I've noticed that Germans and Indians will sometimes say "/w/ector space" instead of "/v/ector space".

I get that in German "w" is pronounced /v/. But "vau" (German "v") is pronounced like /f/. So what would make people pronounce an English "vee" like an English "double-u"? (As far as I know, German doesn't even have an "English double-u" letter; if they want to indicate that sound, they would use a "u" like English "quick" or Spanish "güero".)

I've also noticed that it's only in certain cases, for example I haven't heard Indians or Germans pronounced "However" as "Hovewer".

  • I haven't noticed Germans or Indians pronouncing v as w, but I definitely have heard Russians do so. I've also heard mainland Chinese pronounce z as g ("Three, two, one, gero!") – Dan Bron Nov 13 '14 at 13:01
  • 1
    @DanBron As hard g, not j? – isomorphismes Nov 13 '14 at 13:03
  • 2
    It think some of your perceived pronunciations are actually different. I doubt any German will agree with the "v" pronounced like /f/. The "f" in "fussbal" is most definitely not the same as the "v" in "verloren" and that again is different from the "w" in "wasser". And the "w" in wasser comes quite close to the double-u sound. Use of the "u" in German to indicate a consonant seems rare, if it exists at all. All that said, I think a question about German pronunciation (or Indian) may be off-topic here. – oerkelens Nov 13 '14 at 13:05
  • 1
    @BCdotNET I'm not sure. See the "hambag/handbag" question on this site, which is also linguistic-y-ish. – isomorphismes Nov 13 '14 at 13:07
  • 1
    @oerkelens Well, this Q is about pronunciation of English, not of German. – isomorphismes Nov 13 '14 at 13:08

It's hypercorrection.

Germans can pronounce the English 'v' just fine, they happen to write it as 'w'.

So the freshman English learner from Germany will pronounce (using English orthography/pronunciation) 'water' as 'vawter'.

They'll then start to associate the 'v' sound with a mistake.

So the sophomore reasoning, which results in fixing some problems, for a German speaking English will be to change anything that sounds as 'v' to a 'w'.

Even though 'vector' is written with a 'v' (and pronounced that way in English, a German might over correct and 'fix' the 'v' and use the 'w' sound instead.

  • Also, note that many of the words with /w/ in English have cognates pronounced with /v/ in German. For example, the word Wasser means water but is pronounced vahsser. – Peter Shor Nov 13 '14 at 15:16

We have a tendency to think that speakers of languages that have a similar consonant phoneme must pronounce it in the same way, but this is not so. For example, both Czech /p/ and /English /p/ are unvoiced labial stops, but the prevocalic English /p/is aspirated, and the Czech is not. As a result, Czech speakers producing the word pan with an initial Czech /p/ may sound to an English listener as if they saying ban. Trained phoneticians producing narrow phonetic transcriptions of the words produced by Czech and English speakers would use superscript notations to show this, but they would use the same phonetic symbol, [p], in both versions for the one to which they added superscript.

It's a similar situation with the /v/ sound. Most speakers of English pronounce their version of this with a degree of friction as the air passes between the lower lip and the upper teeth; Most speakers of German pronounce their /v/ with much less friction. If they use the German sound in an English word, it can sound to an English listener like /w/.

  • 1
    +1 (btw, don't know if it's worth adding that prevocalic /p/ is aspirated unless it's preceded by /s/) – Araucaria - Not here any more. Nov 13 '14 at 13:54

English novels are filled with Britons who say v for w, and w for v. They are neither German nor Indian, but characters like Sam Weller and his father Tony, in "Pickwick Papers" constantly make statements such as "Vell, the gentleman must have wanished before my eyes. Wot do you think, Samivel?" (The last being Dad's pronuciation of Samuel.) Dickens seemed to use this as a class distinction. Perhaps no one actually talks like that any more, and perhaps they never did?

  • please excuse typo.. – Listera Sep 8 '16 at 21:25
  • Isn't Dickens writing English with a Yiddish/Germanic accent, so this is exactly the phenomenon? – Andrew Leach Sep 8 '16 at 21:37
  • 1
    @AndrewLeach Supposedly an attempt at 19thc Cockney which is entirely non-foreign influenced. – Mitch Sep 9 '16 at 0:38
  • @Mitch In that case, this post does not address the question of why Germans and others who pronounce w as [v] overcompensate with the letter v. It's simply a comment that it appears the phenomenon isn't limited to Germanic/Slavic language-speakers. – Andrew Leach Sep 9 '16 at 7:57
  • @Andrew Yes, this important information but more relevant to a comment – Mitch Sep 9 '16 at 11:09

I don't know why many Germans say "wictory" for "victory", for example. The initial consonant in German "wasser" (water) is pronounced quite like the voiced [v] in English "victory", so it's certainly not the case that the phoneme is difficult for them to produce.

The initial consonant in German "Vater" (father) is very close to the unvoiced first consonant in English "father".

One might expect to hear them say "Fictory" for "Victory", not "Wictory". My guess is that it's simply a confusion of which sounds go with which letters.

  • 1
    Where would you put the German pronunciation in "Fahrrat", then? That "f" does not sound to any German like the "v" in "Vater", but to my ear it sounds a lot closer to the "f" in "father". – oerkelens Nov 13 '14 at 14:05
  • 1
    American English is my native language, but I did spend a while in Germany, but apparently not long enough for my ear to detect much of a difference in the initial consonants of Fahrrad and Vater. I would attribute any slight difference to the quality of the vowel. But those differences are tiny compared to the differences between 'victory' and 'wictory'. I wonder if it can be traced to the study of Latin in elementary school? How do Germans say dominus vobiscum? – TRomano Nov 13 '14 at 14:17
  • 2
    @oerkelens "does not sound ... like"? Really? They're both unvoiced labiodental fricatives, right? If not, then what? If so, then what further details make them different? – Mitch Nov 13 '14 at 14:25
  • 1
    @Mitch: I am afraid I lack the vocabulary to accurately describe the difference... but the difference is quite big to my ear. In (my native) Dutch we have the same distinction, and pronouncing Dutch vrijheid as frijheid would sound as wrong to a Dutchman as pronouncing the cognate Freiheit as Vreiheit to a German. If I pronounce both, the "v" seems lightly voiced and the pressure between teeth and lip is less than with the "f". I pronounce wine, vine and fine differently. Are any of those the same for you? – oerkelens Nov 13 '14 at 14:32
  • 3
    @oerkelens: looking up Dutch and German phonology in Wikipedia, Dutch indeed has a three-way distinction between 'f', 'v', and 'w' (all three of which probably sound either like /f/ or /v/ to native English speakers), but standard German does not; in German 'f' and 'v' are pronounced the same. It's quite possible—I don't know one way or the other—that the dialect of German spoken near the Netherlands has this distinction. If it does, this would explain the disagreement in the comments above. – Peter Shor Nov 13 '14 at 15:21

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.