In the Ode to Joy lyrics, the phrase "Himmlische, dein Heiligtum" appears early on. When I listen to the musical setting, in Beethoven's 9th, it is hard for me to discern from the voice of the tenor whether the "g" gets devoiced into a "k". This brings me to the question. In a performance of Beethoven's 9th, particularly the ode in the final movement, how should "Heiligtum" be pronounced? Does the "g" get pronounced like a "k" as in Tag? I would expect this because the "g" comes at the end of a syllable (or so I think), and it's my understanding that devoicing happens at the end of a syllable as well as the end of a word.

Now, I know that there are regional differences in regard to pronunciation, but I assume that the vocalists follow some sort of standard.

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    The standard pronunciation is -ich as in ich.
    – Carsten S
    Aug 7, 2017 at 6:19
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    It depends on dialect. In Austria and other Bavarian dialects, it is harder than "g" but softer than "k", this is called "Ablautverhärtung". And no, it is not like ich. Aug 7, 2017 at 7:18
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    @rexkogitans, I should have written “German standard pronunciation”. Regional differences have been addressed in the question that I have linked.
    – Carsten S
    Aug 7, 2017 at 7:29
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    Eben gefunden, 3 Arten in Köln ein G auszusprechen: Fluchzeuschträjer. Aug 13, 2017 at 15:29

5 Answers 5


[ç], see Duden as reference. The stage pronounciation rules also leave no other choice. In normal talk I decidedly assume regional variations. Especially for religious terms there seems to be an additional urge, to pronounce them unsloppy (similar to Tag) as incorrect as this may be.

  • This is currently a link only answer. You should say what the Duden recommends.
    – Carsten S
    Aug 7, 2017 at 12:26

It depends on the region. There are two main variations.

  1. The "normal"* pronunciation would be like in 'gerne' (or like you would pronounce the 'ck' in the English word 'lick').
  2. However, in some regions it's pronounced soft like the 'ch' in 'dich'.

*normal, because it follows the default, distinct pronunciation for 'g', whereas (2) makes the 'g' sound like a 'ch', i.e., would mean this is an exception.

From the link guidot points out in his answer, I'd assume the 'officially' (Duden) correct way would be (1) as well, but the rule can also be interpreted in favour of (2).

From the Duden page that guidot linked (http://www.duden.de/sprachwissen/sprachratgeber/zweifelsfaelle-bei-der-aussprache): "Dasselbe gilt auch für die Buchstabenfolge -ig: Auch hier wird das auslautende -g standardsprachlich nicht wie ein k [k] gesprochen, sondern wie der Reibelaut in dem Wort „ich". Das gilt für Wörter wie König, Honig, eilig, sperrig und viele andere Adjektive auf -ig. Sobald aber durch Deklination weitere Buchstaben hinzutreten, wird das g wieder wie g gesprochen: die Könige, eilige Nachrichten, in einer sperrigen Kiste. Folgt der Endung -ig die Ableitungssilbe -lich (königlich), so wird das g wie ein k [k] gesprochen."

Basically the official rule says: a) In cases of '-ig' at the end of word (like in "heilig") the 'g' is pronounced like a 'ch'. b) If additional letters are added by declination after the 'ig', like in "Könige", the 'g' is spoken like any other 'g', i.e. a little softer than a 'k'. c) If, however, the 'ig' is followed by a 'lich', like in "königlich" the 'g' is pronounced strong like a 'k'.

So in the case of "Heiligtum" I think b) should apply, whereas I ignore that the rule says "if by declination additional letters follow the 'ig'", so one might argue that b) shouldn't apply to "Heiligtum" as the 'tum' part is a suffix not a declination. One might then either argue that the rule does not apply at all, which would mean the normal 'g' pronunciation applies as well. Or one could argue that a) applies to 'Heilig' and its spoken the same if it occurs in a compound word/form.

All in all, I'd say there is about an equally good case to use both, in some region you might get some strange looks with either version. And as the discussions here show, common usage as well as official rule interpretation are debatable even amongst native speakers.

