Anglicizing German

Following my posting on the sandwich issue of the NYT Food section, a Facebook discussion sprung up about the sandwich beef on weck; what, people wondered, was weck? The answer is partly about food, and partly about the German and English languages.

From Wikipedia:

A beef on weck is a sandwich found primarily in Western New York. It is made with roast beef on a kummelweck roll. The meat on the sandwich is traditionally served rare, thin cut, with the top bun getting a dip au jus. Accompaniments include horseradish, a dill pickle spear, and french fries.

The kummelweck roll gives the sandwich its name and a distinctive taste. A kummelweck (sometimes pronounced “kimmelweck” or “kümmelweck”) is topped with kosher salt and caraway seeds. Kümmel is the German word for caraway, and weck means “roll” in the south-western German dialects of the Baden and Swabia areas (northern Germans generally say Brötchen), although the kind of weck used for this sandwich in America tends to be much softer and fluffier than a standard German Kümmelbrötchen or Kümmelweck.

A classic beef on weck, with horseradish, a dill pickle spear, and french fries.

So much for the food.

The weck part of the name is just a dialect variant for ‘roll’ — however with English [w], from the spelling, rather than German [v] borrowed directly.  But the first part of the full name is more interesting. The first part of kümmelweck (or kuemmelweck, an alternative spelling) / kummelweck / kimmelweck goes back to standard German Kümmel (or Kuemmel) ‘caraway’, with a high front rounded vowel, which is not a phonemically distinct vowel in English (as it is in German), though some English speakers have [ü] as a variant of the phoneme /u/.

You can Anglicize that vowel in one of two ways: preserve the frontness, but abandon the rounding (giving /ɪ/ in kimmelweck); or preserve the rounding, but abandon the backness (giving /U/ in kummelweck). My Facebook friend from Western New York is a kimmelweck speaker, but others have kummelweck.

One Response to “Anglicizing German”

  1. Dennis Preston Says:

    Restaurants in Western New York much more frequently had the spelling “wick” (at least in the 70s and early 80s).

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