Contrastive Analysis: English-German

Term Paper 2008 21 Pages

Didactics - English - Pedagogy, Literature Studies



1. Introduction

2. General production of speech sounds

3. The consonant
3.1 English consonants
3.2 German consonants – contrastive analysis
3.3 Difficulties for the foreign language learner
3.3.1 Phonemic difficulties
3.3.2 Phonetic difficulties

4. The vowel
4.1 Vowels
4.2 English vowels
4.3 German vowels
4.4 Vowel contrasts
4.5 Difficulties for the foreign learner

5. Summary

6. Literature

1. Introduction

Speaking English in a „native-like“ way does not only consist of the abilities of speaking fluently and gramatically correct. Pronounciation and the proper use of the right sounds at the right time play an important role just as well.

This paper outlines the English and German sound system, alludes to the differences between the systems and points at possible resulting problems for the German English learner.

Before comparing English to other languages it has to be advised that English occurs in many global and local variations. Similar to the German „Hochdeutsch“, two main standards had been established: „Received Pronounciation“ (RP) of todays’s British English and „General American“ (GA). Since the chose literature basically deals with the latter, this paper is limited to „General American“.

To supply an introduction and a basis for the subsequent chapter a short overview of general sound production and the taxonomy of characterizing sounds is provided.

Following this taxonomy Englih consonantes are firstly described and thereafter opposed to their German counterparts.

Based on the determined differnces, possible phonemic and phonetic difficulties for the English learner are shown and adequate tasks to overcome those obstacles are introduced.

Analogue to the previous, the presentation of the vowel systems, their differences and resulting problems completes the paper.

2. General production of speech sounds

The production of speech sounds occurs, when an airstream leaves the human body from the lungs through the oral and nasal cavity. Some areas are passed which are relevant for the variety of the different sounds, as the airstream can be modified here. Those speech organs, controlling the air are the larynx, the pharynx, oral and nasal cavity as well as tongue and lips. Depending on the tongue position different resonance chambers occur, which are resopnsible for the individual tone of the sounds.

Generally this process of producing speech sounds is universal for all languages.

Comparing two languages regarding their sounds requieres a description of the different sounds of the received sounds in both speech communities.

Characterizing a sound requieres different features, which are distinguished in phonemic and phonetic attributes.

Phonemic features as e.g. the degree of jaw-opening or the position of the tongue are distinctive. Regarding the words „house“ and „mouse“, the characteristics of the initial sounds /h/ and /m/ are relevant for the meaning of the words.

On the contratrary phonetic features provide the possibility of a proper illustration of the received sound. Normally phonemic attributes as duration, intonation, cadence or volume are not able to distinguish meaning.

However there are differences in different languages. For example the duration of a vowel is not distinctive in the English language, whereas in German the duration of the /a/- sound is the only distinctive feature in the words „kam“ and „Kamm“

3. The consonant

3.1 English consonants

Consonants are sounds, where the escaping airstream can not pass the oral cavity without any disruption. The obstacle is above the larynx and is either a constriction or a total closure.

There are 24 different consonants in „GA“, which can be distinguished by three features: place of articulation, manner of articulation and the presence of voice.

On its way through the windpipe the airstream passes the glottis. The vocal cords enclose the glottis and can be either almost shut or almost opened. A nearly closed glottis leads to an vibration of the vocal cords as the air passes by and therefore those sounds are called „voiced“. Accordingly voiceless sounds are produced with an open glottis. The words „seal“ and „zeal“ are only distinguishable by the voicing of their initial sounds.

In linguistics the presence of voice accompanies the intensity of articulation. In most cases voiced sounds comply with an unstressed articulation, as the production requires less physical effort and is therefore called „lenis“[1].

Correspondingly voiceless sounds are identified as fortis[2] sounds.

The place of articulation describes the place in the oral cavity where a passive and an active articulator form the obstruction of the airstream.

Lips, tongue, soft palate and pharynx are active articulators, whereas teeth, alveolar-ridge, hard palate and uvula are the passive articulators.

A bilabial articulation takes place, when a sound is produced with both lips, i.d. the airstream is interrupted by upper and lower lip. Bilabial sounds are

/p/, /b/ and /m/.

Labiodental sounds like /v/ and /f/ are produced by the lower lip hitting against the upper teeth.

A touch of the tip of the tongue against the front teeth articulates the dental sounds /T/ and /D/.

The alveolar place of articulation means the touch of the tongue against the alveolar-ridge and the sounds /t/, /d/, /s/, /z/, /n/ und /l/ can be produced.

There is just a single English postalveolar sound, which is articulated by the tip of the tongue and the rear tooth ridge. It is /r/ as in [red].

The consonants /tS/, /S/, /dZ/ and /Z/ are palatoalveolar and are produced by a touch of the tongue against the alveolar-ridge connected with a simultanous bow of the body of the tongue against the palate.

Palatal consonants can be articulated by a touch of the tongue and the palate. /j/ is the only English consonant.

The lift of the rear part of the tongue against the soft palate creates velar sounds as /k/, /g/, /N/ or /w/.

Glottal sounds are special as the obstrusion of the airstream occurs already in the larynx before reaching the oral cavity. There is just one glottal speech sound in the English sound system, /h/ as in „hat“.

The manner of articulation describes the degree of approaching or touching of the articulators and how this affects the airstream. English distinguishes between eight different ways.

Plosive means the sudden release of air after a total closure. Nasal describes the escaping of the airstream through the nose, as the oral cavity is completly shut by the articulators.

A fricative occurs, when the articulators form a constriction in the oral cavity, where the airstream is rupped past.

Approximants are consonants where the articulators approach each other and the airstream can leave the oral cavity unhindered.

Lateral consonants occur when a central closure of the articulators enables a sideway passing of the airstream.

A trill is a repeated pounding of the articulators, while a Tap describes a single touch. Both manners of articulation can not be found in „GA“.

Affricates are combinations between a plosive and a fricative consonant with the same place of articulation.

Liquids occur when the airstream is limited by the articulators and the airstream has to pass alonge the side of the tongue.

The table[3] shows that every consonant can be clearly distinguished by the three distinctive features voicing, place and manner of articulation.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

(cf. Skandera, Burleigh 2005, S. 20ff)


[1] lat.: soft

[2] lat.: hard

[3] based on : Celce-Murcia et al. 1996, p.47


ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
494 KB
Catalog Number
Institution / College
University of Cologne
Contrastive Analysis English-German



Title: Contrastive Analysis: English-German