When singing, I'd say, use whichever version of the two that goes better to your melody ;)

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Takkat
    Aug 8, 2017 at 21:48

It's ç and the whole word is [ˈhaɪ̯lɪçtuːm].

  • Forgive my ignorance, but is that the same as -ch?
    – ktm5124
    Aug 7, 2017 at 6:52
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    With some lack of precision in the answer: yes, it is "ch". But mind that there are two ways of pronouncing "ch": the one like in Dach, the other like in dich. In Heiligtum it is like in dich. If you pronounce it like in Dach you sound like a Russian. Aug 7, 2017 at 7:15
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    @ChristianGeiselmann Depends where you live. For me it a simple "g" like in "gerne". If you go like that, you would pronounce "Flugzeug" "Fluchzeuch". As said, depends in which region you are.
    – Cataklysim
    Aug 7, 2017 at 11:15
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    @Cataklysim Genau. Die wo aus Hambuich kommet mögen es so sagen, aber mir hier unten saget ein "g" wo ein "g" ist.
    – RedSonja
    Aug 7, 2017 at 11:59
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    @Cataklysim The answer gives the correct pronunciation for Hochdeutsch. Regional variants do exist of course, but then the same is true for almost every word. Aug 7, 2017 at 17:49

The existing answers seem to focus on the spoken pronunciation.

However, professional singers may vocalise words differently to increase intelligibility of words when singing (source: German Wikipedia entry).

This German website gives a little summary of the rules. Among others, there is the rule

„ch“ wird gesprochen in der Endung -ig im Silbenschluß vor Konsonanten: ewig, befriedigt, freudigste.

which roughly translates to:

If a syllable ends with the ending -ig and is followed by a consonant, it is pronounded as "ch", examples are ewig, befriedigt, freudigste

Addendum by me:

  • Due to the proceeding i, it is the ch as in ich

Applying this rule, Heiligtum includes the -ig followed by a consonant and therefore should be pronounced with [ç].

On the other hand, in "Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht", the -ig in heilige is followed by a vowel and would be pronounced as [g].

When looking for a good English reference, I found this, which is incomplete regarding the -ig followed by consonant cases like Heiligtum, but lists the exception, that the -ig might be followed by an -lich, as in königlich, where you would pronounce the g as [k].

Since it is a complex topic, there are books written about pronunciation for singers :)

  • In "königlich", it would be pronounced like the "g" in "Tag", wouldn't it, not like the "g" in "Tage" or "könige"? That is, the rule for "-ig" is to have Auslautverhärtung, but not spirantization before "-lich" in "official"/standard/reference German (I don't know anything about German regional languages, so I will stay silent about them), making the sound approach [k], so it seems a bit misleading to just write [g].
    – sumelic
    Aug 8, 2017 at 15:44
  • @sumelic I guess I was mislead by my own way of speaking'/dialect, where a [k] in königlich would sound a bit exaggerated :) I have edited my post accordingly.
    – Arsak
    Aug 9, 2017 at 15:37

Well, all the people I know pronouce the g like in Tag.

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    And how do they pronounce it in Tag?
    – Eller
    Aug 7, 2017 at 8:36
  • never heard it like Tag. ç example for you: youtu.be/sJQ32q2k8Uo?t=56m6s
    – oliholz
    Aug 7, 2017 at 8:47
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    @Eller: Well, like in genau or gerne. Aug 7, 2017 at 9:20
  • @oliholz: Wenn ich suche, finde ich bestimmt auch ein Beispiel, wo es hinten mit "k" gesprochen wird. Aug 7, 2017 at 9:24
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    Ja, regionale Unterschiede in der Umgangssprache. Aber die "Ode an die Freude" hat sicherlich ein Konsens unter Experten im klassischem Gesang, wie es ursprünglich ausgesprochen wurde. Habe mir jetzt die größten 15 Künstler und Philharmoniker die ich finden konnte angehört. Würde gerne ein Gegenbeispiel hören. @Thorsten Dittmar
    – oliholz
    Aug 8, 2017 at 15:28

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