Germanic umlaut

The Germanic umlaut (sometimes called i-umlaut or i-mutation) is a type of linguistic umlaut in which a back vowel changes to the associated front vowel (fronting) or a front vowel becomes closer to /i/ (raising) when the following syllable contains /i/, /iː/, or /j/. It took place separately in various Germanic languages starting around AD 450 or 500 and affected all of the early languages[1] except Gothic.[2] An example of the resulting vowel alternation is the English plural foot ~ feet (from Proto-Germanic *fōts, pl. *fōtiz).

Germanic umlaut, as covered in this article, does not include other historical vowel phenomena that operated in the history of the Germanic languages such as Germanic a-mutation and the various language-specific processes of u-mutation, nor the earlier Indo-European ablaut (vowel gradation), which is observable in the conjugation of Germanic strong verbs such as sing/sang/sung.

While Germanic umlaut has had important consequences for all modern Germanic languages, its effects are particularly apparent in German, because vowels resulting from umlaut are generally spelled with a specific set of letters: ä, ö, and ü, usually pronounced /ɛ/, /ø/, and /y/.


Umlaut is a form of assimilation or vowel harmony, the process by which one speech sound is altered to make it more like another adjacent sound. If a word has two vowels with one far back in the mouth and the other far forward, more effort is required to pronounce the word than if the vowels were closer together; therefore, one possible linguistic development is for these two vowels to be drawn closer together.

Vowels of proto-Germanic and general change when i-mutated
The vowels of proto-Germanic and their general direction of change when i-mutated in the later Germanic dialects.

Germanic umlaut is a specific historical example of this process that took place in the unattested earliest stages of Old English and Old Norse and apparently later in Old High German, and some other old Germanic languages. The precise developments varied from one language to another, but the general trend was this:

  • Whenever a back vowel (/ɑ/, /o/ or /u/, whether long or short) occurred in a syllable and the front vowel /i/ or the front glide /j/ occurred in the next, the vowel in the first syllable was fronted (usually to /æ/, /ø/, and /y/ respectively). Thus, for example, West Germanic *mūsiz "mice" shifted to proto-Old English *mȳsiz, which eventually developed to modern mice, while the singular form *mūs lacked a following /i/ and was unaffected, eventually becoming modern mouse.[3]
  • When a low or mid-front vowel occurred in a syllable and the front vowel /i/ or the front glide /j/ occurred in the next, the vowel in the first syllable was raised. This happened less often in the Germanic languages, partly because of earlier vowel harmony in similar contexts. However, for example, proto-Old English /æ/ became /e/ in, for example, */bæddj-/ > /bedd/ 'bed'.[4]

The fronted variant caused by umlaut was originally allophonic (a variant sound automatically predictable from the context), but it later became phonemic (a separate sound in its own right) when the context was lost but the variant sound remained. The following examples show how, when final -i was lost, the variant sound -ȳ- became a new phoneme in Old English:[5]

Process Language Singular Plural Singular Plural
Original form[6] Proto-Germanic *mūs *mūsiz *fō(t)s *fōtiz
Loss of final -z West Germanic *mūs *mūsi *fōt *fōti
Germanic umlaut Pre-Old English *mūs *mȳsi *fōt *fø̄ti
Loss of i after a heavy syllable Pre-Old English mūs mȳs fōt fø̄t
Unrounding of ø̄ (> ē) Most Old English dialects mūs mȳs fōt fēt
Unrounding of ȳ (> ī) Early Middle English mūs mīs fōt fēt
Great Vowel Shift Early Modern and Modern English /maʊs/ ("mouse") /maɪs/ ("mice") /fʊt/ ("foot") /fiːt/ ("feet")

Outcomes in modern spelling and pronunciation

The following table surveys how Proto-Germanic vowels which later underwent i-umlaut generally appear in modern languages — though there are many exceptions to these patterns owing to other sound-changes and chance variations. The table gives two West Germanic examples (English and German) and two North Germanic examples (Swedish, from the east, and Icelandic, from the west). Spellings are marked by pointy brackets (⟨...⟩) and pronunciation, given in the international phonetic alphabet, in slashes (/.../).



example word usual modern reflex after i-umlaut
English German Swedish Icelandic
ɑ *manniz ('people') ⟨e⟩, /ɛ/ (men) ⟨ä⟩, /ɛ/ (Männer) ⟨ä⟩, /ɛ/ (män) ⟨e⟩, /ɛ/ (menn)
ɑː *gansiz ('geese'), which became *gą̄siz in North Germanic and North Sea Germanic ⟨ea⟩, ⟨ee⟩, /i/ (geese) [non-applicable] ⟨ä⟩, /ɛ/ (gäss) ⟨æ⟩, /aɪ/ (gæs)
o no single example in all languages[7] ⟨e⟩, /ɛ/

(*obisu > eaves)

⟨ö⟩, /ø/

(*oli > Öl)

⟨ö⟩, /ø/

(*hnotiz > nötter)

⟨e⟩, /ɛ/

(komiz > kemur)

ɔː *fōtiz ('feet') ⟨ea⟩, ⟨ee⟩, /i/ (feet) ⟨ü⟩, /y/ (Füße) ⟨ö⟩, /ø/ (fötter) ⟨æ⟩, /aɪ/ (fætur)
u *fullijaną ('fill') ⟨i⟩, /ɪ/ (fill) ⟨ü⟩, /y/ (füllen) ⟨y⟩, /y/ (fylla) ⟨y⟩, /ɪ/ (fylla)
*lūsiz ('lice') ⟨i⟩, /aɪ/ (lice ⟨eu⟩, /ɔʏ̯/ (Läuse) ⟨ö⟩, /ø/ (löss)

⟨ý⟩, /i/ (lýs)

ɑu *hauzjaną ('hear') ⟨ea⟩, ⟨ee⟩, /i/ ⟨ö⟩, /ø/ (hören) ⟨ö⟩, /ø/ (höra) ⟨ey⟩, /ɛɪ/ (heyra)
ɑi *hailijaną ('heal') ⟨ea⟩, ⟨ee⟩, /i/ ⟨ei⟩, /aɪ̯/ (heilen) ⟨e⟩, /e/ (hela) ⟨ei⟩, /ɛɪ/ (heila)
eu, iu *steurjaną ('steer') ⟨ea⟩, ⟨ee⟩, /i/ ⟨eu⟩, /ɔʏ̯/ (steuern) ⟨y⟩, /y/ (styra) ⟨ý⟩, /i/ (stýra)

Whereas modern English does not have any special letters for vowels produced by i-umlaut, in German the letters ä, ö, and ü almost always represent umlauted vowels (see further below). Likewise, in Swedish ä, ö, and y and Icelandic æ, y, ý, and ey are almost always used of vowels produced by i-umlaut. However, German eu represents vowels from multiple sources, which is also the case for e in Swedish and Icelandic.

