More on Richard Armitage and German pronunciation, because I can’t stop


Continued from here.

I’ve skipping ahead in the series because to discuss the scene with the security cameras in episode 2 relies on issues I haven’t discussed yet. This one, however, should be comprehensible with what I’ve been talking about before: the accurate production of consonants and intonation. This scene offers another moment that made me think simultaneously, he’s actually doing pretty well at this, all things considered, and ouch — there would have been an easy way around the problems he experiences with German here.

I think it’s something you don’t think about if you’re not a foreigner in Germany — but there are definite tricks you can use to hide certain problems you have speaking, or at least to minimize them. You can mumble adjective endings you’re not entirely sure of, for instance, or stick to certain verbs or verb tenses. At the beginning of my time in Germany, I used to prefer to meet people I didn’t know because I could count on not having to use informal address, which has slightly more complicated verb conjugations (in formal address, if you know the infinitive of the verb, you can the same form as your verb). So it shouldn’t be that hard, for a script prepared ahead of time, for the writers to come up with formulations that avoid common problems of English speakers and make Armitage’s job easier.

So this is Armitage’s line in German. The line is effectively translated by the subtitles and there’s nothing problematic about the idiom in my opinion.

Es ist mir egal[,] für wen du arbeitest. Sag denen[,] wir treffen uns Auguststrasse drei-und-vierzig, acht Uhr.

If you are listening closely, you might note that there is one actual incidence of “ch” in this sentence (the uvular “ch” in acht), and one place where Armitage makes a similar sound (vierziG). It may be helpful to know that in some German accents, it is customary to pronounce a closing “g” as if it were a “ch” of some kind, especially what I called the velar “ch” in the previous post.

On the plus side for Armitage, he gets through the “ü” — it’s very short here, and although his “ch” is a bit gravelly, he picks the right one in “acht.” Intonation in the first sentence is also correct and convincing. Nice “ei” in “arbeitest” and the way he ends the word with a light but firm “st” consonant suggests a moment of breathlessness. He sounds mad. (Incidentally — I often found it really hard to convey anger successfully as a non-native speaker, because my emotions usually took over my capacity to formulate accurately. So good for him, for making that piece of it look convincing.)

So in looking at traps for the English speaker, I’m only really looking at this sentence.

Sag denen[,] wir treffen uns Auguststrasse drei-und-vierzig, acht Uhr.

I would say his intonation at the beginning is Sag DENEN and should probably be SAG denen, but he makes it really well through wir treffen us and then he stumbles, on the meeting place:

Auguststraße. Oh, oh, oh.

The concrete problem with this word is the “stst.” One “st” ends a syllable — August; the next one begins a syllable with “st”: Strasse. The space between the consonants is the space between two nouns in a compound word. When “st” begins a syllable, the rule in High German is that it’s pronounced “sht,” and to top all of this off, there’s an “r” (another problem consonant) in the word “Strasse.” You need to hear all the consonants here because they delineate the syllables in a compound word.


So to say this word successfully, look at the diagram above: Armitage needs to

(a) move the tip of his tongue (8) toward his teeth (3) to press air out of his mouth “s”, ending by making the “t” sound against his teeth (“st”),

(b) then move his tongue to (4) for the “sh” and strike his tongue in the same place (4) to complete “sht,”

(c) and then to produce the “r” he needs to move his uvula (7) and push out the “a” vowel.

It’s unusual in English to have this particular sequence of consonants (“ststr”), but possibly doable if one remains relaxed. But remember he’s shouting in this scene in a bit of a hurried way. What I would recommend in this situation is that he lay back on the first “st,” articulate it clearly but lightly so as to keep the front of his tongue as flexible as possible to move it quickly to the second “st,” which he could hit harder. This may seem like counter-intuitive advice, insofar as German is often understood by English speakers as percussive or rigid. But (movie representations of German notwithstanding), one way that German make their speech so precise is by keeping their tongues and mouths flexible.

Again, he’s somewhere near where he wants to be on this. The average English speaker would probably be inclined simply to reduce it to one “st” and say something like “Augustrasse.” He has moved beyond that and internalized that he needs all the consonants in order to make sense. His decision here is to treat “August” and “Strasse” as separate words in order to make sure all the consonants are produced. This has the advantage of articulating all the sounds he needs, but it does sound clumsy or labored rather than effortless. It could be understood as the character trying to make sure the listener knew exactly which street was meant — but that’s an ex post facto explanation for what I think is a difficulty in speaking.

What I’d have done in this situation? It’s a proper noun, so it could essentially be arbitrary. I’d have asked for a substitute noun that was easier to pronounce. It turns out that Auguststr. 43 is a hotel bar, so he could have named the bar (which has no problematic sounds for the English speaker). Or he could have asked for them to specify a different street name, one that wasn’t such a challenge. I understand that they probably wanted the location, and Steinhauer has a thing on about the accuracy of the show, and maybe they didn’t want to name the bar or give it free advertising. In that case they could still have found a formulation for specifying a meeting place that didn’t rely on this minefield of consonants.

As we noticed when discussing the Freygeist bicycle, Armitage has the “r” after a consonant down.

