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I have heard at so many occasions, especially in Germany, that people - frequently including secondary school teachers and students - pronounce words containing the letter v as if the letter were a w, e.g. willage (instead village), adwantage (instead of advantage), etc. Does anybody have an explanation for this?

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Germans don't have a /w/ in their language, so maybe they have a tendency to confuse /v/ and /w/. I wouldn't be surprised if /w/ was an allophone of /v/ in some dialects of German, but I don't have any direct evidence for this. – Peter Shor Jun 8 '14 at 19:46
@PeterShor your comment led me to wonder if you were correct on that, and this added to what I'd already answered. According to Wikipedia it's not so much /w/ and /v/ that are allophones as /ʋ/ and /v/, but since /ʋ/ sounds like /w/ to many English speakers, this amounts to the same thing. I've added that point to my question, but it was your conjecture here that led me to it. – Jon Hanna Jun 8 '14 at 20:06
@Jon I doubt many English speakers would perceive [ʋ] as [w]. Nearly all speakers of German and any Scandinavian language (who all lack [v], having only [ʋ]) use it for [v] in English, and even native English speakers often use [ʋ]. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jun 8 '14 at 20:08
@Janus: Even if [v] and [w] are not allophones in the standard dialect of High German, there are lots of other dialects of German which pronounce things differently. In fact, Wikipedia says " Modern German dialects generally have only [v] or [ʋ] for West Germanic /w/, but [w] or [β̞] remains heard allophonically for w, especially in the clusters 〈schw〉, 〈zw〉, and 〈qu〉. Some Bavarian dialects preserve a "light" initial [w] in words like wuoz (Standard German weiß [vaɪs] '[I] know')." – Peter Shor Jun 9 '14 at 17:28

It's a form of hypercorrection.

In German, there is no /w/ sound, and the /v/ sound is produced from the letter w. Hence the translation, and cognate, of welcome is for example willkommen pronounced /vɪlˈkɔmən/.

This at first leads German speakers learning English to use /v/ (or perhaps /ʋ/) when they should use /w/.

Then they decide "ve vill have to do better", and strive to correct their /v/ to a /w/, but in so doing, they over-correct and end up using /w/ where /v/ would have been correct. They can even end up doing both "ve vill go to the willage".

Some other Germanic languages similarly either have /v/ for w (e.g. Dutch, welkom) or else have a v pronounced /v/ where the English cognate would have w pronounced /w/ (e.g. Danish velkommen).

Of course, English speakers learning one of those languages are liable to the equivalent mistakes on their part.

Peter Shor's comment above points to an additional pressure: According to Wikipedia, "[ʋ] is occasionally considered to be an allophone of /v/, especially in Southern varieties of German". If true, then this would definitely be another influence, since [ʋ] isn't found in most dialects of English and sounds like /w/ to English ears (it does pop up as a pronunciation of r in some dialects, so e.g. Jonathan Ross—who has such a dialect—is mockingly called Jonathan Woss because to most other English speakers that's how his name sounds when he says it). I am only going by Wikipedia on the point of there being German varieties that have such a [v]/[ʋ] allophone, but it would certainly also lead to "willage", etc.

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+1 in every particular, though what also happens occasionally is metathesis. Of course I don't have an example with v/w handy right now, but basically it's the same thing as with th/s, in things like Elizabeth, which so many Germans — including trained folk like newscasters, actors, and dubbing actors — pronounce "Elithabes". That occasionally happens with v/w as well. Which is to say, people are perfectly capable of producing both sounds, even within one word, they just swap them around. – RegDwigнt Jun 8 '14 at 20:09
Note that Dutch ‹w› = /ʋ/ is phonemically (!) different from ‹v› = /v/ and ‹f› = /f/. Danish (and Swedish/Norwegian) /v/ is always pronounced [ʋ]; [v] is completely unknown in these languages. [ʋ] is quite commonly heard as the realisation of /v/ among native (especially American?) English speakers, too, which makes me think that a [v/ʋ] allophony is not likely to be related to this. Many Scandiwegian speakers (who certainly have no such allophony) say things like ‘willage’, ‘wideo’, ‘wolleyball’, etc., too. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jun 8 '14 at 20:16
@JanusBahsJacquet "Danish… v is always pronounced [ʋ]" well, except when I'm trying to speak it, which would be an example of what I said about English speakers being liable to the equivalent mistakes. (My Danish is very, very poor though, so I'm not an example of someone who is otherwise very capable but still makes mistakes, I'm just someone who visits every now and then and hence knows a few words, almost all of them not quite correct). – Jon Hanna Jun 8 '14 at 20:21
@Jon [ʋ] and [v] are very easily mistaken—and off the top of my head, I know of no other language than Dutch where they’re actually phonemically contrasted. So such a mistake is very easy to make, and I can assure you that no Dane will ever notice. [ʋ] and [w], however, are much more distinct. I seriously doubt Wikipedia’s claim that [ʋ] is used for /r/ by any significant amount of English speakers. Jonathan Ross, for example, has something that is definitely not [ʋ] (perhaps more like [ɣʷ] or something like that, though I’m not entirely sure exactly what it is he says). – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jun 8 '14 at 20:26
@JanusBahsJacquet Well, I've been told my velbekommen isn't quite right, but maybe it's just because I draw attention to myself by getting all the other consonants wrong too! – Jon Hanna Jun 8 '14 at 20:35

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