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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
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
At least in Austrian dialects, [ks] is often replaced with [gs]. Similar in parts of southern Germany. –  painfulenglish Dec 21 '14 at 10:50

5 Answers 5

up vote 12 down vote accepted

Definitely we Germans pronounce those "Xs" 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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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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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 divided by a dash, 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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@Tim Note that I accept that it is difficult for you to pronounce it, but you used "awkward" and "something easier" in an objective general sense that I felt the need to counter here. You might want to inform us how you pronounce these words in your native language. –  Phira Jun 19 '11 at 15:55
Sorry about the subjective terms. Interesting about xund, I had never heard of that. –  Tim Jun 19 '11 at 15:59
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
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
@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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