The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






German alphabet

The German alphabet consists of the same 26 letters as the modern Latin alphabet:

a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h, i, j, k, l, m, n, o, p, q, r, s, t, u, v, w, x, y, z
A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P, Q, R, S, T, U, V, W, X, Y, Z
(German alphabet.ogg)

The letter 'y' (ypsilon, /"ypsilOn/) occurs only in loan words in German, although some such words (e.g. Typ) have become so common that they are no longer perceived as foreign. It used to be more common in German orthography in earlier centuries, and traces of this earlier usage persist in proper names like Meyer (a common family name) or Bayern (Bavaria).

The German language additionally uses three diacritic letters and one ligature:

ä, ö, ü / Ä, Ö, Ü
ß (called es-tsett or scharfes s)
(German extra letters.ogg)

Although the diacritic letters represent distinct sounds in German phonology, they are almost universally not considered part of the alphabet. Almost all German speakers consider the alphabet to have the 26 letters above and will name only those when asked to say the alphabet. (To illustrate this point, there is a German-language joke about a terrorist who claims the alphabet had only 24 letters because they had blown up C&A. If the number 28 were substituted for 24 to account for the four extra letters, a German speaker would not understand this joke as easily.)

The diacritic letters "Ä", "Ö", and "Ü" are used to indicate umlauts; they are usually sorted together with the letter they are derived from, although German telephone directories treat each umlaut as if it were spelled with the ligature it derives from (that is, "ae", "oe", or "ue"). (Microsoft Windows accounts for that by allowing users of the German locale to choose either "telephone directory" or "dictionary" sorting in the internationalization options of the Control Panel.)

Also, the ess-zett or scharfes s (ß) is used. It exists only in a lower case version since it can never occur at the beginning of a word. Regularisations introduced as part of the German spelling reform of 1996 greatly reduced the occurrence of this letter. It is usually sorted as though it were "ss" - occasionally it is treated as "s", but this is generally considered incorrect. In Switzerland, "ß" is not used, but "ss" instead.

When it is not possible to use the umlauts, e. g. when using a restricted character set, the umlauts "Ä", "Ö", "Ü", "ä", "ö" and "ü" can be transcribed as "Ae", "Oe", "Ue", "ae", "oe" and "ue", respectively. The "ß" can be transcribed as "ss". Nevertheless, any such transcription should be avoided when possible, especially with names. The reason for this is that names often exist in a variant which uses this style, e.g. Müller and Mueller. In a text which uses this transcription system, it would be obvious that if a person's occupation is given as "Mueller" (a miller, someone who operates a mill), that should actually be spelt "Müller", but for a person whose name is given as "Mueller", there would be no way to tell if the name needs to be back-transcribed or not.

There is a German equivalent to the English-language NATO phonetic alphabet:

Anton, Berta, Cäsar, Dora, Emil, Friedrich, Gustav, Heinrich, Ida, Jaguar, Konrad, Ludwig, Martha, Nordpol (sometimes Norbert), Otto, Paula, Qual, Richard, Siegfried (sometimes Südpol), Theodor, Ulrich, Viktor, Wilhelm, Xaver, Ypsilon, Zeppelin; Ärger, Österreich, Übermut.
Last updated: 10-17-2005 20:24:47
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