German orthography

Germanic umlaut on keyboard
Ä, Ö, Ü on a German computer keyboard
Umlaut forms
New and old notation of umlauted vowels

German orthography is generally consistent in its representation of i-umlaut. The umlaut diacritic, consisting of two dots above the vowel, is used for the fronted vowels, making the historical process much more visible in the modern language than is the case in English: a – ä, o – ö, u – ü, au – äu. This is a neat solution when pairs of words with and without umlaut mutation are compared, as in umlauted plurals like Mutter – Mütter ("mother" – "mothers").

However, in a small number of words, a vowel affected by i-umlaut is not marked with the umlaut diacritic because its origin is not obvious. Either there is no unumlauted equivalent or they are not recognized as a pair because the meanings have drifted apart. The adjective fertig ("ready, finished"; originally "ready to go") contains an umlaut mutation, but it is spelled with e rather than ä as its relationship to Fahrt ("journey") has, for most speakers of the language, been lost from sight. Likewise, alt ("old") has the comparative älter ("older"), but the noun from this is spelled Eltern ("parents"). Aufwand ("effort") has the verb aufwenden ("to spend, to dedicate") and the adjective aufwendig ("requiring effort") though the 1996 spelling reform now permits the alternative spelling aufwändig (but not * aufwänden).[8] For denken, see below.

Conversely, some foreign words have umlaut diacritics that do not mark a vowel produced by the sound change of umlaut. Notable examples are Känguru from English kangaroo, and Büro from French bureau. Here the diacritic is a purely phonological marker, indicating that the English and French sounds (or at least, the approximation of them used in German) are identical to the native German umlauted sounds. Similarly, Big Mac was originally spelt Big Mäc in German.[9] In borrowings from Latin and Greek, Latin ae, oe, or Greek ai, oi, are rendered in German as ä and ö respectively (Ägypten, "Egypt", or Ökonomie, "economy"). However, Latin/Greek y is written y in German instead of ü (Psychologie).

Für ("for") is a special case; it is an umlauted form of vor ("before"), but other historical developments changed the expected ö into ü. In this case, the ü marks a genuine but irregular umlaut. Other special cases are fünf ("five"; expected form *finf) and zwölf ("twelve"; expected form *zwälf/zwelf), in which modern umlauted vowel arose from a different process: rounding an unrounded front vowel (possibly from the labial consonants w/f occurring on both sides).

Orthography and design history

Umlaut Development
Development of the umlaut (anachronistically lettered in Sütterlin): schoen becomes schön via schoͤn 'beautiful'.

The German phonological umlaut is present in the Old High German period and continues to develop in Middle High German. From the Middle High German, it was sometimes denoted in written German by adding an e to the affected vowel, either after the vowel or, in the small form, above it. This can still be seen in some names: Goethe, Goebbels, Staedtler.[10]

In blackletter handwriting, as used in German manuscripts of the later Middle Ages and also in many printed texts of the early modern period, the superscript e still had a form that would now be recognisable as an e, but in manuscript writing, umlauted vowels could be indicated by two dots since the late medieval period.

In modern handwriting, the umlaut sometimes resembles a tilde, quotation mark, dash, miniature u or other small mark.

Unusual umlaut designs are sometimes also created for graphic design purposes, such as to fit an umlaut into tightly-spaced lines of text.[11] It may include umlauts placed vertically or inside the body of the letter.[12][13][14]

Morphological effects

Although umlaut was not a grammatical process, umlauted vowels often serve to distinguish grammatical forms (and thus show similarities to ablaut when viewed synchronically), as can be seen in the English word man. In ancient Germanic, it and some other words had the plural suffix -iz, with the same vowel as the singular. As it contained an i, this suffix caused fronting of the vowel, and when the suffix later disappeared, the mutated vowel remained as the only plural marker: men. In English, such plurals are rare: man, woman, tooth, goose, foot, mouse, louse, brother (archaic or specialized plural in brethren), and cow (poetic and dialectal plural in kine). It also can be found in a few fossilized diminutive forms, such as kitten from cat and kernel from corn, and the feminine vixen from fox. Umlaut is conspicuous when it occurs in one of such a pair of forms, but there are many mutated words without an unmutated parallel form. Germanic actively derived causative weak verbs from ordinary strong verbs by applying a suffix, which later caused umlaut, to a past tense form. Some of these survived into modern English as doublets of verbs, including fell and set vs. fall (older past *fefall) and sit. Umlaut could occur in borrowings as well if stressed vowel was coloured by a subsequent front vowel, such as German Köln, "Cologne", from Latin Colonia, or Käse, "cheese", from Latin caseus.

Parallel umlauts in some modern Germanic languages

Germanic German English Dutch Swedish Faroese
*fallaną – *fallijaną fallen – fällen to fall – to fell vallen – vellen falla – fälla falla – fella
*fōts – *fōtiz Fuß – Füße foot – feet voet – voeten (no umlaut) fot – fötter fótur – føtur
*aldaz – *alþizô – *alþistaz alt – älter – am ältesten old – elder – eldest oud – ouder – oudst (no umlaut) gammal – äldre – äldst (irregular) gamal – eldri – elstur (irregular)
*fullaz – *fullijaną voll – füllen full – fill vol – vullen full – fylla fullur – fylla
*langaz – *langīn/*langiþō lang – Länge long – length lang – lengte lång – längd langur – longd
*lūs – *lūsiz Laus – Läuse louse – lice luis – luizen (no umlaut) lus – löss lús – lýs

Umlaut in Germanic verbs

Two interesting examples of umlaut involve vowel distinctions in Germanic verbs and often are subsumed under the heading "ablaut" in tables of Germanic irregular verbs.


