5

German has two different ways to realise ch phonetically:

One way (let's call this the hard realisation) like in Kuchen, lachen and kochen is similar to the Spanish J. I have learned that this pronounciation takes place whenever the ch is proceeded by one of the vowels o, a or u. (according to what Andrew website says here.)

The other way (let's call this the soft realisation) like in lächeln, frech, sicher, Küche, köcheln, räuchern, euch, takes place when the ch occurs in the middle syllable or at the end of a word when it is proceeded by one of the vowels/diphthongs ö, ä, ü, i, e, eu, äu, oi. This realisation is similar (but different) to the english realisation of sh.

To my eye, durch and manchmal seem to be exceptions from these rules: There, the ch is proceeded by one of the vowels listed in the rule for the "hard" realisation of ch (a or u in these cases), but still the realisation of ch is "soft". Why does the ch pronunciation rule not occur for words such as durch and manchmal? Are the words durch, manchmal and manche that have the "soft" realisation of ch, exceptions from this rule? Is there any other exception for that?

  • 1
    It's completely unclear what you're asking about. Can you give some concrete examples (besides sch) when ch is pronounced differently please? – πάντα ῥεῖ Aug 10 at 9:42
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    That sounds completely wrong. English does not have the ch sound, both sh and kh would be wrong except in words like chameleon. – infinitezero Aug 10 at 9:46
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    dear @πάντα ῥεῖ! What kind of concrete examples? In first group "ch" is pronounced this way: 1- lächeln, euch, glücklich, etc. And in second group "ch" is pronounced this way: 2- lachen, machen, buch, etc. What about "ch" in "manchmal", "durch" and "manche" ?! – Armin Aug 10 at 10:37
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    dear @πάντα ῥεῖ , thanks! I know that they (durch, manchmal, manche) have the same pronunciation! The question is why they don't follow the above rule of coming after "dark vowels" in German? And is there any other exception to the rule or not? – Armin Aug 10 at 10:44
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    I edited the question to remove ambiguity. I wish others would do this, too, instead of just voting to close the question: Make some effort to understand the question and try to help in case the question could be put in a more understandable form. – jonathan.scholbach Aug 10 at 10:54
12

In your examples, the “ch” follows a consonant, the vowel before the consonant does not matter. After a consonant the pronunciation is like after a front vowel (like e).

And even though it was clear to me what you meant, the pronunciation of ch is rather different from English sh, and I am not even sure what pronunciation of English kh you had in mind.

  • 3
    @Armin german.stackexchange.com/questions/53754/… You're wrong about that. These are all pronounced the same. Are you failing to hear that regarding idiomatic fallacies / exceptions? – πάντα ῥεῖ Aug 10 at 10:40
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    This depends on dialect. For example, some Southern dialects realize durch as duach and the ch is the same as in ach. – Janka Aug 10 at 12:22
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    The r itself is special. It's either a consonant or the Tiefschwa vowel in German. In rch, it's a Tiefschwa, and the amount of vowelness depends on dialect. – Janka Aug 10 at 12:31
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    @CarstenS: das Englische kh wird häufig für die Transliteration des Frikativs [x​] (was also im Deutschen ch wie in lachen entspricht) benutzt. Beispiel Khashoggi, die englische Transliteration des arabischen Namens. Der Name wird in etwa "Cha-schu-dschi" und nicht etwa "Ka-schoggi" ausgesprochen. – 0xC0000022L Aug 10 at 15:45
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    @PaulFrost having been a couch-surfing host and having seen first hand how certain English native speakers don't seem to make much of an effort to pronounce (foreign) names correctly (Ragnar becomes "ranger" and some other names become totally unintelligible), I think you are probably right with that assessment. Having seen that gave me a clue why Chinese who deal internationally pick Western names ... – 0xC0000022L Aug 10 at 19:29
8

If [x] or [ç] has to be pronounced at the beginning of a syllable, it is always [ç]:

Mädchen [ˈmɛːtçən]

When it is not at the beginning, it is [x] only if it is immediately preceded by the sounds [a], [o], [ɔ], [u] or [ʊ].

