Two dotty reasons für glum Germans
Source: MARK HENDERSON, The Weekend Australian, August 26-27 2000, Page 16

SPEAKING English can help to cheer you up, but the mouth contortions of the umlaut may make Germans feel glum. The muscle movements that are needed to make one of the German language's most characteristic sounds, the vowel with an umlaut - or two dots above it - turn down the corners of the mouth and contort the face into a frown, a psychologist told the Royal Society of Edingburgh yesterday.

David Myers, professor of psychology at Hope College, Michigan, said frequent use of the muscles that the brain associates with sadness and frustration can depress the speaker's mood. In English, the "e" and "ah" sounds, as in "bee" or "car", have the opposite effect, he said. They use the same muscles as smiles and laughter, and can lift the spirits. "Research has shown the facial expression of a person can effect how funny they will find things like cartoons," said Professor Myers, who has just finished sabbatical at Scotland's University of St Andrews. "Even when speaking, movements of the muscles in the face can change a person's mood. It is delightfully subtle. This could be a good reason why German people have got a reputation for being humourless and grumpy."

Professor Myers has undertaken extensive research on positive psychology. Using electrodes to manipulate facial muscles into different expressions, he found that people who frown had a lowered sense of humour. His findings were backed by Robin Lickey, from the department of linguistics at the University of Edinburgh. "It certainly makes sense that some vowels which use the same muscles as a smile in pronunciation could make people happier," he said. "The stretching of the lips and the cheeks when forming the English 'e' are also used in smiling. With 'ah' it is more af a laughing expression with the mouth open. Both are quite tense, with the tongue foward in the mouth, which is associated with smiling. The pronunciation of vowels with an umlaut requires the tongue to be at the back of the mouth with the lips more rounded like an 'oo' sound. This is the complete opposite or 'e' and more associated with serious or sad expressions."

A German embassy spokesman said: "We can give no comment on this as it is too scientific."

 

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