The German word Rückumlaut ("reverse umlaut"), sometimes known in English as "unmutation",[15] is a term given to the vowel distinction between present and preterite forms of certain Germanic weak verbs. These verbs exhibit the dental suffix used to form the preterite of weak verbs, and also exhibit what appears to be the vowel gradation characteristic of strong verbs. Examples in English are think/thought, bring/brought, tell/told, sell/sold. The phenomenon can also be observed in some German verbs including brennen/brannte ("burn/burnt"), kennen/kannte ("know/knew"), and a handful of others. In some dialects, particularly of western Germany, the phenomenon is preserved in many more forms (for example Luxembourgish stellen/gestallt, "to put", and Limburgish tèlle/talj/getaldj, "to tell, count"). The cause lies with the insertion of the semivowel /j/ between the verb stem and inflectional ending.[16] This /j/ triggers umlaut, as explained above. In short stem verbs, the /j/ is present in both the present and preterite. In long stem verbs however, the /j/ fell out of the preterite.[16] Thus, while short stem verbs exhibit umlaut in all tenses, long stem verbs only do so in the present. When the German philologist Jacob Grimm first attempted to explain the phenomenon, he assumed that the lack of umlaut in the preterite resulted from the reversal of umlaut.[16] In actuality, umlaut never occurred in the first place. Nevertheless, the term "Rückumlaut" makes some sense since the verb exhibits a shift from an umlauted vowel in the basic form (the infinitive) to a plain vowel in the respective inflections.

A variety of umlaut occurs in the second and third person singular forms of the present tense of some Germanic strong verbs. For example, German fangen ("to catch") has the present tense ich fange, du fängst, er fängt. The verb geben ("give") has the present tense ich gebe, du gibst, er gibt, but the shift ei would not be a normal result of umlaut in German. There are, in fact, two distinct phenomena at play here; the first is indeed umlaut as it is best known, but the second is older and occurred already in Proto-Germanic itself. In both cases, a following i triggered a vowel change, but in Proto-Germanic, it affected only e. The effect on back vowels did not occur until hundreds of years later, after the Germanic languages had already begun to split up: *fą̄haną, *fą̄hidi with no umlaut of a, but *gebaną, *gibidi with umlaut of e.

In German, strong verbs which display a back vowel in the past tense undergo umlaut in the subjunctive mood: singen/sang (ind.)→sänge (subj.) ("sing/sang"); fechten/focht (ind.)→föchte (subj.) ("fight/fought"). Again, this is due to the presence of a following i in the verb endings in the Old High German period.

Historical survey by language

West Germanic languages

Although umlaut operated the same way in all the West Germanic languages, the exact words in which it took place and the outcomes of the process differ between the languages. Of particular note is the loss of word-final -i after heavy syllables. In the more southern languages (Old High German, Old Dutch, Old Saxon), forms that lost -i often show no umlaut, but in the more northern languages (Old English, Old Frisian), the forms do. Compare Old English ġiest "guest", which shows umlaut, and Old High German gast, which does not, both from Proto-Germanic *gastiz. That may mean that there was dialectal variation in the timing and spread of the two changes, with final loss happening before umlaut in the south but after it in the north. On the other hand, umlaut may have still been partly allophonic, and the loss of the conditioning sound may have triggered an "un-umlauting" of the preceding vowel. Nevertheless, medial -ij- consistently triggers umlaut although its subsequent loss is universal in West Germanic except for Old Saxon and early Old High German.

I-mutation in Old English

Vowels of proto-Old English and general change when i-mutated
The vowels and diphthongs of proto-Old English prior to i-mutation (in black) and how they generally changed under i-mutation (in red). Outcomes varied according to dialect; i-mutation of diphthongs is given for Early West Saxon as spelled in manuscripts due to uncertainty about the precise phonetic value of the graph.

I-mutation generally affected Old English vowels as follows in each of the main dialects.[17] It led to the introduction into Old English of the new sounds /y(ː)/, /ø(ː)/ (which, in most varieties, soon turned into /e(ː)/), and a sound written in Early West Saxon manuscripts as ie but whose phonetic value is debated.

original i-mutated examples and notes
West Saxon Kentish Anglian
a æ, e æ, e > e æ, e bacan "to bake", bæcþ "(he/she) bakes". a > e particularly before nasal consonants: mann "person", menn "people"
ā ǣ ǣ ǣ lār "teaching" (cf. "lore"), lǣran "to teach"
æ e e e þæc "covering" (cf. "thatch"), þeccan "to cover"
e i i i not clearly attested due to earlier Germanic e > i before i, j
o ø > e ø > e ø > e Latin olium, Old English øle > ele.
ō ø̄ > ē ø̄ > ē ø̄ > ē fōt "foot", fø̄t > fēt "feet".
u y y > e y murnan "to mourn", myrnþ "(he/she) mourns"
ū ȳ ȳ > ē ȳ mūs "mouse", mȳs "mice"
ea ie > y e e eald "old", ieldra, eldra "older" (cf. "elder")
ēa īe > ȳ ē ē nēah "near" (cf. "nigh"), nīehst "nearest" (cf. "next")
eo io > eo io > eo io > eo examples are rare due to earlier Germanic e > i before i, j. io became eo in most later varieties of Old English
ēo īo > ēo īo > ēo īo > ēo examples are rare due to earlier Germanic e > i before i, j. īo became ēo in most later varieties of Old English
io ie > y io, eo io, eo *fiohtan "to fight", fieht "(he/she) fights". io became eo in most later varieties of Old English, giving alternations like beornan "to burn", biernþ "(he/she) burns"
īo īe > ȳ īo, ēo īo, ēo līoht "light", līehtan "illuminate". īo became ēo in most later varieties of Old English, giving alternations like sēoþan "to boil" (cf. "seethe"), sīeþþ "(he/she) boils"

I-mutation is particularly visible in the inflectional and derivational morphology of Old English since it affected so many of the Old English vowels. Of 16 basic vowels and diphthongs in Old English, only the four vowels ǣ, ē, i, ī were unaffected by i-mutation. Although i-mutation was originally triggered by an /i(ː)/ or /j/ in the syllable following the affected vowel, by the time of the surviving Old English texts, the /i(ː)/ or /j/ had generally changed (usually to /e/) or been lost entirely, with the result that i-mutation generally appears as a morphological process that affects a certain (seemingly arbitrary) set of forms. These are most common forms affected:

  • The plural, and genitive/dative singular, forms of consonant-declension nouns (Proto-Germanic (PGmc) *-iz), as compared to the nominative/accusative singular – e.g., fōt "foot", fēt "feet"; mūs "mouse", mȳs "mice". Many more words were affected by this change in Old English vs. modern English – e.g., bōc "book", bēc "books"; frēond "friend", frīend "friends".
  • The second and third person present singular indicative of strong verbs (Pre-Old-English (Pre-OE) *-ist, *-iþ), as compared to the infinitive and other present-tense forms – e.g. helpan "to help", helpe "(I) help", hilpst "(you sg.) help", hilpþ "(he/she) helps", helpaþ "(we/you pl./they) help".
  • The comparative form of some adjectives (Pre-OE *-ira < PGmc *-izǭ, Pre-OE *-ist < PGmc *-istaz), as compared to the base form – e.g. eald "old", ieldra "older", ieldest "oldest" (cf. "elder, eldest").
  • Throughout the first class of weak verbs (original suffix -jan), as compared to the forms from which the verbs were derived – e.g. fōda "food", fēdan "to feed" < Pre-OE *fōdjan; lār "lore", lǣran "to teach"; feallan "to fall", fiellan "to fell".
  • In the abstract nouns in þ(u) (PGmc *-iþō) corresponding to certain adjectives – e.g., strang "strong", strengþ(u) "strength"; hāl "whole/hale", hǣlþ(u) "health"; fūl "foul", fȳlþ(u) "filth".
  • In female forms of several nouns with the suffix -enn (PGmc *-injō) – e.g., god "god", gydenn "goddess" (cf. German Gott, Göttin); fox "fox", fyxenn "vixen".
  • In i-stem abstract nouns derived from verbs (PGmc *-iz) – e.g. cyme "a coming", cuman "to come"; byre "a son (orig., a being born)", beran "to bear"; fiell "a falling", feallan "to fall"; bend "a bond", bindan "to bind". Note that in some cases the abstract noun has a different vowel than the corresponding verb, due to Proto-Indo-European ablaut.
  1. The phonologically expected umlaut of /a/ is /æ/. However, in many cases /e/ appears. Most /a/ in Old English stem from earlier /æ/ because of a change called a-restoration. This change was blocked when /i/ or /j/ followed, leaving /æ/, which subsequently mutated to /e/. For example, in the case of talu "tale" vs. tellan "to tell", the forms at one point in the early history of Old English were *tælu and *tælljan, respectively. A-restoration converted *tælu to talu, but left *tælljan alone, and it subsequently evolved to tellan by i-mutation. The same process "should" have led to *becþ instead of bæcþ. That is, the early forms were *bæcan and *bæciþ. A-restoration converted *bæcan to bacan but left alone *bæciþ, which would normally have evolved by umlaut to *becþ. In this case, however, once a-restoration took effect, *bæciþ was modified to *baciþ by analogy with bacan, and then later umlauted to bæcþ.
  2. A similar process resulted in the umlaut of /o/ sometimes appearing as /e/ and sometimes (usually, in fact) as /y/. In Old English, /o/ generally stems from a-mutation of original /u/. A-mutation of /u/ was blocked by a following /i/ or /j/, which later triggered umlaut of the /u/ to /y/, the reason for alternations between /o/ and /y/ being common. Umlaut of /o/ to /e/ occurs only when an original /u/ was modified to /o/ by analogy before umlaut took place. For example, dohtor comes from late Proto-Germanic *dohter, from earlier *duhter. The plural in Proto-Germanic was *duhtriz, with /u/ unaffected by a-mutation due to the following /i/. At some point prior to i-mutation, the form *duhtriz was modified to *dohtriz by analogy with the singular form, which then allowed it to be umlauted to a form that resulted in dehter.

A few hundred years after i-umlaut began, another similar change called double umlaut occurred. It was triggered by an /i/ or /j/ in the third or fourth syllable of a word and mutated all previous vowels but worked only when the vowel directly preceding the /i/ or /j/ was /u/. This /u/ typically appears as e in Old English or is deleted:

  • hægtess "witch" < PGmc *hagatusjō (cf. Old High German hagazussa)
  • ǣmerge "embers" < Pre-OE *āmurja < PGmc *aimurjǭ (cf. Old High German eimurja)
  • ǣrende "errand" < PGmc *ǣrundijaz (cf. Old Saxon ārundi)
  • efstan "to hasten" < archaic øfestan < Pre-OE *ofustan
  • ȳmest "upmost" < PGmc *uhumistaz (cf. Gothic áuhumists)

As shown by the examples, affected words typically had /u/ in the second syllable and /a/ in the first syllable. The /æ/ developed too late to break to ea or to trigger palatalization of a preceding velar.

I-mutation in High German

I-mutation is visible in Old High German (OHG), c. 800 AD, only on short /a/, which was mutated to /e/ (the so-called "primary umlaut"). By then, it had already become partly phonologized, since some of the conditioning /i/ and /j/ sounds had been deleted or modified. The later history of German, however, shows that /o/ and /u/, as well as long vowels and diphthongs, were also affected (the so-called "secondary umlaut"); starting in Middle High German, the remaining conditioning environments disappear and /o/ and /u/ appear as /ø/ and /y/ in the appropriate environments.

That has led to a controversy over when and how i-mutation appeared on these vowels. Some (for example, Herbert Penzl)[18] have suggested that the vowels must have been modified without being indicated for lack of proper symbols and/or because the difference was still partly allophonic. Others (such as Joseph Voyles)[19] have suggested that the i-mutation of /o/ and /u/ was entirely analogical and pointed to the lack of i-mutation of these vowels in certain places where it would be expected, in contrast to the consistent mutation of /a/. Perhaps the answer is somewhere in between — i-mutation of /o/ and /u/ was indeed phonetic, occurring late in OHG, but later spread analogically to the environments where the conditioning had already disappeared by OHG (this is where failure of i-mutation is most likely). It must also be kept in mind that it is an issue of relative chronology: already early in the history of attested OHG, some umlauting factors are known to have disappeared (such as word-internal j after geminates and clusters), and depending on the age of OHG umlaut, that could explain some cases where expected umlaut is missing.

