Beauty, they say, lies in the eye of the beholder, so perhaps a discussion of whether spoken German sounds harsh depends on who is listening to it. If you Google the question in the title of this blog, there does seem to be a preponderance of people who think that German is a harsh sounding language compared to more ‘musical’ languages like Italian, but is that really true?
German translators at least don’t have to worry about how a language sounds as they concentrate on the written word rather than the spoken one, but the fact is that any good German translator must be able to speak German as well as they can speak their other language or languages that they use in their job.
Some people who are conversant in both English and German think that it is the way many Germans pronounce the beginning and end of many German words that lends the language to have a reputation for sounding ‘ugly.’
Auslautverhärtung is a German peculiarity where soft-voiced consonants become pronounced as hard consonants if they lie at the end of a word. The softer ‘b’ for instance is pronounced as a harder ‘p’ in words such as ‘lieb’ (German for lovely). The soft sounding ‘d’ becomes the harder sounding and more explosive ‘t’ and the ‘g’ is pronounced as a ‘k’.
According to those who are familiar with German, but are native speakers of their languages such as German English translators, there is a tendency amongst many German speakers to emphasise the ends of their words in spoken language.
The same sort of thing occurs at the beginning of many German words as well. There is the Glottal stop, a term used in phonetics, which means that many German words that start with a vowel come out as mini explosions. This is seething that most natural German speakers are probably unaware of as they have been brought up with it. However, if you compare two similar words such as ‘also’ which is both a German word and an English word, the German pronunciation has the explosive and harsher Glottal stop while the English version does not.
So, is German an ‘ugly’ language? Not to many listeners, at least when the whole language is taken into consideration rather than individual words. Listen to a German song and it sounds as musical and melodious as any other language.