Prosody and intonation in German

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Haselnuss
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Re: Prosody and intonation in German

Postby Haselnuss » Thu May 28, 2020 2:44 am

slowmoon wrote:
Haselnuss wrote: There are several intonation patterns in English that simply don't exist in German.


Are there intonation patterns in German that don't exist in other languages?


That's a very interesting question. Unfortunately, I don't know enough about linguistics to answer it. In fact, I've never studied linguistics at all, and my knowledge of the technical aspects of German pronunciation is based mostly on what I've read in Christopher Hall's book on German pronunciation. (See the second post in this thread if you want more details on Hall's book.)

With that disclaimer, I'll make a few comments, restricted to the comparison of German and English.

I was at first inclined to say that yes there must be at least one intonation pattern in German that does not exist in English, namely the German pattern of a very steep fall at the end of a simple declarative sentence. However, Hall considers the fall in German to be similar enough to the corresponding pattern in English, that the difference is a matter of degree rather than a matter of kind. Here's a quote from his book:


It will be seen from the above that many of the basic features of German intonation are similar to English. There are some differences in the realisation of intonation patterns, in particular in the steepness of the German fall, and the use of level pitch, which are potential sources of difficulty for English-speaking learners. But there are no new intonation patterns for English-speakers to learn in German, since all the German intonation patterns also occur in English, with broadly similar functions. In fact, the main problem for those trying to master German intonation is that English has more intonation patterns than German, and the English speaker is often tempted to use English patterns which do not occur in German. The intonation patterns in question are the low rise and the rise-fall-rise. Failure to avoid these patterns in German is the clear mark of an English accent.



So there you have it. We can at least answer your general question in a more restricted frame:
Q: Are there intonation patterns in German that don't exist in English?
A: No.
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Re: Prosody and intonation in German

Postby slowmoon » Thu May 28, 2020 3:52 am

Haselnuss wrote:
It will be seen from the above that many of the basic features of German intonation are similar to English. There are some differences in the realisation of intonation patterns, in particular in the steepness of the German fall, and the use of level pitch, which are potential sources of difficulty for English-speaking learners.



This is interesting. I've noticed that German speakers tend to speak in a narrower (more level) and lower pitch range than English speakers. To my ears, German-speaking women often sound boyish.

Example:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qJflseG18fg&t=100s

Compare to JK Rowling:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1xaKLbHzyIY&t=100s

The peaks of her pitch are way, way higher. Pretty typical of an Englishwoman. As English speakers, I think we need to avoid going too high in pitch.
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Re: Prosody and intonation in German

Postby tungemål » Thu May 28, 2020 10:51 am

I think there is a pattern in German that doesn't exist in English. Apart from the steeper fall that Haselnuss mentions, which is probably correct.

The rising tone marking a stress. I don't think that is common in English? It feels typical German to me. Here is an example from the Frölich video: https://youtu.be/95vfpXaZbC0?t=181

Am Samstag habe ich keine Zeit, weil ich ins Kino gehe.

This sentence has 3 stresses; the first two use a rising tone on the stressed syllable:
Samstag: rising-high
Zeit: rising
Kino: high-low

Haselnuss wrote:
slowmoon wrote:Are there intonation patterns in German that don't exist in other languages?


I was at first inclined to say that yes there must be at least one intonation pattern in German that does not exist in English, namely the German pattern of a very steep fall at the end of a simple declarative sentence. However, Hall considers the fall in German to be similar enough to the corresponding pattern in English, that the difference is a matter of degree rather than a matter of kind.
...
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Re: Prosody and intonation in German

Postby kjohnsto » Thu May 28, 2020 2:51 pm

Haselnuss wrote:To get this back on a German-related track, there are some German-influenced dialects of English where the most newsworthy item is routinely moved to the initial position of the sentence, accompanied by the German intonation pattern of level pitch until an abrupt fall in pitch at the end of the sentence. What comes to mind for me is the kind of Yiddish-influenced New York accent you hear on a TV show like Seinfeld. (Yiddish is very closely related to German, so some descendants of Yiddish speakers have carried over German/Yiddish syntax and prosody into their dialect of English.)
(standard) I don't like this babka very much.
(Seinfeld) This babka I don't like so much. (... the other varieties of babka are ok.)