However, sporadic place-name attestations demonstrate the presence of the secondary umlaut already for the early 9th century, which makes it likely that all types of umlaut were indeed already present in Old High German, even if they were not indicated in the spelling. Presumably, they arose already in the early 8th century.[20] Ottar Grønvik, also in view of spellings of the type ei, ui, and oi in the early attestations, affirms the old epenthesis theory, which views the origin of the umlaut vowels in the insertion of /j/ after back vowels, not only in West, but also in North Germanic.[21]

In modern German, umlaut as a marker of the plural of nouns is a regular feature of the language, and although umlaut itself is no longer a productive force in German, new plurals of this type can be created by analogy. Likewise, umlaut marks the comparative of many adjectives and other kinds of derived forms. Because of the grammatical importance of such pairs, the German umlaut diacritic was developed, making the phenomenon very visible. The result in German is that the vowels written as ⟨a⟩, ⟨o⟩, and ⟨u⟩ become ⟨ä⟩, ⟨ö⟩, and ⟨ü⟩, and the diphthong ⟨au⟩ /aʊ/ becomes ⟨äu⟩ /ɔʏ/: Mann [man] "man" vs. Männer [ˈmɛnɐ] "men", Fuß [fuːs] "foot" vs. Füße [ˈfyːsə] "feet", Maus [maʊs] "mouse" vs. Mäuse [ˈmɔʏzə] "mice".

In various dialects, the umlaut became even more important as a morphological marker of the plural after the apocope of final schwa (-e); that rounded front vowels have become unrounded in many dialects does not prevent them from serving as markers of the plural given that they remain distinct from their non-umlauted counterparts (just like in English footfeet, mousemice). The example Gast "guest" vs. Gäst(e) "guests" served as the model for analogical pairs like Tag "day" vs. Täg(e) "days" (vs. standard Tage) and Arm "arm" vs. Ärm(e) "arms" (vs. standard Arme). Even plural forms like Fisch(e) "fish" which had never had a front rounded vowel in the first place were interpreted as such (i.e., as if from Middle High German **füsche) and led to singular forms like Fusch [fʊʃ] that are attested in some dialects.

I-mutation in Old Saxon

In Old Saxon, umlaut is much less apparent than in Old Norse. The only vowel that is regularly fronted before an /i/ or /j/ is short /a/: gastgesti, slahanslehis. It must have had a greater effect than the orthography shows since all later dialects have a regular umlaut of both long and short vowels.

I-mutation in Dutch

The situation in Old Dutch is similar to the situation found in Old Saxon and Old High German. Late Old Dutch saw a merger of /u/ and /o/, causing their umlauted results to merge as well, giving /ʏ/. The lengthening in open syllables in early Middle Dutch then lengthened and lowered this short /ʏ/ to long /øː/ (spelled eu) in some words. This is parallel to the lowering of /i/ in open syllables to /eː/, as in schip ("ship") – schepen ("ships").

Later developments in Middle Dutch show that long vowels and diphthongs were not affected by umlaut in the more western dialects, including those in western Brabant and Holland that were most influential for standard Dutch. Thus, for example, where modern German has fühlen /ˈfyːlən/ and English has feel /fiːl/ (from Proto-Germanic *fōlijaną), standard Dutch retains a back vowel in the stem in voelen /ˈvulə(n)/. Thus, only two of the original Germanic vowels were affected by umlaut at all in western/standard Dutch: /a/, which became /ɛ/, and /u/, which became /ʏ/ (spelled u). As a result of this relatively sparse occurrence of umlaut, standard Dutch does not use umlaut as a grammatical marker. An exception is the noun stad "city" which has the irregular umlauted plural steden.

The more eastern dialects of Dutch, including eastern Brabantian and all of Limburgish have umlaut of long vowels (or in case of Limburgish, all rounded back vowels), however. Consequently, these dialects also make grammatical use of umlaut to form plurals and diminutives, much as most other modern Germanic languages do. Compare vulen /vylə(n)/ and menneke "little man" from man.

North Germanic languages

The situation in Old Norse is complicated as there are two forms of i-mutation. Of these two, only one is phonologized. I-mutation in Old Norse is phonological:

  • In Proto-Norse, if the syllable was heavy and followed by vocalic i (*gastiʀ > gestr, but *staði > *stað) or, regardless of syllable weight, if followed by consonantal i (*skunja > skyn). The rule is not perfect, as some light syllables were still umlauted: *kuni > kyn, *komiʀ > kømr.
  • In Old Norse, if the following syllable contains a remaining Proto-Norse i. For example, the root of the dative singular of u-stems are i-mutated as the desinence contains a Proto-Norse i, but the dative singular of a-stems is not, as their desinence stems from P-N ē.

I-mutation is not phonological if the vowel of a long syllable is i-mutated by a syncopated i. I-mutation does not occur in short syllables.

Original Mutated Example
a e (ę) fagr (fair) / fegrstr (fairest)
au ey lauss (loose) / leysa (to loosen)
á æ Áss / Æsir
ý ljúga (to lie) / lýgr (lies)
o ø koma (to come) / kømr (comes)
ó œ róa (to row) / rœr (rows)
u y upp (up) / yppa (to lift up)
ú ý fúll (foul) / fýla (filth)
ǫ ø sǫkk (sank) / søkkva (to sink)