In all other cases [ç] is the right choice. This does not only mean, that after the other vowels you have to use [ç], but also after all consonants.

(Note, that there are exceptions for swiss dialects, where [x] might beused when it has to be [ç] in standard German.)


Vowels (monophthongs) before [x] or [ç]

  • [i] → [ç]
    Viech [fiːç] (umgangssprachlich für Tier)
    siech [ziːç] (veraltet: sterbenskrank)
  • [ɪ] → [ç]
    ich [ɪç]
    mich [mɪç]
    völlig [ˈfœlɪç] (Note, That in most regions …ig at the end of a syllable is spoken as […ɪç])
    häufig [ˈhɔɪ̯fɪç]
  • [e] → ?
    no examples found for [x] or [ç] after [e]
  • [ɛ] → [ç]
    Gespräch [ɡəˈʃpʁɛːç]
    Pech [pɛç]
  • [a] → [x]
    nach [naːx]
    Bach [bax]
    Schach [ʃax]
  • [ɐ] → ?
    no examples found for [x] or [ç] after [ɐ]
  • [o] → [x]
    hoch [hoːx]
  • [ɔ] → [x]
    noch [nɔx]
    doch [dɔx]
    Koch [kɔx]
  • [u] → [x]
    Buch [buːx]
    Fluch [fluːx]
  • [ʊ] → [x]
    huch [hʊx] (Ausruf)
    Bruch [bʁʊx]
  • [y] → [ç]
    Bücher [ˈbyːçɐ]
  • [ʏ] → [ç]
    Küche [ˈkʏçə]
    schüchtern [ˈʃʏçtɐn]
  • [ø] → [ç]
    höchst [høːçst]
  • [œ] → [ç]
    Köchin [ˈkœçɪn]
    Töchter [ˈtœçtɐ]

Diphthongs

  • [aɪ̯] → [ç]
    reich [ʁaɪ̯ç]
    Teich [taɪ̯ç]
    Laich [laɪ̯ç]
  • [ɔɪ̯] → [ç]
    euch [ɔɪ̯ç]
    feucht [fɔɪ̯çt]
  • [aʊ̯] → [x]
    auch [aʊ̯x]
    Bauch [baʊ̯x]

Consonants

  • [l] → [ç]
    Dolch [dɔlç]
    Mulch [mʊlç]
  • [n] → [ç]
    manche [ˈmançə]
  • [ʁ] → [ç]
    Arche [ˈaʁçə]
    durch [dʊʁç]
    Furcht [fʊʁçt]
    Storch [ʃtɔʁç]

There seem to be no German words with consonants other than [l], [n] and [ʁ] before [x] or [ç] within the same syllable.

  • I have to correct your final remark. In German diminutives are formed by adding "chen" (or "lein", but that is irrelevant here) and this gives plenty of other examples: Stäbchen, Rädchen, ... – Paul Frost Aug 10 at 17:08
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    @PaulFrost: I was talking about sounds within the same syllable. »…chen« is a syllable that starts with ch, so there is no consonant before it. I edited my last sentence to make it more clear. – Hubert Schölnast Aug 10 at 20:05
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    you are talking about written consonants. nut I all the time was talkin about spoken consonants. Btw.: C before ch: Zucchini (neither [ç] nor [x]), Saccharose (1. c is silent). H before ch: frühchristlich (not in same syllable), Fernsehchef (not in same syllable). Y before ch: Psyche, Triptychon, Bodycheck, Hobbychemiker (all: not in same syllable) – Hubert Schölnast Aug 10 at 20:18
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    Thank you for clarification. But then you should delete "manche" and "Arche" from your list and replace them for example by "manchmal" and "Patriarch". Moreover it seems to me that most words containing a syllable ending with a consonant + [ç] have declined forms in which the [ç] occurs at the beginning of a new syllable which could be an explanation for its pronounciaton according to your Initial rule. For example: Dolch -> Dolche, Patriarch -> Patriarchen. Of course this cannot happen for prepositions, but the only example seems to be "durch". – Paul Frost Aug 11 at 8:03
  • @PaulFrost parse Rä-dchen or Rädch-en. The Gretchenfrage is how individual realisations influence the sonority pattern; Grätsche certainly has a tsch-sound, word final /d t/ are mostly not voiced or aspirated and thus indistinct anyway; Hühnchen is hard to conceive of as having a cluster nch, but Mulch works fine; München is not even diminutive but becomes munich anyway to separate the cluster; Radischen, radish shows a preference to cluster. I maintain there's no initial /x/. If you strongly segment, you have to posit an unwritten glottalstop, 'chen, like 'Arbeit. – vectory Aug 12 at 20:25
2