So a take-away point for anglophones learning German seeking a more natural sounding accent and syntax, is to think of the voice of the actor Jerry Stiller (who played the role of father of the character of George Constanza on Seinfeld) and go from there. My experience has been that a bunch of the typical German intonation patterns often sound like the punch lines of Catskill comedians.


Interesting to see the progression from German to Yiddish to English to Seinfeld-ese. :D
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Re: Prosody and intonation in German

Postby slowmoon » Thu May 28, 2020 4:39 pm

tungemål wrote:I think there is a pattern in German that doesn't exist in English. Apart from the steeper fall that Haselnuss mentions, which is probably correct.

The rising tone marking a stress. I don't think that is common in English? It feels typical German to me. Here is an example from the Frölich video: https://youtu.be/95vfpXaZbC0?t=181

Am Samstag habe ich keine Zeit, weil ich ins Kino gehe.

Yes!

A close translation into Am. English would be:

On Saturday, I don't have time, (be)cause I'm going to the movies.

Here, there wouldn't be any such rise on "time." The intonation would actually be falling or neutral.

But if I wanted to signal that additional supporting information was coming, or that I was building up towards a conclusion, there could be a rise:

On Saturday, I don't have time, (be)cause I'm going to the movies, and on Sunday, I need to study for my final exam.
On Saturday, I don't have time, (be)cause I'm going to the movies, so I'll have to do it next week.

Even here, the rise would not be as abrupt as in the Frölich example.

I'm not sure what's happening in the German sentence. I suppose she's signaling continuation of the sentence, but I wonder if she would say Zeit like that in ordinary speech, or if she's saying it like that because she's formally presenting a written sentence. I imagine that those Tatort detectives would just growl the entire sentence in a low monotone.
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Re: Prosody and intonation in German

Postby Haselnuss » Thu May 28, 2020 9:32 pm

I think as language learners we’re focused on the differences between our L1 and L2 because the differences are what we have to work on. So if your L1 is English and your L2 is German, then a certain German intonation pattern, which a linguist like Christopher Hall considers generically similar in a technical sense to the corresponding intonation pattern in English, might very well sound to your anglophone ear like a totally new melody.

It may be that linguists just perceive this matter differently than we do as language learners. And that’s fine by me. I value the linguist’s insight even when it doesn’t directly help me with my task as a language learner.

In this thread we all seem to be native speakers of a Germanic language (English or Norwegian), so when we’re listening to German (L2), we’re hearing something very closely related in a musical sense to our L1. Here’s an analogy:

Germanic languages = classic rock
German = Beatles
English = Rolling Stones
Norwegian = Led Zeppelin

If as a musician (language learner) all I’ve ever played is Led Zeppelin (Norwegian), then when I first hear the Beatles (German), my ear may be very much focused on the differences. On the other hand, a musicologist (analogous to a linguist) might say that all three of these groups have most of their songs in 4/4 time (stress) and with a strong melodic influence (intonation) from the blues. From the musicologist’s point of view, all three groups may have generically the same basic prosody when compared against other genres outside of classic rock such as classical, jazz, techno, etc. As a musician I’m not super concerned about the musicologist’s opinion. I have some practicing to do if I want learn to play the music of the Beatles (German) with the right feel. If I train my ear, I’ll probably have an acceptable (though maybe not perfect) musical result. I have the wind at my back because, in the grand scheme of things, I'm dealing with closely related kinds of music (languages).
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Re: Prosody and intonation in German

Postby slowmoon » Thu May 28, 2020 10:37 pm

Haselnuss wrote: If I train my ear, I’ll probably have an acceptable (though maybe not perfect) musical result. I have the wind at my back because, in the grand scheme of things, I'm dealing with closely related kinds of music (languages).


