According to the general regional pattern would China be called "China" in the South while "Kina" in the North, as well as the distribution of "ich" and "ik".

  • 3
    No, because ik instead of ich is an exception even in northeastern Germany. It doesn't apply to all ch you find.
    – Janka
    Nov 17, 2018 at 3:37
  • You could argue "it's a faraway country, so must have a faraway pronunciation"
    – tofro
    Nov 17, 2018 at 11:30
  • 7
    @tofro This is a faraway explanation. Nov 17, 2018 at 12:48
  • 1
    What is the source for the "general regional pattern"? What is the source, that the distribution is contrary to that pattern?
    – IQV
    Nov 19, 2018 at 7:02
  • I also hear that quite often with the word Chemie /keˈmi/. The Duden mentiones that
    – SeDav
    Dec 18, 2018 at 10:55

2 Answers 2


The general pattern you observe or quote is actually something different.

Your example being ich, which is pronouned ik in the northern dialects because these did not participate in the High German sound shift. For ich/ik, the boundary is the Uerdingen line which is sometimes used to separate Low German from Central German dialects. (The Benrath line or machen/maken line is also sometimes used.) The sound shift in question transformed the /k/ plosive of the North into a /x/ or /ç/ fricative in the South depending on the environment of the sound. (It also affected /t/ and /p/ in a similar manner.) Only in some Swiss, Austrian and southern German (Allgäu, Lechrain, Werdenfels) dialects all occurances of /k/ are affected; usually it did not apply to word-initials.

In practically all of Germany, most of Austria and probably some parts of Switzerland, a word-initial original Germanic /k/ remained /k/ but can be written either k or ch — the latter mainly in place names such as Chiemsee or Chemnitz. Other than those you won’t find any word-initial ch in non-borrowed words.

A few borrowings exist with word-initial ch from Italian, English or French which are pronounced according to the standards of the respective original language. The same can roughly be said for the borrowing Chuzpe and probably some other Eastern European ones that aren’t in my head right now.

Then there are a few words borrowed from Greek which have word-initial Ch because the original Greek letter was probably chi (I didn’t examine all etymologies). For some reason unknown to me these are pronounced much more as if they were originally German, just uncommon and thus weirdly spelt. Their pronunciation mostly follows the surroundings rule for word-internal and terminal ch: as /k/ if there is a dark vowel or consonant following (Chor, Chlor) but as /ç/ if there is a light vowel (e or i) following (China, Chemie).

For reasons not fully known to me, the southern dialects never adopted that rule and just stuck with initial /k/ for all of these sounds.

I haven’t been able to find a definite map of the extent of /ki:na/, but I can tell you that it is only a relatively small area in the South. There is a very broad band in the middle where it is both /iç/ (for ich) and /çi:na/ (for China).


It might be a matter of over-generalization. Just like everybody else, Bavarians and Austrians say /kɑ'rɑktə/, /krist/ and /klo:ə/ (Charakter, Christ, Chlor), but, over-generalizing (?): /ki:nɑ/.

However, the dictionary tells me that like all the others they pronounce Chimäre with /ç/, not with /k/. So it might also be a problem of orientation.

  • Chimäre is a loanword, which in Greek is pronounced with ç. I don't think that is a fair comparison. There are no etymologically German proper words starting with 'chi' to compare with and obtain 'correct' pronounciation from. A few German place names start with che or chi (Chemnitz, Chieming, Chiemsee), but they are all over Germany pronounced with a hard k. I don't think that you can explain 'Kina' with some kind of generalization. In southern Germany, I have BTW heard Chile pronounced with a hard k as well.
    – jarnbjo
    Nov 18, 2018 at 15:33
  • Thanks for that /ki:le:/ which confirms the assumption that the addressed deviations in Bavarian and Austrian pronunciation MIGHT be a matter of OVER-generalization and a problem of orientation. Nov 22, 2018 at 10:46
  • I tried to contradict your over-generalization argument. Since there is no rule to pronounce German words starting with "chi" with a hard k, it can't be an over-generalization to pronounce China and Chile with a hard k. The few place names starting with Che or Chi are pronounced with a hard k in all areas of Germany, not only in Bavaria and Austria.
    – jarnbjo
    Nov 22, 2018 at 12:39
  • I thought it was pronounced /k/imäre?
    – Jan
    Dec 18, 2018 at 12:21
  • In my native Franconian I actually pronounce it Schimäre. Same goes for Chirurg, Chiropraktiker and probably a few others I cannot think of right now.
    – besc
    Dec 18, 2018 at 17:22

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.