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Pronunciation dictionaries suggest that words beginning with x, such as Xylofon and xenophob, should be pronounced with /ks/. This sounds awkward every time I try.

How common is it for real-life dialects to change this sound to something easier? If I talked about Xenongas, pronounced /se:nɔngas/, would I be understood?

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40 minutes' silence, and then three answers within a minute of each other. Did a German TV show just end? Thanks for the answers, there seems to be no disagreement. –  Tim Jun 19 '11 at 16:00
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I don't agree, I think it's rather pronounced gs, not ks. –  markus Jun 20 '11 at 14:02
    
No, it is not. Ks is the correct way. You are alone here with your opinion, maybe you want to provide some source for it? –  Martin Jun 20 '11 at 17:36
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At least in Austrian dialects, [ks] is often replaced with [gs]. Similar in parts of southern Germany. –  painfulenglish Dec 21 '14 at 10:50
    
Personally, although I might be influenced by English, I believe I would understand xenophob, Xylophon, Xenosaga, Xanadu pronounced with s. On the other hand, if you were to pronounce Axt, hex (base 16), faxen, hexen, Vertex as Ast, hess, fassen, Hessen, Vertes (=werde es?) I would be pretty confused. –  blutorange May 18 at 6:06

7 Answers 7

up vote 16 down vote accepted

Definitely we Germans pronounce those X’s as /ks/.

And I doubt, that I understand /se:nɔngas/ immediately.

But after a short time I would learn to understand your way to pronounce this character. Though I think it depends on your audience. I don’t think it would be a great handicap in technical business talk (compared to knowing the vocabulary you are using).

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+1, the comment on technical business talk reminds me of C Pound. –  OregonGhost Jun 19 '11 at 15:59

I think I never heard a different pronunciation. It's correct, yes. After all, the letter x in itself is pronounced like iks (or ikks). Listen, for example, to the samples on dict.cc; at least for Xylophon, there's a real entry (xenophob is computer-generated).

Many people might have problems understanding what you mean if you pronounce it with just /s/, depending on the rest of the word. Xylophon may be understood because it provides enough clue as a whole.

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Yes, x is pronounced [ks] in German regardless of its position in the word.

There is only one exception. If x means the letter X and is connected by a hyphen, e. g.

  • X-Beine
  • x-beliebig
  • X-Chromosom
  • x-förmig

In these cases the starting X is pronounced [ɪks].

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Yes, they are really pronounced that way, and I cannot see anything awkward or difficult about it.

I don't know any dialect that avoids the proper pronunciation of X.

Of course, words like Xenongas and xenophob are rarely used in dialects, but on the other hand, words that start out with Ges- are commonly pronouced Ks- in many dialects:

gesund pronouced: xund
Gesicht pronounced: xicht
Geschichte pronounced: kschicht

It is unlikely that you would be understood without context and it would be just wrong, like saying k instead of kr.

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This reminds me of a Swabian reponse to (repeated) sneezing, which is pronounced "Xundheit, Xaver, Xälzbrot!". It uses the Swabian peculiarity of pronouncing the start of the words "Gesundheit", "Xaver" (a name) and "Gesälzbrot"/"G'sälzbrot" (which in turn is dialect for "Marmeladenbrot", bread with jam) similarly. –  Jan Jun 21 '11 at 9:41
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I'm quite sure @Tim's native language is English. Most German speakers would be surprised to learn that the x in xenophobe, xenon, etc. is pronounced as [z] in English. –  painfulenglish Dec 21 '14 at 11:00
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@painfulenglish Actually it's Swedish, and here there's some controversy about the pronunciation of words such as xenophobia and psychology. –  Tim Dec 21 '14 at 11:30
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@Tim Controversies within the Swedish language? Or regarding English words? –  painfulenglish Dec 21 '14 at 11:31
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@painfulenglish about the Swedish pronunciation of the corresponding Swedish words, e.g. xenofobi and psykologi. –  Tim Dec 21 '14 at 11:32

For what it’s worth, I do know Germans who also have difficulty pronouncing the x at the beginning of a word. I agree with the other answerers that just pronouncing /s/ would not be well understandable, but I think with a /ts/ instead you’d do OK: so you could think Zylophon.

But the best is of course to keep practising /ks/.

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Your examples are directly derived from ancient greek, where the corresponding letter Ξ was pronounced the same way and still is in modern Greek, if I may trust wikipedia. X is always pronounced /ks/ in German, no matter, where in the word, the x- special case directly linked to alphabet enumeration. You did not mention, why you mistrust the dictionaries, but in any case the English language with its readiness to leave out unusual combinations (compare pronounciation of psychology) is a bad measure of reference.

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I do not think that the 'ks' sound is perceived as difficult by German speakers. Remember that we also have lots of 'ts' (represented by 'z') and 'pf' sounds. (There is however an Appel/Apfel dialect line.)

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