See also


  1. ^ Cercignani, Fausto (1980). "Early "Umlaut" Phenomena in the Germanic Languages". Language. 56 (1): 126–136. doi:10.2307/412645.
  2. ^ Cercignani, Fausto (1980). "Alleged Gothic Umlauts". Indogermanische Forschungen. 85: 207–213.
  3. ^ Campbell, A. 1959. Old English Grammar. Oxford: Clarendon Press. §§624-27.
  4. ^ Hogg, Richard M., ‘Phonology and Morphology’, in The Cambridge History of the English Language, Volume 1: The Beginnings to 1066, ed. by Richard M. Hogg (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), pp. 67–167 (p. 113).
  5. ^ Table adapted from Campbell, Historical Linguistics (2nd edition), 2004, p. 23. See also Malmkjær, The Linguistics Encyclopedia (2nd Edition), 2002, pp. 230-233.
  6. ^ Ringe 2006, pp. 274, 280
  7. ^ Examples of Common Germanic e and o before i or j are vanishingly rare. Proto-Germanic o has been included in this table, however, to ensure that all the outcomes of i-umlaut in the modern languages are accounted for. e had been raised to i before i and j earlier in the development of Common Germanic. o, meanwhile, only existed where u had changed to o, which never happened before i and j. Most examples of the i-umlaut of o, therefore, occur in words borrowed into Germanic (such as *oli, from Latin oleum), or in words where o arose due to later processes specific to each daughter language of Germanic. See A. Campbell, Old English Grammar (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1959), §§112, 115, 195-96. Similarly, many examples of ö in Modern German come from a later change of ü to ö (e.g. *kuningaz > Künig > König 'king'): M. O'C. Walshe, A Middle High German Reader With Grammar, Notes and Glossary (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974), §10.
  8. ^ Duden, Die deutsche Rechtschreibung, 21st edition, p. 133.
  9. ^ Isert, Jörg. "Fast Food: McDonald's schafft "Big Mäc" und "Fishmäc" ab" [Fast food: McDonald's abolishes "Big Mäc" and "Fishmäc"]. Welt Online (in German). Axel Springer AG. Retrieved 21 April 2012.
  10. ^ In medieval manuscripts, other digraphs could also be written using superscripts: in bluome ("flower"), for example, the o was frequently placed above the u, although this letter ů survives now only in Czech. Compare also the development of the tilde as a superscript n.
  11. ^ Hardwig, Florian. "Unusual Umlauts (German)". Typojournal. Retrieved 15 July 2015.
  12. ^ Hardwig, Florian. "Jazz in Town". Fonts in Use. Retrieved 15 July 2015.
  13. ^ "Flickr collection: vertical umlauts". Flickr. Retrieved 15 July 2015.
  14. ^ Hardwig, Florian. "Compact umlaut". Fonts in Use. Retrieved 15 July 2015.
  15. ^ Curme, George O. (1952). A Grammar of the German Language. New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co. pp. 315–316. ISBN 0879682132.
  16. ^ a b c Paul, Hermann (1966). Mittelhochdeutsche Grammatik. Tübingen: Max Niemeyer Verlag. pp. 159–160.
  17. ^ Campbell, A. 1959. Old English Grammar. Oxford: Clarendon Press. §§112, 190–204, 288.
  18. ^ Penzl, H. (1949). "Umlaut and Secondary Umlaut in Old High German". Language. 25 (3): 223–240. JSTOR 410084.
  19. ^ Voyles, Joseph (1992). "On Old High German i-umlaut". In Rauch, Irmengard; Carr, Gerald F.; Kyes, Robert L. (eds.). On Germanic linguistics: issues and methods.
  20. ^ Adolf Gütter (2011). "Frühe Belege für den Umlaut von ahd. /u/, /ō/ und /ū/". Beiträge zur Geschichte der deutschen Sprache und Literatur (PBB). 133 (1): 1–13. doi:10.1515/bgsl.2011.002.
  21. ^ Ottar Grønvik (1998). Untersuchungen zur älteren nordischen und germanischen Sprachgeschichte. Frankfurt: Peter Lang. ISBN 3-631-33479-6.


  • Malmkjær, Kirsten (Ed.) (2002). The linguistics encyclopedia (2nd ed.). London: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group. ISBN 0-415-22209-5.
  • Campbell, Lyle (2004). Historical Linguistics: An Introduction (2nd ed.). Edinburgh University Press.
  • Cercignani, Fausto, Early "Umlaut" Phenomena in the Germanic Languages, in «Language», 56/1, 1980, pp. 126–136.
  • Cercignani, Fausto, Alleged Gothic Umlauts, in «Indogermanische Forschungen», 85, 1980, pp. 207–213.
Affection (linguistics)

Affection (also known as vowel affection, infection or vowel mutation), in the linguistics of the Celtic languages, is the change in the quality of a vowel under the influence of the vowel of the following final syllable.

It is a type of anticipatory (or regressive) assimilation at a distance. The vowel that triggers the change was later normally lost. Some grammatical suffixes cause i-affection. In Welsh, gair "word" and -iadur "device suffix" yield geiriadur "dictionary", with -ai- in gair becoming -ei-.

The two main types of affection are a-affection and i-affection. There is also u-affection, which is more usually referred to as u-infection. I-affection is an example of i-mutation and may be compared to the Germanic umlaut, and a-affection is similar to Germanic a-mutation. More rarely, the term "affection", like "umlaut", may be applied to other languages and is then a synonym for i-mutation generally.

Broken plural

In linguistics, a broken plural (or internal plural) is an irregular plural form of a noun or adjective found in the Semitic languages and other Afroasiatic languages such as Berber. Broken plurals are formed by changing the pattern of consonants and vowels inside the singular form. They contrast with sound plurals (or external plurals), which are formed by adding a suffix, but are also formally distinct from phenomena like the Germanic umlaut, a form of vowel mutation used in plural forms in Germanic languages.

There have been a variety of theoretical approaches to understanding these processes and varied attempts to produce systems or rules that can systematize these plural forms. However, the question of the origin of the broken plurals for the languages that exhibit them is not settled, though there are certain probabilities in distributions of specific plural forms in relation to specific singular patterns. As the conversions outgo by far the extent of mutations caused by the Germanic umlaut that is evidenced to be caused by inflectional suffixes, the sheer manifoldness of shapes corresponds to multiplex attempts at historical explanation ranging from proposals of transphonologizations and multiple accentual changes to switches between the categories of collectives, abstracta and plurals or noun class switches.

Dutch language

Dutch (Nederlands ) is a West Germanic language spoken by around 23 million people as a first language and 5 million people as a second language, constituting the majority of people in the Netherlands (where it is the sole official language) and Belgium (as one of three official languages). It is the third most widely spoken Germanic language, after its close relatives English and German.

