The Crueh respondeth

Shortly after I wrote about the spelling Moertley Crueh on Wikipedia’s heavy metal umlaut page, I received e-mail from two readers of phonoloblog, both suggesting the same explanation for the mysterious r in Moertley.

First, Martin Barry wrote:


I’d guess that the Wikipedia article has a British author, and that the ‘r’ isn’t meant to be pronounced – it’s an orthographic device roughly indicating ‘pronounce this vowel in a centralised way, contrary to the face value of
the vowel letter’. This is how the ‘r’ functions with e,o,i,u in ‘fern’, ‘worth’, ‘firm’, ‘burn’, all of which have the long mid central vowel /3:/ in RP, with no hint of [r] in pronunciation. The author’s probably simply trying to find a way to
capture the central/front rounded quality of the German umlauted ö using the limited orthographical resources and conventions of British English.

Soon thereafter, Jarek Weckwerth wrote:


I suspect the whole {oer} group is supposed to stand for a non-rhotic pronunciation of the vowel of NURSE (mid central, unrounded). In non-rhotic accents of English, German {oe} is usually substituted with that vowel (cf. e.g. the pronunciation of Koenigsberg and other German names/words with {oe} in JC Wells’ Longman Pronunciation Dictionary).

So it seems to be a spelling representation of a German pronunciation of the umlauted {o} in the name of the band from a non-rhotic-English perspective, and there’s no /r/ involved whatsoever.

What do you think?

What I think is: I’m just a little embarrassed not to have thought of this possibility myself, since it’s probably right. I first became aware of this orthographic convention when I noticed that the equivalent of American English interjection uh is written er. They’re pronounced pretty much the same way, mid-central with no r-coloring, but some Americans — probably some subset of those who read British writing at a young age without being properly exposed to its pronunciation — will sometimes say [ɚ] as a kind of hypercorrect interjection.

But: there’s still the little matter of Karen’s pronunciation of Gülşat as [ɡɚˈʃat]

4 thoughts on “The Crueh respondeth

  1. Bob Kennedy

    I think your embarrassment is premature; after all, you’re a phonologist, not an orthographer. Another possibility I was thinking of is that [ö] is nativized by some American English speakers as [ɚ]. Have you ever heard someone refer to Goethe as [gɚtə]?

    The particular choice of native phoneme to handle the mid-front-round vowel probably does have a perceptual account, as your earlier post suggests. And I think it’s more than a matter of lip-rounding; probably the F2 and F3 values for [ö] and [ɚ] are pretty similar.

  2. Joe Salmons

    In support of Bob Kennedy’s point and Eric’s original view of things, it’s characteristic of a serious American accent in German to get an /r/ after mid front rounded vowels, so that (lax) möchte ‘would like to’ (3rd sg. pres.) comes out as something like [mɚçtə] ~ [m3ɹçtə] and (tense) schön ‘beautiful’ as [ʃɚn] ~ [ʃ3ɹn], with variation in the vowel, but always something central — and obliterating the tense/lax distinction.

    People certainly seem to associate this informally with lip-rounding in /r/, but that F2 plays a role would be consistent with the fact that you don’t get this for high front rounded vowels: Americans don’t insert /r/ in trying to say Tüte ‘bag’, etc.

    This leads me to wonder: Does this happen with American learners of French (in words like bœuf), Danish (øl), etc.?

  3. Eric Bakovic

    OK, I was probably just too quick to capitulate there. Interesting side-note: although the sound of a cow in English is traditionally [mu:] (‘moo’), I occasionally hear people say something like [mɚ:] (though I hadn’t thought about it until now. In Turkish, but apparently not in all other languages with front round vowels, the sound of a cow is more like [mö:].

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