As a native speaker, I was surprised during my research how complicated ch-pronounciation can get. There are actually 5 different ways to pronounce ch in German!

The many dialects do not help, for example Swiss German replaces basically every ch with [x] or [χ]. I have even heard something like Chemie with [kχ] on a Swiss Youtube channel.

However I think I was able to condense what I found for standard German into a reasonably simple algorithm:

Algorithm for determining ch-pronounciation

Preparation: Convert verbs to their base form (e. g. Du lachst. -> lachen; Machs gut! -> machen).

Then check the following cases, listed in descending priority:

  1. Exceptions and Proper Names, for example:
    • Chemie or China: standard [ç], southern germany also [k], colloquially [ ​ʃ ]
    • Chiemsee (lake); Chemnitz, Cham (cities): [k]
    • Diminutive -chen: [ç]
    • ...
  2. Foreign Words, for example:
    • French & Portugese: [​ ʃ ]
    • English & Spanish: [ t​ʃ ]
    • Italian & Greek: usually [k], in scholarly contexts may need to skip to next step
    • ...
  3. ch before s is pronounced [k]
  4. ch after velar vocals (a, o, u, au) is pronounced [x] or [χ]. No difference is made between the two.
  5. else ch is pronounced [ç].

Examples

  • Du wachst is first converted to wachen (to guard). Wachen is no exception, no proper name, no foreign word, has no ch before s, but a velar a before the ch. Therefore the pronounciation of du wachst is [x] or [χ].
  • Du wachst may also convert to wachsen (to wax). Wachsen is no exception, no proper name, no foreign word but has a ch before s. Therefore, with this meaning, du wachst is pronounced with [k].
  • Du wächst converts to wachsen (to grow). The argument is the same as above in wachsen (to wax) and so pronounciation in du wächst is [k].
  • Durch is not a verb and therefore need not be converted. It is no exception or proper name, not a foreign word, has no ch before s, has no ch after velar vocal and therefore is pronounced [ç].
  • Manchmal follows the same pattern as durch and is therefore pronounced [ç].
  • Chöre is a noun and need not be converted. It is not a listed exception or proper name, but is a foreign word as it derives from Greek Chor. Since Chor is probably not used in a scholarly context pronounciation is [k].
  • Gnocchi is a noun and need not be converted. It is not a listed exception or proper name, but is a foreign word and derives from Italian. Since this is not a scholarly word, pronounciation with [k] is in order. Of course, the word should be pronounced [ˈɲɔkːi] to avoid upsetting your Italian friends ;)
  • Chip is an English word and therefore pronounced with [ t​ʃ ].
  • Champignon is a French word and should therefore be pronounced with [ ʃ ].
  • Bronchien (part of the lungs) is a scholarly used Greek word and skips the step assigning [k] to Greek words. Since in Bronchien ch is not before s or after a velar vocal, it should be pronounced [ç].
  • Brachiosarus is a scholarly Greek word. It skips the usual step for Greek words and defers to step 4, because the velar vocal a appears before the ch. Pronounciation therefore is [x] or [χ].
  • Autochen (diminutive of Auto) is pronounced [ç] according to the diminutive exception in case 1.

Sources

Main source for this was the German Wikipedia:

Ch (Digraph)

I tried to organize its info into a coherent and logical form.

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