You make a good analogy. I just don't want to sound like this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KEg0coSJFBo&t=7m07s
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Re: Prosody and intonation in German

Postby Haselnuss » Fri May 29, 2020 5:11 am

slowmoon wrote:
Haselnuss wrote: If I train my ear, I’ll probably have an acceptable (though maybe not perfect) musical result. I have the wind at my back because, in the grand scheme of things, I'm dealing with closely related kinds of music (languages).


You make a good analogy. I just don't want to sound like this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KEg0coSJFBo&t=7m07s


The American woman in that Youtube vid obviously has a very thick anglophone accent. I think most learners with a bit of practice can do better than that. If she were a beginning learner, I’d say her results aren’t too bad. But, if I’m not mistaken, she’s actually been in Germany for a number of years.

We all know there are learners whose accent is weak because they don’t bother to work on it. But there are others who simply don’t have that great an ear, so accent work is just inherently harder. So even if their L1 and L2 are closely related, and even if they put in a bit of work, they may still have to settle for a modest result in terms of L2 accent. What constitutes an “acceptable” result each learner has to decide for themselves.

This is where my music/language analogy falls apart somewhat: Not everyone will be able to rely on their “inner linguistic musician” to assimilate the prosody of their L2. But there definitely are language learners that are lucky enough to have a natural talent for that. I suspect the average learner has at least a bit of this talent. And folks on a forum like this probably statistically skew above the average.
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Re: Prosody and intonation in German

Postby tungemål » Sun May 31, 2020 8:03 am

So how would you go about it to practice and acquire a perfect German intonation?

- Shadow the example sentences in the intonation video by Frölich 100 times?
- Listen to and analyze various German content, to find out which example sentences it would map to?
- Hire a coach?
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Re: Prosody and intonation in German

Postby Haselnuss » Mon Jun 01, 2020 7:46 am

Tldr: I would work through one of the self-study pronunciation books cited above, and, if that didn’t get me a satisfying result, then I would hire a qualified teacher (a native speaker who has been trained to teach German pronunciation).

Disclaimer: I’m not an expert on the subject of pronunciation by any means; the following are merely my impressions after working on learning a couple of languages, both in classrooms and in self-study. (I studied Spanish for several years before I began German; I also had a smattering of Latin and Italian along the way.) I don’t consider pronunciation as the chief focus of my language learning. The main reason I’ve worked through a German pronunciation book is that that was one of the recommendations offered by the handbook for German language instruction at Oxford University. I’ve taken Oxford’s recommendations as a kind of best-practices guide for anglophone language learners who favor an academic approach. If Oxford told me that I needed to study German grammar only while sitting in an ice bath, I would do just that. Your mileage may vary.

Tungemål, I think I have the same overall question in my mind that you do, but it may be helpful to frame it a bit more broadly. I know that in this thread we’ve been focusing specifically on prosody, but I’m now taking a step back to talk about pronunciation overall. In my case I’m not thinking in terms of acquiring perfect intonation, but rather I’m trying to reduce the foreignness of my overall pronunciation. Very roughly speaking, as I understand it:

Prosody = Stress + Intonation
Pronunciation = (Producing the individual sounds of the language) + Prosody

I’m trying to maximize the second of those equations, and intonation is merely one component of pronunciation. The first part is to focus on correctly producing the individual sounds of the language; prosody wok comes after that. The resources for working on overall pronunciation include work on prosody. From what I’ve seen, the prosody section comes toward the end of a pronunciation book; the main bulk of the book is devoted to work on producing the individual sounds.

In my daydreams I may contemplate perfection, but in terms of day-to-day learning work my goal is simply “to suck less”. Improvement rather than perfection is my intermediate goal. I also try to think in terms of “return on investment”. Are there ways that I can get an outsized improvement in my pronunciation performance for a comparatively small expenditure of effort? I think the answer to this question for most learners is yes.

I think in terms of three stages of pronunciation work:
1.) Listen and imitate (No systematic practice)
2.) Systematic practice (self study)
3.) Advanced systematic practice (direct feedback from a knowledgeable native speaker)


Stage 1: Listen and imitate (No systematic practice)
This is the extent of the pronunciation teaching I got when I was in school. For most learners it doesn’t take you very far. The problem is that they don’t tell you how you have to produce the sounds of the language: what to do with your speech apparatus (tongue, lips, teeth, throat, etc.). The teacher just gives a cursory introduction to the basic sounds at the beginning of the introductory course, and the students try to mimic as best they can.

They fail to tell you that there is such as thing as an intonation pattern (i.e. sentence melody) and how to listen for it. Nobody gets graded on pronunciation so nobody cares too much. From then on, it’s all grammar tests and vocabulary quizzes. The teacher collects their salary, the students collect their diplomas, and everybody pretends they had a wonderful experience.

Despite the obvious limitations of this approach, some students can develop a pretty good pronunciation anyway. In my experience they’re the exception. To my surprise, it’s even possible for some students to develop a native accent in stage 1. A case in point is the Youtuber Susannah Zaraysky, who grew up as a native speaker of both English and Russian. As a teenager she went to France to study French, and within a month had a native accent. I don’t think she had to use any pronunciation books or special linguistic tools to do this. At some point, she also learned to speak Spanish with a native accent. (To my ear she definitely sounds native in Spanish, so I’m not just taking her word for it.) She’s just some kind of freak, and I mean that as the highest form of praise.


Stage 2: Systematic practice (self-study)
What I have in mind here are the kind of pronunciation books mentioned in the second post of this thread. I went through Christopher Hall’s book chapter by chapter, exercise by exercise. As a result, I now know a bit about IPA, which was a new topic for me. I now know that there are very specific things I have to do with my speech apparatus to produce the individual sounds. I know that there are specific rhythm, stress and intonation patterns characteristic to German. And the exercises allowed me to practice these things systematically. As a result, I know my listening comprehension improved, and I have a better feel for how the language sounds. As an added benefit, I also know more about pronunciation in general terms, so that if I go to study another language, I understand the overall arc of what I have to do for pronunciation work.

It’s worth mentioning that more experienced learners may not have to work through a pronunciation book in the slow, step-by-step fashion the way I did. For instance, a learner with a knowledge of IPA, who has learned several languages before with good pronunciation may take short cuts when taking on a new language: Listen a bit, leaf through a guide on the language’s pronunciation, figure out what new things they have to do with their speech apparatus and make some adjustments. With comparatively little effort they may have pronunciation that’s surprisingly good in relatively brief time. I recall one Youtube language learner named Jana Fadness, who used this kind of approach. One of the things she did was sing Disney songs in any new language she learned. She knew these songs by heart, and apparently, they’ve been translated into every language under the sun just as the Harry Potter books have been. She didn’t achieve a native accent, but she got very good results indeed.

The top thing worth mentioning about stage 2 is that you’re likely to have a very good return on your invested time. Many learners should be able to achieve a noticeable improvement in their accent and listening comprehension, for just a few months of targeted work. You’ll also become a better language learner overall. In my opinion, there’s no reason to settle for the usually mediocre result you end up with by stopping at stage 1.


Stage 3: Advanced systematic practice (direct feedback from a knowledgeable native speaker)
In some cases, a learner may still want to make progress beyond what they’ve achieved in stage 2. I can think of a couple of reasons why. Maybe you find pronunciation inherently difficult, and you feel that self-study has yielded an unacceptably sub-standard result. On the other hand, maybe in stage 2 you made great progress, found out that you love working on pronunciation, and would like to work on further improvement. Here’s where I would seek systematic feedback from a knowledgeable native speaker.

The easiest way to do this is to hire a qualified teacher (a native speaker who has been trained to teach German pronunciation). You can work with the teacher to give an assessment on the current level of your pronunciation and work on a plan to target improvement. The teacher should be able to give detailed information about what you need to do differently with your speech apparatus in order to improve. Note that your average native speaker can’t offer this kind of feedback. The average native speaker knows when something sounds right, but they can’t provide an actual detailed recipe on how to produce the sounds.

I’ve never tried stage 3 though it sounds like it might be fun to do so. It’s just that for me at this point in my learning it would probably be overkill. (I use German mostly passively.) It’s nice to know that qualified teachers are available if I think I need one in the future.

One other thing worth mentioning is that a learner with sufficient resources can obviously skip stage 2 and go directly to stage 3. That is, just skip the self-study and hire the “personal trainer” right away. This is the kind of thing that they do in Hollywood when an actor needs to master an accent or dialect as efficiently as possible. I think that for most learners though doing the self-study of stage 2 is useful because you’ll emerge knowing more about the basics of pronunciation work, so that when your hire the teacher in stage 3 you’ll be able to use your time more efficiently.


...


With the three stages out of the way, there’s one other pompous philosophical point worth making:
Man muss herausfinden, wozu man gemacht ist. (You have to find out what you’re wired for.)
Some learners simply have a higher aptitude for pronunciation work than others do. Each learner can improve through systematic practice, but not every learner can get to the same level. If I find out I’m not really wired for a particular activity, I don’t want to push myself into the realm of diminishing returns. Even with good study techniques there’s a point where further effort may not yield a satisfactory amount of improvement. That’s the point where it’s time to work on something else. I’m assuming that for a learner like me the optimal performance in pronunciation I can achieve is something short of the native level. I’m ok with that. I still enjoy learning German.



After that very long-winded discussion I’ll directly address the original questions.



tungemål wrote:So how would you go about it to practice and acquire a perfect German intonation?

- Shadow the example sentences in the intonation video by Frölich 100 times?


I would probably go back and watch each of the Michaele Fröhlich pronunciation videos that corresponds to a unit of the pronunciation book that I’m using for self-study. For example, when I got to the chapter in the book on intonation, I’d have another look at the Fröhlich intonation video to see if I can derive any further insights. And I might then practice intonation (both from the book as well as shadowing Fröhlich) for a few minutes every day for 100 days. I wouldn’t merely shadow something 100 times in quick succession and expect it to produce a good result. Pronunciation has to practiced over time the way a musician practices an instrument or singing. For instance, when I finished completely working through Hall’s pronunciation book two times, I then spent a few minutes every day doing one or two of the exercises. This went on for over a year until I got bored with it.



tungemål wrote:- Listen to and analyze various German content, to find out which example sentences it would map to?


For me the step of integrating my pronunciation work with my daily listening happened organically. That is, once I started working systematically on pronunciation, whenever I had German radio (Deutshlandfunk) playing, I found my attention being drawn automatically to the sound of the language rather than merely focusing on the meaning as a I normally would. So if I had been working on intonation patterns that day, my ear was homing in on that that particular aspect of the sound of the language as the announcer spoke. I greatly prefer to spend time listening to clear, well pronounced Hochdeutsch when I’m in a stage where I’m doing pronunciation work. The listening strongly reinforces the pronunciation practice. I always listen to Deuschlandfunk every day at least for a few minutes.



tungemål wrote:- Hire a coach?


If that idea appeals to you, and you have the money, then sure why not. You might consider doing some targeted self-study first, in order that you can spend your time with the teacher more efficiently. If I felt that pronunciation was a particular problem point for me that I didn’t want to confront on my own, then I’d skip the self-study and just go to the teacher directly.
Last edited by Haselnuss on Tue Jun 02, 2020 8:28 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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