My last question about this for now is his pronunciation of “drei-und-vierzig.” I mentioned that this is a “g” that could sound like a velar “ch,” but it’s complicated by the fact that he pronounces the first “g” in this sentence (“Sag”) correctly. So if he chooses the “ch” pronunciation, he’s going to be inconsistent.

I also can’t tell precisely what he is saying at the end of “vierzig.” What do you hear? “Vierzig” with the velar “ch” (vier-tzich?) or “Vierzig” with an “sh” (vier-tzish)?

~ by Servetus on September 13, 2016.

31 Responses to “More on Richard Armitage and German pronunciation, because I can’t stop”

  1. Again, interesting stuff here.
    I’ve got so say I’m impressed by RA’s German – Him being English, and the difficulties we know native English speakers have with Germanic languages; this is really good work. I agree on the ‘Auguststrasse’. There’s an irregular pause between August and Strasse. These (incessant) flows of consonants (‘stst’) do not come easily to non-native German speakers. True tongue-twisters 🙂


    • Yeah, when I’m writing this the teacher in me says “that’s an error” and the fan in me says, “but wow, he’s really doing well considering all the problems in these sentences.” They should just write him better sentences 🙂

      My last name has four consonants in a row (“ttch”) and it’s a very common name in Germany. It was SUCH a relief living there. For the first time in my life I had the experience of no one thinking twice about my name or mangling it. But when I lived in México, the landlady used to make sport of it. “Names like that should not be allowed.” Well, of course, in Spanish, you’d have to have vowels to be able to pronounce the consonants at all. Everyone in México called me by my first name.


      • Your last name and my middle name are similar. In Plattdeutch mine means ‘barrel maker’. Do you know what yours mean? Your name is fairly common here too; certainly more common than mine. I can totally relate to the issue of pronouncing and spelling correctly 😉
        When I lived in Spain, I never used my middle name. My last name is much more ‘user-friendly’ 🙂


    • Agree too – shouldn’t it have been “in der Auguststrasse…?” I think that he does pretty well. I speak German nearly every day for work and still trip on some words (embarrassing). Other times I can speak accent-free. Depends on how relaxed I am. A German beer, anyone??????


  2. Oh-oh, dangerous ground, Serv. 😀

    Die korrekte Aussprache von “ig” führt selbst bei deutschen Sprachinteressierten immer wieder zu Auseinandersetzungen. Die Standardaussprache des g ist hier ch, aber es gibt Regionen, in denen man das g als g spricht. Und dann muss man auch noch beachten, welcher Buchstabe (Vokal oder Konsonant) folgt und ob man es mit einer Zusammensetzung zu tun hat oder nicht … Bei Interesse kannst du dir die Regeln noch mal ansehen:

    Ich höre übrigens “vierzich” – mit etwas zu schwachem z, aber ansonsten wirklich guter Aussprache.

    Schmunzeln lässt mich da eher die Auguschtstraße. Wer hätte geahnt, dass Daniel halb Schwabe ist? 😛

    PS: Ich bin schon gespannt, welche (aus-)sprachliche Falle du dir als nächstes vornimmst. 🙂


    • I intentionally left some things out here because I thought they would be hugely tangential. For example, “st” isn’t “scht” everywhere in Germany, either. A lot of people in Schleswig-Holstein still say “st” for “st” (coming from the regional plattdeutsch pronunciation).

      Under the influence of my exSO and his family, I learned to say “vierzich” (and “tag” and so on, so if I’d said this sentences it would have been “Zach denen….”), but I regularly heard people say “vierzig.” My point wasn’t that he needed to pick “g” or “ch,” but that he should have picked the same one each time.

      I heard vierzisch but this is from a screen recording, so I’m not confident with all of the judgments I’m making at the same degree.


      • Sorry, ich hatte mich missverständlich ausgedrückt. Als ich schrieb Die Standardaussprache des g ist hier ch (…) meinte ich hier in dem Wort (Vierzig), eben wegen dem -ig.

        Ich bin im Großraum Mainz und … ich sach eher Tach als Tag zu sagen. 😉 Standardsprachlich korrekt ist das nicht.


  3. Yes, I too hear vierzich and agree with Hedgehogess that the z is too soft. It should have the t-sound in it (‘tz’) but it sounds like an English ‘zee’.


  4. Au secours, j’ai besoin de vos connaissances en linguistique Servetus!
    Comment prononcer correctement le mot anglais “hole” pour ne pas le confondre avec “hall”? Cet après-midi, au travail, j’ai failli ne pas savoir conseiller correctement un charmant gentleman anglais, qui souffrait d’un aphte buccal. Malheureusement ce n’est qu’ après son départ que j’ai trouvé la solution. Il aurait fallu que j’écoute mieux Ian Holm, dans la première phrase du Hobbit “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit”. Heureusement pour les conseils alimentaires les mots: “tomatoes, nuts, cheese, coffee, chocolate, orange, Coca-Cola” (très acide ph=2,8) furent plus faciles à prononcer. Mes collègues ont bien ri de mes limites linguistiques.


