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In German there is some confusion on how to pronounce the letters 'ch' in "China". I heard all of following variants:

[ˈçiːnaː] - "ich"
[ˈkçiːnaː] - "Bäckchen"
[ˈkiːnaː] - "Kino"
[ʃiːnaː] - "Schnee"
[tʃiːnaː] - "Tschüss"

These differences seem to be regionally accentuated but still they are variable. Which pronunciation is accepted? Are there variants that should better be avoided?

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Accepted pronunciation: duden.de/rechtschreibung/China –  John Smithers Jan 13 '12 at 13:42
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up vote 26 down vote accepted

The 'correct' standard German pronunciation for China is /'ç.../) but in Southern Germany and in Austria they say 'Kina' (/'k.../).

In some regions (for example where I live) some people say 'Schina' (/'ʃ.../), but they also say 'isch' instead of 'ich' or 'Mädschen' instead of 'Mädchen'. That is, we pronounce the 'ch' in a different way, but that's not necessarily considered wrong, though it's not standard German.

The best way (imho) is to say /ç/ as in 'ich', then everyone will accept it.

Edit: I found a wikipedia article giving some pronunciation rules. Amongst other things it says:

Außerdem kommen für ch auch die Aussprachen als sch [ʃ] und tsch [tʃ] vor:

  • wie [ʃ] als umgangssprachliche oder varietätenspezifische Variante von [ç] am Wortanfang (Chemie, China),

  • in nicht (vollständig) integrierten Fremdwortschreibungen vor allem aus dem Französischen und Portugiesischen (als [ʃ]: Champignon, Charlotte, Recherche), dem Englischen und Spanischen (als [tʃ]: Chip, chatten, Macho).

This means it is acceptable to pronounce it as /ʃ/.

As summary: You can say China, Schina and Kina, but in case of this country there seems to be no 'Tschina'-pronunciation, although it is possible for some other words starting with 'Ch'.

An additional information: The same is valid for 'Chemie', but NOT for 'Chemnitz' and 'Chiemsee'. Both are spoken with the K-sound.


I want to link an article from belleslettres.eu about the right pronunciation of the word Chemie. You should notice this quote:

Welche Aussprache Ihnen auch immer eigen ist, Sie liegen damit richtig. Denn für die drei Varianten /ʃ/, /ç/ und /k/ finden sich jeweils so viele Sprecher, daß man von keiner Standardform durch Mehrheit sprechen darf.

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Other words starting with "Ch" and spoken as "K": Cholera, Chlor (chlorine). Both words have roots in the Greek language, AFAIK. –  0x6d64 Jan 14 '12 at 8:32
    
@0x6d64 This is absolutely correct, there are much more words (Chaos, Charisma, Chor,...). But as far as I know, for these words the pronunciation is never questioned. –  Em1 Jan 14 '12 at 12:51
    
To my ears, the schina-variant [ʃiːnaː] does not sound like standard German. I am living in Vienna and have lived and worked for some years in Berlin. –  The_Fritz Jun 13 '12 at 14:08
    
@The_Fritz That's exactly what I am saying by "That is, we pronounce the 'ch' in a different way, but that's not necessarily wrong, though no standard German." It is not standard German, but it is the usual pronunciation of some people. –  Em1 Jun 13 '12 at 14:21
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Both the "Ausspracheduden" and Siebs "Deutsche Hochsprache" only give the "Ch" option for China (IPA: [çi:na]). Siebs writes (in my translation): "Ch is pronounced ç in the initial sound of greek words, notably (namentlich) in front of a light vowel: Charon, Eucharistie, Chemie [...], in orientalischen Wörtern wie [...] China [...]. The initial sound ç is transformed in the processes of Germanization (Eindeutschung) in "k", notably before dark vowel and consonant: [...] Chemnitz, Chor ...". Of course, this only applies to the standard language, in real life, [çi:na] and [ki:na] are regional. –  Ursula Aug 4 '13 at 22:23
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