The southern German and Austrian greeting GrÃ¼ÃŸ Gott! ‘may God greet [you]’ is perceived by many local members and American missionaries as a too-frequent or otherwise inappropriate use of a divine title. While the theological reasoning is opaque to some, the linguistic context seems quite clear. GrÃ¼ÃŸ Gott requires American missionaries to pronounce the German uvular tap, trill, or fricative pre-vocalic /r/, one of the most difficult phonemes for Americans to produce correctly (although eased somewhat because it follows uvular /g/). This is immediately followed by a long rounded high front vowel /y:/ (round your lips to say oooo, but say eeee instead), another sound missing from the phonemic inventory of English and consequently produced badly by most Americans. For a phrase with only two vowels, the second of the two is equally problematic for Mormon missionaries, predominately from the American West, as the short open /o/ is missing from their dialect of American English as well. If cot and caught sound exactly alike to you–and don’t kid yourself; unless youâ€™re from the right parts of the Eastern US or the Commonwealth, they do–you will have a hard time hearing the distinction in a foreign language, let alone producing it yourself. In other words, the taboo on GrÃ¼ÃŸ Gott may include both theological concern and linguistic anxiety.
Are there other key phrases in foreign languages that are difficult for Americans to pronounce? Is there a chance of declaring them blasphemous? It’s a coping strategy worth some consideration.