German Language/How to express the English sound
QUESTION: Dear Janina,
Would you be able to tell me how best to express the English diphthong "ai" -- that is, the sound in the English words "rain" or "train" -- in German?
I ask because I would like to know how one would have to write the English name "Elaine" (which is pronounced to rhyme with "rain") for a German to be able to understand the pronunciation from reading it. What is the closest way to express that sound in German? I cannot find any corresponding German diphthong, so do you know how could I phonetically make the sound of the name clear?
Thank you very much for your help.
ANSWER: Hello Maria,
thank you very much for your question.
You're right, there is no sound in the German language that is similar to the English "ai" sound you describe. If I had to describe it to someone, I'd say it rhymes with the "ey" in "hey", or also with the "ay" in okay. These English words are used and known by most Germans, so I am sure that this should work. But I wouldn't just give the two letters as an example. I would always say "ay as in okay" to make sure.
Also, I think that many Germans know how to pronounce the name "Elaine" correctly, as English and American films and TV shows are very popular in Germany. Even though they are dubbed in German, the pronunciation of the names stays in English. So, I am sure that many people have already heard the name Elaine being pronounced in English correctly.
I hope this helps.
---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------
QUESTION: I'm sorry to bother you further on this subject, but I've been thinking it over, and this question came to me today while I was looking at some Yiddish translations:
Yiddish is written in the Hebrew alphabet, and many Yiddish names have an "ai" sound to rhyme with rain. There's no "right" way to Romanize the Hebrew alphabet – it's just written to be as close to the right sound as possible in the language you're Romanizing it into.
So, how would you suggest a Yiddish name such as "בֵּײלָא" (romanized into English as "Baila", and pronounced with the "ai" like "rain") be written so it had the best chance of a German being able to understand the pronunciation from reading it? How would you spell "Baila"?
Thank you very much.
Hello again Maria,
thank you for your follow-up question.
I did a bit of research and found the names Baila and Bayla on a German website for baby names.
See here: www.firstname.de/Vorname/Bayla/
So, I guess we use the same/similar ways of transcribing this name. However, I think we use it because we don't have any other way of putting it. You'd always have to tell people how to pronounce the name correctly. If you don't specify that it's an English "ay" as in "okay", most people might pronounce "ai", "ey", and "ay" as the German "ei" sound (like English "eye"). There is a form of the German name "Meyer" that is spelled "Mayer", and it will always be pronounced with an "eye" sound. The German words "Mai" (the month of May) and "Laib" (loaf) are pronounced with an "eye" sound.
So, I am afraid there is no perfect way to transcribe the English "ai" sound into German. There would always have to be some kind of note explaining that in this case "ay" needs to be pronounced like the English "okay".
Hope this helps.