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In German the sound of 'w' in the English word "wallet" does not exist.

As a result, it is difficult for native German speakers to speak it any indeed many say "vallet" instead, which is the typical cliche German accent in English.

However, what puzzles me is an inverse phenomenon, so to speak: native speakers say the "w" sound instead of "v": e. g. "wector" instead of "vector", "conwex" instead of "convex", etc.

I'm wondering how does this phenomenon come to be? I assume the mechanism in which mistakes arise is that a native speaker "forgets" that they are in a foreign language and pronounces the words as if they were spelled in their native language. But how does this invention of new sounds / word pronunciations which don't exist in either language come to be?

  • Interchange between /v/ and /w/ was at one time a common dialect variant in London and East Anglia, remarked as long ago as 1762 by Sheridan, and frequently seen in Dickens. CHEL, V,225 says that it “seems to have disappeared toward the end of the nineteenth century … although the SED still reports stray instances from the southeast of England”. – StoneyB on hiatus Aug 6 '15 at 19:31
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  • One thing I haven't seen mentioned yet – it's true that standard German has [v], but I believe some dialects have an approximant instead, such as [ʋ]. Wikipedia states that [ʋ] is most likely to be an allophone of /v/ in Southern German varieties. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Standard_German_phonology#Consonants – ewawe Aug 7 '15 at 4:53
  • Another aspect is that many Germans learn English in school, and afterwards don't use it actively for speaking for lack of practice peers, but instead use it primarily for reading and listening comprehension, and secondarily for writing. So you got all old and new vocabulary, but only a theoretical idea of how these words should be pronounced, and no practice in it, so subtle differences aren't even on the radar. – hiergiltdiestfu May 10 '18 at 12:34
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Speakers have learned to pronounce this foreign sound, but they still haven't learned the concept of a [v/w] contrast, so they retain the phonology of German but shifted the phonetics to the thing that is typical of English (having [w]). This is known as hypercorrection.

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An alternative explanation: perhaps you aren't actually hearing an English "w", but a German "v", which is closer to "w" than the English "v".

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  • Can you give an example of such a German word that has the German "v"? – PPR Aug 10 '15 at 16:05
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    I was thinking of the "wector" from the example. Is the "w" really rounded and bilabial. like in English? In Dutch, we have labiodental "w" in the Northwest, and bilabial "w", but not really rounded, "w" in the South; also rounding it, like in English, gives your Dutch a Surinam accent. – reinierpost Aug 10 '15 at 22:39
  • But the "wector" from the example is an English word. I'm looking for a German word that has "v" which is pronounced like English "w" in the English word "wave" (something I thought didn't exist but if I understood your comment correctly DOES exist in some words). – PPR Aug 10 '15 at 22:44
  • Conversely: I was once watching Match of the day on the BBC, when its commentators discussed the (then) resurgence of the Wolves, led by a Dutch defender they called "John de Volf".That's interesting, I thought: here is a guy who is playing for the Wolves, his name is De Wolf, and yet they pronounce it as De Volf. What on earth? Well, it makes sense if you think about it, the Dutch labiodental "w" is indeed very close to the German "v". – reinierpost Aug 10 '15 at 22:49
  • The English "w" sound exists in German words, but not as a phoneme, only as an allophone - e.g. in the name "Uwe" or in the noun "Ruhe" (as far as I can tell - my German isn't too good). – reinierpost Aug 10 '15 at 22:52

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