Thursday, 21 February 2013

interlingual quasi-homophones

You are certainly familiar with the concept of homophony and know loads of English homophonous words, phrases or even sentences such as
  1. /ˈprɪntsəpl/
  2. /ɡəˈrɪlə/
  3. /henriˈetə/
Today I'm going to look at quasi-homophones in English and German, i.e. words which have very similar sound structures in the two languages. Here's an example. It's an advert by a German local street cleaning company. Translated literally the text says "we sweep for you", but the pun exploits the sound similarity between English care and German kehr, the imperative form of kehren (to sweep).

credit: Berliner Stadtreinigung
Not all such pairs are puns. Some are genuine English words imported into the German language and, whether you regret it or not, are tied into the corset of the German sound system. Others are similar by mere chance. Here are some goodies:

  1. kɛʃ - cash
  2. føːn - fern
  3. kɛmpɪŋ - camping
  4. ʧɔp - job
  5. fɛmili - family
  6. haːtʋɛɐ, haːɐtʋɛɐ - hardware
  7. blɛkʧɛk - blackjack


  1. A. Cheeky comment (Entschuldigung!)

    I think that
    "I'm going to look on" should be
    "I'm going to look at"

    "whether you pity it or not"should be
    "whether you deplore/lament/regret it or not"

    B. Deploring, lamenting, and regretting my own incompetence: :)

    I can't work out what puns might be suggested by most of your examples, K., except perhaps

    2. Foehn / fern (unlikely, though, I must admit!)
    6. hardware / "heart wear" (?)

    C. Nitpicking postscriptum

    I'd pronounce your /ˈprɪntsəpl/ as /ˈprɪnsɪpəl/ (Br.English speaker)

    1. Kevin,
      no need to apologise; there are so many linguistic traps a non-native may fall into. You live and learn.
      Re B: Solution provided now.
      Re C: LPD3 has a schwa.

  2. Since last visiting this page I've come across a term (new to me) that may encompass that use of "kehr" in the punning Berliner Stadtreinigung publicity you instance -- namely, das Inflektiv (the inflective, I suppose, in English). It seems that this form (essentially, the infinitive stripped of its -en ending) is widely used these days in German cartoons and comic strips (and now spreading to text messaging) in imitation of the English-language practice of adding little "stage directions" to the dialogue, in the following fashion:

    Too late! *sigh*

    In German this would apparently be:

    Zu spät! *seufz*

    Off topic, I know (not a question of phonetics) but I thought it was interesting.