Germanic umlaut

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In linguistics, umlaut (from German um- "around"/"the other way" + Laut "sound") is a process whereby a vowel is pronounced more like a following vowel or semivowel. The term umlaut was originally coined and is principally used in connection with the study of the Germanic languages. In Germanic umlaut (also i-umlaut or i-mutation), a back vowel changes to the associated front vowel or a front vowel becomes closer to /i/ when the following syllable contains /i/, /iː/, or /j/. This process took place separately in the various Germanic languages starting around 450 or 500 AD, and affected all of the early languages[1] except for Gothic.[2]

Umlaut should be clearly distinguished from other historical vowel phenomena such as the earlier Indo-European ablaut (vowel gradation), which is observable in the declension of Germanic strong verbs such as sing/sang/sung.

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Description

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

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