German Alphabet

German Alphabet

Although the diacritic letters represent distinct sounds in German phonology, they are almost universally not considered to be part of the alphabet. Almost all German speakers consider the alphabet to have the 26 cardinal letters above and will name only those when asked to say the alphabet.

The diacritic letters ä, ö and ü are used to indicate the presence of umlauts (frontalizations of back vowels). Before the introduction of the printing press, frontalization was indicated by placing an e after the back vowel to be modified, but German printers developed the space-saving typographical convention of replacing the full e with a small version placed above the vowel to be modified. In German Kurrent writing, the superscripted e was simplified to two vertical dashes, which have degenerated to dots in both handwriting and German typesetting. Although the two dots look like those in the diaeresis (trema) diacritical marking, a distinction should be made between umlaut and diaeresis because the two have different functions.

German Alphabet