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?

  • 3
    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
    Commented Jun 8, 2011 at 5:56
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    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. Commented Jun 8, 2011 at 9:01
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    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
    Commented Jun 8, 2011 at 10:05
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    @KonradRudolph In my native Rheinland, I've seen this quite often. It is especially confusing with Kirsche and Kirche. Commented Oct 2, 2013 at 7:10
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    Kohl's problem was a hypercorrection. His home region (Palatinate) is close to France, and due to French influence /ç/ doesn't exist there. As a result, people from that region may sound very uneducated when speaking standard German. It was obviously important to him to get all /ç/ sounds right. But since for the first years of his life /ç/ was equivalent to /ʃ/ to him, he sometimes subconsciously replaced /ʃ/ by /ç/. The same thing sometimes happens to me. I always notice it immediately, and it feels very awkward.
    – user2183
    Commented Mar 18, 2015 at 15:15

5 Answers 5


/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]

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    Being Swabian I can definitely say that 'ch' is pronounced /ç/ here. We do not pronounced it /ʃ/ (at least in most regions).
    – Takkat
    Commented Jun 8, 2011 at 6:32
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    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
    Commented Jun 8, 2011 at 9:36
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    And Saarländisch.
    – starblue
    Commented Jun 8, 2011 at 9:52
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    ... 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
    Commented Jun 8, 2011 at 11:45
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    @teylyn: Hehe. I remember my mum struggeling with "Griechische Geschichte" when she used to have singing lessons. ^^
    – ladybug
    Commented Jun 9, 2011 at 22:03

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.


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.

  • Could you provide some sample words? I have no idea what the back vowels are in German.
    – Kyralessa
    Commented Jun 8, 2011 at 2:36
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    @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
    Commented Jun 8, 2011 at 7:36
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    @deceze e and i (and I believe all consonants) are always followed by [ç]. Commented Jun 9, 2011 at 7:17
  • Consonants are followed by [ç]. The sound is the same Milch and Knilch as for Molch and Mulch. Commented Mar 30, 2016 at 2:43

The Hessian, Palatinate and Rhine-Hessian regions of Germany actually do not use [ʃ] but rather [ʒ] for many ch sounds after front vowels.

And the pronounciation in Bavaria is often [mɪlx] – they use the [x] sound a lot more often than the more Northern Germans.


Although [mɪlç] is the correct pronunciation in Standard German, it's quite common to hear other pronunciations. As pointed out by some, in Hessian, Badenian, Pfälzisch, Saarländisch and Kölsch, they often pronounce ch as /ʃ/. Sometimes this is a problem with hypercorrection, or the speakers just don't make a very clear distinction between these sounds.

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