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A moment ago on Mr. Sunshine, Matthew Perry pronounced the end of a conch shell as in church. I learned it as being pronounced with a k sound.

On WikiPedia, both are listed as pronunciations, but on the Merriam Webster and Dictionary.com sites, the audio clip pronounces with a k.

Is there a proper or official pronunciation, perhaps from a different, originating language?

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What is this "official" you speak about, earthling? –  Colin Fine Mar 3 '11 at 12:02
    
So, when you watch the movie (either one) Lord of the Flies, are you cringing in your seat from the pronunciation? –  GEdgar Oct 25 '11 at 15:41
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6 Answers 6

My scuba diving adventures have taken me to many places where conch is a delicacy, served raw, fried, and so forth, and in all cases it is pronounced "conk" by the locals.

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According to the most official source we have in English, the dictionary, both pronunciations are valid.

The pronunciation of a borrowed word in the originating language has no bearing on the "proper" pronunciation of the word in English. However, the word conch comes from Latin concha, which would have been pronounced /konkʰa/ in Latin (to my knowledge). The raised "h" represents an aspirated /k/ sound, and it is different from both of the /tʃ/ and /k/ sounds suggested in the dictionary. As it happens, we also sometimes have an aspirated-k (kʰ) in English — however, we do it word-initially and in stressed syllables (only), and never in non-word-initial unstressed syllables. So, the unaspirated-k at the beginning of that word and the aspirated-k in the second syllable are reversed with respect to the natural English pronunciation (i.e. /kʰonka/ would follow English aspiration rules), and so pronouncing the word in the Latin way would sound quite odd mixed in with normal English speech.

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An insignificant note: the Romans took it from Greek. In the Greek word, the n was a gamma and was pronounced like English ng, just as the n in English nk—so not like the regular n. The Romans normally approximated Greek pronunciation (they even used two special, non-Latin letters: Y and Z; similarly, the combinations eu, oe, ps, th, ph, and ch were mostly either for Greek loan words or (archaic) dialect). Besides, they would have pronounced nc like English nk in any case. I wasn't sure whether you meant the n sound or the ng sound; you appeared to mean n, since you used IPA symbols elsewhere. –  Cerberus Mar 3 '11 at 12:23
    
@Cerberus: I simplified the IPA to focus on the relevant parts. I also didn't change the vowels, which, for English would certainly be something like [kʰɔŋkə]. I didn't quite get what you mean about "they would have pronounced nc like English nk in any case" — it is "nch" not just "nc"... but maybe I am confused about what you were referring to there. Anyway, you are right that the Romans got it from the Greek; it's worth pointing out! –  Kosmonaut Mar 3 '11 at 14:09
    
@Kosmonaut: Oh, you're right: your /kʰonka/ for English should have made that clear to me. My apologies. What I meant to say about nc was that it was always pronounced /ŋk/, whether followed by h or not, because n was pronounced /ŋ/ before any velar consonant (just as the gamma was in Greek). –  Cerberus Mar 3 '11 at 15:03
    
Basically, the only reason they chose to spell gamma-chi as nch in Latin (which was also the only possible reason) was that they normally used n when they wanted to signify /ŋ/ before the other velar consonants: it was the obvious choice. –  Cerberus Mar 3 '11 at 15:11
    
@Cerberus: Okay, got it! You just meant the n->ŋ place assimilation would occur in Latin (like it does in English), which in this case masks the difference between /n/ and /ŋ/ when converting from Greek. –  Kosmonaut Mar 3 '11 at 15:18
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It is pronounced like conk I know from living on an island that has a main export of conch and having it in almost every meal

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Now that you mention it, a recent episode of Top Chef used conch as the main ingredient and every single person (four contestants, four judges, and several guests) all pronounced it “conk”. –  Synetech Mar 22 '11 at 0:15
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The New Oxford American Dictionary lists three:

conch |kä ng k; kän ch; kô ng k|

Or kahnk, kahnch, kawnk.

Take your pick. They're not making it easy.

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Dang, I was hoping it derives from another language (Hawaiian?) that would make give a conclusive pronunciation. –  Synetech Mar 3 '11 at 3:09
    
@Synetech inc.: It derives from the Latin concha; I doubt that can help for the pronunciation of the word, though. –  kiamlaluno Mar 3 '11 at 3:16
    
Well, I speak Spanish and doing some pronunciation comparison (Spanish & English for word conch), kahnch sounds more acceptable and accurate. Not sure if that actually helps. –  Omega Mar 3 '11 at 4:33
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I believe words with ch that come from Greek are normally pronounced /k/, like archaeology, chorus, chemistry, and Achilles. I can't think of any that aren't. The reason is probably that, as Kosmonaut has explained, it was pronounced /kʰ/ in classical Greek and Latin (or perhaps /k/ in Latin; note that Latin only had ch in Greek loan words).

The Oxford English Dictionary gives both pronunciations, so both are acceptable; but I'd personally prefer /k/ as the more idiomatic one.

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In American English, the word is pronounced /kɑntʃ/; in British English, the pronunciation is /kɒŋk/, /kɒn(t)ʃ/.

The pronunciation you expected (with the final k, as in /kɒŋk/) is just one of the possible pronunciations, and it is not the pronunciation I hear on Long Island.

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Well, I went to school in Canada, and that’s where I first heard it, in second grade. Matthew Perry was born in Massachusetts, but grew up in Ottawa, then moved to L.A. at 15. I suppose he could have heard the word for the first time when he was older in America. –  Synetech Mar 3 '11 at 3:41
    
Hearing conch pronounced like church somehow makes it sound “American”, as though the speaker is less educated, similar to when (and I’ve only ever heard Americans pronounce it like this) the second ‘g’ in garage is said as ‘j’ (as in jump) as opposed to the ‘zh’ sound that everyone else uses. –  Synetech Mar 3 '11 at 4:41
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The NOAD reports that /ɡəˈrɑʒ/ is the pronunciation of garage in American English, while /ˈgarɑː(d)ʒ/ (or /ˈgarɑːɪdʒ/, or /gəˈrɑːʒ/) is the British pronunciation. It is probable one of the pronunciations is closer to the French pronunciation. –  kiamlaluno Mar 3 '11 at 4:56
    
From Ngrams, the American pronunciation is roughly 50/50 split between /kɑntʃ/ and /kɑŋk/, while the British pronunciation is usually /kɒn(t)ʃ/ (you can tell from whether the plural is conches or conchs). –  Peter Shor Nov 30 '11 at 12:21
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protected by RegDwigнt Sep 3 '12 at 20:56

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