Outside the Low Countries, it is the native language of the majority of the population of Suriname where it also holds an official status, as it does in Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten, which are constituent countries of the Kingdom of the Netherlands located in the Caribbean. Historical linguistic minorities on the verge of extinction remain in parts of France and Germany, and in Indonesia, while up to half a million native speakers may reside in the United States, Canada and Australia combined. The Cape Dutch dialects of Southern Africa have evolved into Afrikaans, a mutually intelligible daughter language which is spoken to some degree by at least 16 million people, mainly in South Africa and Namibia.Dutch is one of the closest relatives of both German and English and is colloquially said to be "roughly in between" them. Dutch, like English, has not undergone the High German consonant shift, does not use Germanic umlaut as a grammatical marker, has largely abandoned the use of the subjunctive, and has levelled much of its morphology, including most of its case system. Features shared with German include the survival of two to three grammatical genders—albeit with few grammatical consequences—as well as the use of modal particles, final-obstruent devoicing, and a similar word order. Dutch vocabulary is mostly Germanic and incorporates slightly more Romance loans than German but far fewer than English. As with German, the vocabulary of Dutch also has strong similarities with the continental Scandinavian languages, but is not mutually intelligible in text or speech with any of them.

Fronting (phonetics)

In phonology, fronting is a sound change in which a vowel or consonant becomes fronted, advanced or pronounced farther to the front of the vocal tract than some reference point. Fronting may be triggered by a nearby sound, in which case it is a form of assimilation, or may occur on its own.

German conjugation

German verbs are conjugated depending on their use: as in English, they are modified depending on the persons (identity) and number of the subject of a sentence, as well as depending on the tense and mood.

The citation form of German verbs is the infinitive form, which generally consists of the bare form of the verb with -(e)n added to the end. To conjugate regular verbs, this is removed and replaced with alternative endings: Radical: mach-

To do; machen

I do; ich mache

He does; er macht

I did; ich machte

He did; er machteIn general, irregular forms of German verbs exist to make for easier and clearer pronunciation, with a vowel sound in the centre of the word the only part of the word that changes in an unexpected way (though endings may also be slightly different). This modification is often a moving of the vowel sound to one pronounced further forward in the mouth. This process is called the Germanic umlaut. However, a number of verbs including sein (to be) are fully irregular, as in English I am and I was sound completely different.

To know; wissen Radical: wiss- wuss-

I know; ich weiß or weiss (vowel change; -e missing) (irregular)

I knew; ich wusste (vowel change; otherwise regular)

To sing; singen

I sing; ich singe (regular)

I sang; ich sang (vowel change; -te missing)For many German tenses, the verb itself is locked in a non-varying form of the infinitive or past participle (which normally starts with ge-) that is the same regardless of the subject, and then joined to an auxiliary verb that is conjugated. This is similar to English grammar, though the primary verb is normally placed at the end of the clause. Note that in both the examples shown below the auxiliary verb is irregular.

I buy the book; Ich kaufe das Buch.

I will buy the book; Ich werde das Buch kaufen.

She will buy the book; Sie wird das Buch kaufen.

I have bought the book; Ich habe das Buch gekauft.

She has bought the book; Sie hat das Buch gekauft.The following tenses and modi are formed by direct conjugation of the verb:

Present – Präsens

Imperfect – Imperfekt or Präteritum

Imperative – Imperativ

Perfect – Perfekt (past participle, does not vary by subject)

Conditional I and II – KonjunktivBelow is a paradigm of German verbs, that is, a set of conjugation tables, for the model regular verbs and for some of the most common irregular verbs, including the irregular auxiliary verbs.

Germanic a-mutation

A-mutation is a metaphonic process supposed to have taken place in late Proto-Germanic (c. 200).

Germanic languages

The Germanic languages are a branch of the Indo-European language family spoken natively by a population of about 515 million people mainly in Europe, North America, Oceania, and Southern Africa.

The West Germanic languages include the three most widely spoken Germanic languages: English with around 360-400 million native speakers; German, with over 100 million native speakers; and Dutch, with 24 million native speakers. Other West Germanic languages include Afrikaans, an offshoot of Dutch, with over 7.1 million native speakers; Low German, considered a separate collection of unstandardized dialects, with roughly 0.3 million native speakers and probably 6.7–10 million people who can understand it (at least 5 million in Germany and 1.7 million in the Netherlands); Yiddish, once used by approximately 13 million Jews in pre-World War II Europe, and Scots, both with 1.5 million native speakers; Limburgish varieties with roughly 1.3 million speakers along the Dutch–Belgian–German border; and the Frisian languages with over 0.5 million native speakers in the Netherlands and Germany.

The main North Germanic languages are Danish, Faroese, Icelandic, Norwegian and Swedish, which have a combined total of about 20 million speakers.

The East Germanic branch included Gothic, Burgundian, and Vandalic, all of which are now extinct. The last to die off was Crimean Gothic, spoken until the late 18th century in some isolated areas of Crimea.The SIL Ethnologue lists 48 different living Germanic languages, 41 of which belong to the Western branch and six to the Northern branch; it places Riograndenser Hunsrückisch German in neither of the categories, but it is often considered a German dialect by linguists. The total number of Germanic languages throughout history is unknown as some of them, especially the East Germanic languages, disappeared during or after the Migration Period. Some of the West Germanic languages also did not survive past the Migration Period, including Lombardic. As a result of World War II, the German language suffered a significant loss of Sprachraum, as well as moribundness and extinction of several of its dialects. In the 21st century, its dialects are dying out anyway due to Standard German gaining primacy.The common ancestor of all of the languages in this branch is called Proto-Germanic, also known as Common Germanic, which was spoken in about the middle of the 1st millennium BC in Iron Age Scandinavia. Proto-Germanic, along with all of its descendants, is characterised by a number of unique linguistic features, most famously the consonant change known as Grimm's law. Early varieties of Germanic entered history with the Germanic tribes moving south from Scandinavia in the 2nd century BC, to settle in the area of today's northern Germany and southern Denmark.

Germanic sound shifts

Germanic sound shifts are the phonological developments (sound changes) from the Proto-Indo-European language (PIE) to Proto-Germanic, in Proto-Germanic itself, and in various Germanic subfamilies and languages.

Indo-European ablaut

In linguistics, the Indo-European ablaut (pronounced ) is a system of apophony (regular vowel variations) in the Proto-Indo-European language. All modern Indo-European languages have inherited the feature, though its prevalence and productivity strongly varies.

An example of ablaut in English is the strong verb sing, sang, sung and its related noun song, a paradigm inherited directly from the Proto-Indo-European stage of the language.

