis and orthography, it is an inherent part of learning German. Strangely enough, it is hardly ever recognized as a separate discipline worth being assessed when it comes to language examinations. As a result, many German beginners typically do not pay much attention to it, yet take it up later on their own initiative as they face some disadvantages in everyday life or at work because of their pronunciation.
Despite their great interest in the subject, most have a hard time reducing their accent when speaking German, relying on incorrect and incomplete online sources or language schools that do not specialize in phonetics. Also, their hearing might be insufficient when it comes to correcting their own German pronunciation.
P H O N E T I C T R A N S C R I P T I O N
The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) is a phonetic alphabet based on the Latin and Greek script, with the characters of which the sounds of all human languages can be described and notated nearly accurately. It was developed by the International Phonetic Association at the end of the 19th century and is now the most widely used phonetic transcription system among foreign language learners, teachers and linguists.
In different sources and dictionaries that use the IPA, you can see different transcription variants of certain words, i.e. there is no unified transcription system. For the German language, as well as for this project, I created my own transcription system based on the IPA while ensuring an easy perception of my materials.
|GERMAN CONSONANTS||BOTH LIPS||UPPER TEETH, LOWER LIP||ALVEOLAR RIDGE||BACK OF ALVEOLAR RIDGE||HARD PALATE||SOFT PALATE||UVULA||VOCAL CHORDS|