I've been reading a book by Ernst Robert Curtius, a 20th. cent. German philologist, and sources online suggest that Curtius is pronounced as "Court-zi-us." I'm wondering where that "z/s" sound after the "t" comes from, and why it's pronounced like that rather than "Court-ius"?



4 Answers 4


The same pronunciation also applies to the chemist Curtius and all others with the same surname.

In words of Latin origin that end in -tium, -tius, -tion, -tial, -tiell and others with the general pattern of ti + vowel, the t underwent softening in various degrees in different European languages. In English in a word such as nation, the ti is effecticely pronounced as if it were a sh. In French, the t turns into an /s/ sound so the result is something like [nasjõ]. In German, instead of turning into a full fricative like in English or French the resulting sound is an affricate /ts/.

In writing, the /ts/ sound is generally represented by the letter z in German. (The sound commonly represented by the letter z in English, /z/, is represented by a single s in German – but not all dialects use it.) So to a German, instead of saying ‘an s has been added’ the typical thought process would be ‘t turned into z’ – or possibly, since tz is another possible spelling for the /ts/ sound, ‘a z was added’.

In the 1996 spelling reform, this pronunciation was reflected in the spelling of a couple of words such as Potenzial which may now be spelt with z instead of t.


The name is pronounced like the word short "kurz", so the name is pronounced as [kʊʁt͡sius]. Here is an audio sample. https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/kurz#Pronunciation_2

The phenomenon responsible is called yod-coalescense. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phonological_history_of_English_consonant_clusters#Yod-coalescence here English examples, the only difference being that in German, t before i is pronounced like "ts".


In words of Latin origin, ti followed by another vowel is pronounced [tsi] as it was in post-classical Latin. Compare:



This is the way the combination ...ti*(other vowel)*... is pronounced in German. In this combination the "t" is pronounced as if it was a "z". There are a few words with this combination where the spelling was changed in the spelling reform from 1996, e.g. Potential became Potenzial, making the spelling matching the pronounciation, but many others are still written with "ti".
The question, why it is pronounciated like this is as useful or useless as to ask why in English the "ti" is pronounced like "sh", e.g. you write nation but pronounce it like *naysh'n".

  • They come from English backgroudn with "z as in pulveriZe". So your post is somewhat misleading, I think.
    – Dan
    Oct 11, 2019 at 14:28

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

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