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Friday, 25 August, 2000, 08:32 GMT 09:32 UK
'Vowels to blame' for German grumpiness
Michael Schumacher
Michael Schumacher: Down in the mouth?
An American professor has developed a theory that Germans are bad-tempered because pronouncing German sounds puts a frown on the face.

Professor David Myers believes that the facial contortions needed to pronounce vowels modified by the umlaut may be getting the Germans down in the mouth.

Gerhard Schroeder
Chancellor Schroeder: Hard to smile with an umlaut in your name
The umlaut is the two dots which modify the sound of the vowels a, o and u - dots which many foreigners omit altogether, but which give the German language three alternative vowel sounds.

Saying "u" - one of German's most recognisable sounds - causes the mouth to turn down.

But the English sounds of "e" and "ah" - expressions used in smiling and laughing - have the opposite effect.

Professor Myers told the Royal Society of Edinburgh on Thursday that frequent use of the muscles which the brain associates with sadness can adversely affect a person's mood.

"Research has shown that the facial expression of a person can affect how funny they find cartoons," The London Times quotes him as saying.

"Even when speaking, movements of the muscles in the face can change a person's mood.

Helmut Kohl
Ex-Chancellor Kohl: Glum over political woes or vowel sounds?
"This could be a good reason why German people have got a reputation for being humourless and grumpy," said Professor Myers, who heads Psychology at Hope College, Michigan.

He has just finished a sabbatical at St Andrews University which involved using electrodes to manipulate the muscles of the face - research which, he said, bore out his theory.

A spokesperson for the German Embassy said: "We can give no comment on this as it is too scientific."

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