  5. He is surprisingly good at pronunciation in that scene, apart from the wrong stress on “denen”. Auguststraße really is nasty for a non-native speaker. I think this is one of those words that you need to say a hundred times in a row in order to master it. I can produce all those consonants without breaking the word into two parts – and incidentally the Southern (and now standard) German pronunciation of ‘st’ at the beginning of a word as a palatal makes that much easier. (Try Auguststraße with the alveolar ‘st’ – harder to produce…) But if I say the word without thinking much, it becomes more like “Augus/schtraße”, i.e. I leave the first T out completely. I’d love to know how other native speakers of German from other parts of Germany pronounce the word?
    Another thing I’d like to comment on is the overcompensation on the consonantal R in “treffen”. He really has mastered the consonantal R. So much so, that he’s going a bit strong on the throat there. But that is probably something that will sound particularly authentic to non-native speakers. It’s exactly that sort of harsh ‘ch’ sound that Hollywood loves to put into their German baddies’ mouths. Achtung, Achtung!
    As for the “vierzig” – I hear ‘-ich’ at the end. To my knowledge, that is actually the standard pronunciation of words ending in -ig and not a regional accent! However, the same does not apply to g when it follows the vowel A, as in the word “sag”. Imo he is not inconsistent there – he pronounces both “sag” and “vierzig” the standard German way.


    • Fellow German here.
      I also caught myself trying out ‘Auguststrasse’ in my mouth.
      And you are right! The first ‘st’ is nearly silent. And of course the ‘a’ in ‘Strasse’ should be a long vowel.


      • Good point – the A is a little bit too short… maybe they wrote the text the wrong way in his script 😉


        • I think it might have something to do with the difference between ‘ss’ and ‘sz’ (ß) in German. I mean it probably is difficult to make someone understand that there is a different pronunciation if the script says ‘Strasse’ instead of the correct ‘Straße’.

          The longer I think about these problems the more I am interested in how a language coach actually teaches someone to speak more or less convincingly in a foreign language.


          • The usual interference of written language with spoken language. And all because there is no “ß” in English.
            I’d be interested to know that, too – how a language coach works. I presume they mainly work with spoken words, and not so much with written words. Written language often obscures language learning. (At least that is what I found when I was teaching.)


        • Augus-schtrasse. Hier auch. Lediglich beim Wiederholen würde ich es klar und deutlich betonen: August-Schtraaße. Was sind wir Deutschen doch für Konsonanten-Akrobatiker 😂


  6. I’ve just stumbled upon this article by accident and since I’m German, I found it very interesting. 🙂
    I’d just like to say that you don’t necessarily have to choose “ch” for both the “sag” and “vierzig” endings. In the region I’m from (Hamburg, we speak High German with a slightly Plattdeutsch-influenced accent), some people tend to pronounce words ending on “ag” as an actual “g” (“ch” also works, but the “g”-pronounciation does happen) while words ending on “ig” are most likely pronounced as “ch” (pronouncing those as “g” is somewhere between rare and non-existant).
    So there is a definite difference between those endings depending on the vowel.
    There are regions that always pronounce the “ag” as a “ch” (regions highly influenced by Plattdeutsch), but that usually sounds pretty informal/colloquial and.. therefore a bit funny. That’s why I wouldn’t recommend foreigners to use the “ch” there.
    My ex-partner is Irish and he struggled with pronounciation unknowingly – he had almost zero accent and people couldn’t tell he was a foreigner. He had the habit of pronouncing the word “danke” (“thanks”) a bit “sloppy” (he kind of swallowed the “k”) and people often considered him rude because it sounded so odd. So they gave him strange looks but he didn’t know why. It took us a long time to change his pronounciation back to normal, that’s why I’d always advise foreigners to stick to the exact pronounciation until they’re comfortable and get a feeling for it. There’s no shame in it in my opinion, but it would be sad to step into such a small trap like my ex-partner just by trying to be perfect.
    German isn’t an easy language and hard to mimic for foreigners (even actor Michael Fassbender, who grew up bi-lingual does have an accent), so don’t be hard on yourselves – I’m sure all of us Germans highly appreciate your effort of speaking our language! 🙂


  7. The “g” is “Sag” shouldn’t be the same as in “vierzig” because in “Sag”, it gets shortened to the extent of sounding like a “k” — especially in Berlin. “Sak denen.” If you pronounce the “g” in “Sag” like in “vierzig,” you’ll definitely sound American. But at the very least, I would argue contrary to the penultimate paragraph in the post that he’s fine saying “g” in “Sag” (even if it’s softer than “k”) and “ch” in “vierzig” despite the inconsistency between the two.


    • Dunno, many members of my exSO’s family in Niedersachsen say “sach” instead of “sag.” I’d say that’s pretty usual to hear in the NW parts of the region. I’ve also heard it in Schleswig-Holstein. Most Germans don’t use the hard “g” / “k” of the Berlin region, although ex-SO and I used to joke about a Hamburg friend of his who did, and of course you could argue that in the show, his’ mother is theoretically from there (although it’s not specified).


  8. (But other commenters are correct that he got the “z” in “vierzig” wrong — and that’s an arguably bigger problem. Should definitely be “ts”.)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: