LINGUIST List 3.795

Mon 19 Oct 1992

Sum: German Diminutives

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  1. , German diminutive phonology

Message 1: German diminutive phonology

Date: Tue, 13 Oct 92 11:55:04 EDGerman diminutive phonology
From: <>
Subject: German diminutive phonology

I have received numerous responses to my query about the
pronunciation of the German diminutive suffix -chen. As
far back as the 1930's, Daniel Jones and Leonard Bloomfield
worried about the phonemic analysis of this element, a problem
which has recently cropped up again in the context of lexical
phonology. One of the issues that was raised by Bloomfield
and occasionally came up later in the phonemic literature is
whether -chen is distinct in some way from a sequence of ch-e-n
that would occur outside of this suffix. My query took two

(1) Do forms like Griechen, riechen, etc. (where -chen is not
a suffix) rhyme with Viehchen (which is Vieh+chen)?

(2) Is Eichen 'oaks' (where again -chen is not a suffix)
homophonous with Eichen 'little egg' (which is Ei+chen)?

The majority of respondents felt that the answer is yes
in both cases. A significant minority felt (as I had originally
suggested) that there is a difference, although the descriptions
of the difference in question differ among themselves and often
are very impressionistic. Certainly, one possible difference
that has been mentioned is that the suffix -chen keeps its
vowel, whereas a -ch-e-n sequence otherwise has no vowel, just
a syllabic nasal.

I should add that this division in judgements corroborates
what happened during the discussion of this topic among
phonemicists in the 1950's. It would thus seem that we
may be dealing with a genuine distinction between the speech
of some speakers and that of others.
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