Take the 2-minute tour ×
German Language Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for speakers of German wanting to discuss the finer points of the language and translation. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I'm working my way through the Pimsleur German series, and I've noticed that one of the speakers has what seems to me a strange pronunciation of the word Milch.

He pronounces the ch like the sh sound in wish (in English), that is, the IPA sound ʃ. I would've thought it's pronounced like the IPA ç.

Is this common? Is it specific to certain areas of the German-speaking world? Or is it, in fact, the "correct" pronunciation?

share|improve this question
There are even German pepole who can’t make the ch sound. My maths teacher for example couldn’t do it and always made a sch sound. –  poke Jun 8 '11 at 5:56
Anecdote: a childhood friend of mine (native speaker) consistently pronounced “Milch” as /milʃ/ and “Fleisch” as /flaɪç/. That is, exactly the wrong way round. Apparently, this is rather common. –  Konrad Rudolph Jun 8 '11 at 9:01
Our palatinate ex-chancellor Kohl is famous for replacing too many of the /ʃ/ in his native dialect by /ç/, e.g. in "Gechichte". –  starblue Jun 8 '11 at 10:05
@KonradRudolph In my native Rheinland, I've seen this quite often. It is especially confusing with Kirsche and Kirche. –  Ansgar Esztermann Oct 2 '13 at 7:10

3 Answers 3

up vote 11 down vote accepted

/mɪlç/ is Standard German. The other one is most likely the result of the speaker having an accent. Some German dialects, e.g. Swabian (however obviously not in this case according to the comments :-) ), often pronounce ch as the IPA sound /ʃ/. And native speakers with that dialect often can't drop that habit even if they try to speak Standard German.

[Edit: Corrected based on comment]

share|improve this answer
/x/ is incorrect actually. /mɪlç/ is the correct transcription. –  Kosmonaut Jun 8 '11 at 0:48
Being Swabian I can definitely say that 'ch' is pronounced /ç/ here. We do not pronounced it /ʃ/ (at least in most regions). –  Takkat Jun 8 '11 at 6:32
I second what @Takkat says - it's not /ʃ/ in any Swabian dialect (nor any other of the Alemannic ones I think). It's really strong in Hessian, Badenian, and Pfälzisch. –  Pekka 웃 Jun 8 '11 at 9:36
And Saarländisch. –  starblue Jun 8 '11 at 9:52
... and Kölsch. You wouldn't believe how hard it is to pronounce "Küchentisch" in correct Standard German, if you've learned German in the Rhine Area. –  teylyn Jun 8 '11 at 11:45

Actually, ch is only [x] when used after a back vowel. It is pronounced as [ç] in all other locations (the two are allophones of the same phoneme with [ç] being the default). [ç] might sound like a [ʃ] to speakers of languages which do not have the [ç] phone.

As deceze points out, the German back vowels are [u], [a], and [o] and their unstressed variants. There are rare cases where a segment border stands between such a vowel and a following ch where the ch is pronounced as a [ç] (consider Frauchen ['fʁaʊ.çən], a female owner of a dog, literally "little woman", where no phonetic variation occurs in the diminutive suffix), but other than that, the allophones occur in perfect complementary distribution.

share|improve this answer
Could you provide some sample words? I have no idea what the back vowels are in German. –  Kyralessa Jun 8 '11 at 2:36
@Kyra Many ach, uch and och words are pronounced with an [x]: ach, Bach, flach, Dach, lachen, huch, Fluch, fluchen, suchen, doch, Docht, Loch, kochen. ech and ich are often (always?) pronounced with a [ç]: echt, schlecht, Recht, Blech, ich, mich, dich, Milch, Knilch... –  deceze Jun 8 '11 at 7:36
@deceze e and i (and I believe all consonants) are always followed by [ç]. –  cwallenpoole Jun 9 '11 at 7:17

Apart from certain slight speaking defects (probably comparable to a lisp), there are regional variations in pronunciation.

In Berlin and Brandenburg, for instance, some people even pronounce it "Mültsch" [mʏltʃ].

[mɪlç] is the correct pronunciation, though.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.