Re: Capitalization in German

From: Stephan Stiller <>
Date: Tue, 19 Feb 2013 02:46:12 -0800

>> Er hat in Moskau liebe Genossen.
>> Er hat in Moskau Liebe genossen.

> Der Gefangene floh
> Der gefangene Floh
> [...]
> And in this case, the prosody in German is *exactly* the same.

These are brilliant examples. Note that about the last one one can argue
that the two expressions are unfortunately /still/ not prosodically
equivalent (unless they stand by themselves, like in a title) because
they're not of the same syntactic type (ie: morphological functional
type, part of speech ("Wortart"), part of sentence ("Satzteil";
expression not really used in English, which is probably Chomsky's
fault)), as the second part of the example is not a sentence, while the
first one is. I bet there's a way to embed/enhance this example to
remedy that, but I won't try right now.

Some addenda to previous things I've written:

Just how hard it is to come up with more non-name minimal pairs for ß is
seen by looking at a few wordlists. There are a handful if we allow for
pronunciation differences; if we don't, it's very hard. A comprehensive
list of basic vocabulary items containing ß:
Also relevant for those wanting to construct more examples, showing what
one would have to pay attention to:
(The website (looks like it) is for kids, but it actually contains a lot
of intricate linguistic argument about grapheme/phoneme correspondences
and a bit of justification of the status quo, whatever you may think of it.)

For those wanting to construct English all-caps capitalization
ambiguities, the following two entries of the Chicago Manual of Style
(16e) will be useful; they contain lists of candidate expressions:
     8.47 Popular place-names or epithets
     8.60 When not to capitalize
A different aspect is that capitalization distinctions are often used in
English legal contractual language to differentiate common from locally
defined terms (the latter ones would be capitalized). I don't know how
this distinction is dealt with in all-caps legal text. Words from the
abbreviation-acronym semantic field are also a source for such
ambiguities, eg "us" versus US. Except US lawyers are more traditional
and prescriptive in their spelling, so they are less likely to omit the
abbreviatory dots of "U.S.", even though writing US, PhD, ... is a new

Received on Tue Feb 19 2013 - 04:47:40 CST

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