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)?