Dr. Goodword’s Language Blog

Two Poached Steaks

This morning my wife and breakfasted at a local Pennsylvania Dutch (= Deutsch “German”) restaurant where two new and very young waitresses served us. My wife ordered two poached eggs. A few moments later the manager came out and asked if she really wanted two poached steaks. Apparently, poached steaks were not ordered very often at Ards Farm Market & Restaurant.

Well, my wife didn’t order two poached steaks either, but it is easy to understand how someone raised among the German-Americans in our area would have made the mistake. My wife asked for two [potsht egz]; that is the way she pronounced it.  At the end of German words, however, voiced consonants like [g] and [z] are pronounced without voicing (vibrating the vocal cords), so [g] becomes [k] and [z] becomes [s]. Our cook heard the waitress order two [potsht eks] = “poached steaks’. Now that is exactly how someone with a “Dutch” accent would pronounce poached eggs but not how someone without an accent would hear it.

Final unvoicing, changing a voiced to an unvoiced consonant at the end of a word, is common. The incident reminded me of my first breakfast in Serbia decades ago. My wife and I had never breakfasted in Serbia before, so we were not sure what to expect. However, we were in the big city, Beograd, and in Beograd they are prepared for the foreign tourist. For that reason the most prominent menu entry was “hemeneks”. My wife wondered what in the world that was. I explained to her that this would be the way she would hear “ham and eggs” pronounced for the coming year.

3 Responses to “Two Poached Steaks”

  1. Neal Whitman Says:

    Of course, the cook would also have had to interpret [potʃt eks] as [potʃt ʃteks], mentally diplologizing what he’d taken to be a haplologized [ʃt ʃt] (assuming that /st/ -> [ʃt] in this variety of German). But this is plausible, too (especially in light of the fact that it obviously happened): I pronounce best stick as [bɛstːIk] instead of [bɛst stIk].

  2. Robert Beard Says:

    As you know, [ʧ] is actually [tʃ] and the combination [tʃtʃt] will be reduced to something. Remember, these are high school girls talking to someone busy cooking so articulation was not an issue.

  3. February Links « Literal-Minded Says:

    […] have two from Robert Beard of Dr. Goodword’s Language Blog. First is a funny story involving regional accents and breakfast in a Pennsylvania Dutch restaurant. In […]

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