Koebner phenomenon

The Koebner phenomenon or Köbner phenomenon (UK: , US: ), also called the Koebner response or the isomorphic response, attributed to Heinrich Köbner, is the appearance of skin lesions on lines of trauma. The Koebner phenomenon may result from either a linear exposure or irritation. Conditions demonstrating linear lesions after a linear exposure to a causative agent include: molluscum contagiosum, warts and toxicodendron dermatitis (a dermatitis caused by a genus of plants including poison ivy). Warts and molluscum contagiosum lesions can be spread in linear patterns by self-scratching ("auto-inoculation"). Toxicodendron dermatitis lesions are often linear from brushing up against the plant. Causes of the Koebner phenomenon that are secondary to scratching rather than an infective or chemical cause include vitiligo, psoriasis, lichen planus, lichen nitidus, pityriasis rubra pilaris, and keratosis follicularis (Darier disease).


In historical linguistics, metaphony is a class of sound change in which one vowel in a word is influenced by another in a process of assimilation. The sound change is normally "long-distance" in that the vowel triggering the change may be separated from the affected vowel by several consonants, or sometimes even by several syllables.

For more discussion, see the article on vowel harmony.

There are two types:

Progressive (or left-to-right) metaphony, in which a vowel towards the beginning of a word influences a subsequent vowel.

Regressive (or right-to-left) metaphony, in which a vowel towards the end of the word influences a preceding vowel.Metaphony is closely related to some other linguistic concepts:

Vowel harmony is sometimes used synonymously with metaphony. Usually, however, "vowel harmony" refers specifically to a synchronic process operating in a particular language, normally requiring all vowels in a word to agree in a particular feature (e.g. vowel height or vowel backness). Most commonly, the triggering vowel is in the first syllable of the word (i.e. this is a type of progressive metaphony), as in Turkish, Finnish or Hungarian. In some cases, however, the triggering vowel is in the last syllable, typically a suffix, as in many varieties of Andalusian Spanish.

Umlaut refers to regressive metaphony, usually specifically of a diachronic type operating in the history of a language. The term "umlaut" is found especially in the Germanic languages (see Germanic umlaut). In some other languages, other terms are used instead for the same process (e.g. affection in Old Irish, simply metaphony in the Romance languages).

Oeffa bills

Öffa bills ("ö" is a Germanic umlaut that can be transcribed "oe") or job-creation bills were promissory notes created in 1932 by the German government. They were aimed at additional fund-raising for public building initiatives and later for job creation schemes.The Öffa bills were the blueprint for the Mefo bills which followed the same scheme.

Swedish as a foreign language

Swedish as a foreign language is studied by about 40,000 people worldwide at the university level and by over one million people on Duolingo. It is taught at over two hundred universities and colleges in 38 countries. Swedish is the Scandinavian language which is most studied abroad.

Svenska Institutet (The Swedish Institute) plays a key role in organising the learning of Swedish abroad. In addition to collaborating with universities where Swedish is taught, the Institute organises summer courses for students and conferences for teachers, as well as publishing a textbook called Svenska utifrån. In 2013 the SI announced that a web-based Swedish beginners' course would be made available free of charge on its website in Autumn 2013.


In historical linguistics, transphonologization (also known as rephonologization or cheshirization, see below) is a type of sound change whereby a phonemic contrast that used to involve a certain feature X evolves in such a way that the contrast is preserved, yet becomes associated with a different feature Y.

For example, a language contrasting two words */sat/ vs. */san/ may evolve historically so that final consonants are dropped, yet the modern language preserves the contrast through the nature of the vowel, as in a pair /sa/ vs. /sã/. Such a situation would be described by saying that a former contrast between oral and nasal consonants has been transphonologized into a contrast between oral vs. nasal vowels.

The term transphonologization was coined by André-Georges Haudricourt. The concept was defined and amply illustrated by Hagège & Haudricourt; it has been mentioned by several followers of Panchronic phonology, and beyond.

Umlaut (linguistics)

In linguistics, umlaut (from German "sound alteration") is a sound change in which a vowel is pronounced more like a following vowel or semivowel. The term umlaut was originally coined in connection with the study of Germanic languages, as it had occurred prominently in the history of many of them (see Germanic umlaut). While a common English plural is umlauts, the German plural is Umlaute.

Umlaut is a form of assimilation, the process of one speech sound becoming more similar to a nearby sound. If a word has two vowels, one far back in the mouth and the other far forward, it takes more effort to pronounce. If the vowels were closer together, it would take less effort. Thus, one way the language may change is that these two vowels get be drawn closer together.

In the general sense, umlaut is essentially the same as regressive metaphony.

The most commonly seen types of umlaut are the following:

Vowel raising, triggered by a following high vowel (often specifically a high front vowel such as /i/).

Vowel fronting, triggered by a following front vowel (often specifically a high front vowel such as /i/).

Vowel lowering, triggered by a following non-high vowel (often specifically a low vowel such as /a/).

Vowel rounding, triggered by a following rounded vowel (often specifically a high rounded vowel such as /u/).These processes may be named by the vowel that triggers the change (for example, i-mutation, a-mutation, u-mutation, sometimes known as i-umlaut, a-umlaut, u-umlaut). However, processes named in this fashion may not have consistent meanings across language families.

All of these processes occurred in the history of the Germanic languages; see Germanic umlaut for more details. I-mutation is the most prominent of the processes, to the extent that it is often referred to simply as "umlaut".

Similar processes also occurred in the history of the Celtic languages, especially Old Irish. In this context, these processes are often referred to as affection.

Vowel-raising umlaut occurred in the history of many of the Romance languages, in which it is normally termed metaphony.

The umlaut vowel diacritic (two dots side-by-side above a vowel) was originally used to indicate vowels affected by Germanic umlaut.

Vowel shift

A vowel shift is a systematic sound change in the pronunciation of the vowel sounds of a language.

The best-known example in the English language is the Great Vowel Shift, which began in the 15th century. The Greek language also underwent a vowel shift near the beginning of the Common Era, which included iotacism. Among the Semitic languages, the Canaanite languages underwent a shift in which Proto-Semitic *ā became ō in Proto-Canaanite (a language likely very similar to Biblical Hebrew).

A vowel shift can involve a merger of two previously different sounds, or it can be a chain shift.


Ä (lower case ä) is a character that represents either a letter from several extended Latin alphabets, or the letter A with an umlaut mark or diaeresis.

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