English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

What is the origin in a strong Scouse accent of the phoneme /k/ in all positions of a word except the beginning being realised as /x/ or sometimes /kx/?

Has this charateristic been taken from a different language?

share|improve this question
Please can you provide examples of words that do this? – Matt E. Эллен Apr 2 '11 at 10:02
the word 'like' is a common example – nicholas ainsworth Apr 2 '11 at 11:56
the name Nick is another – nicholas ainsworth Apr 2 '11 at 12:01
Oh! I see, thanks. – Matt E. Эллен Apr 2 '11 at 13:39
up vote 6 down vote accepted

This is a common phonological process known as lenition. For this to occur in a dialect of English, one does not require contact with or influence from another language.

Allophonic variation between [k] and [x] is something that can easily spring up naturally. Both /k/ and /x/ are articulated in the same place in the mouth and both are voiceless; the only difference between the two sounds is that /k/ is a stop (or plosive), while /x/ is a fricative. So, the relationship between /k/ and /x/ is analogous to that of /t/ and /s/, or /p/ and /f/.

When you articulate a stop, you bring your tongue to the roof of your mouth and make a full closure. When you articulate a fricative, you only make a partial closure, such that the small space causes frication. So the lenition path (stop to fricative) is simply an "opening" of the sound, i.e. an early relaxing of the tongue.

In Standard English, (basically) anytime the /k/ sound is made, a full closure is maintained during the entire consonant. In Scouse, when you get [kx], an affricate, the speaker makes a full closure for only part of the time (the [k]) but allows the tongue to open more during the latter half of the consonant sound (the [x]). When the sound is only [x], the speaker never quite makes the full closure — so this is an even further progression of the lenition process.

Lenition over time is one way that a consonant can gradually change into a completely different sound. So, for example, the biggest difference between Spanish estudiar and French étudier is the lack of /s/ in French; this "s" used to be present, but was lost through diachronic lenition (— Argentinian Spanish is beginning to lose their /s/ through lenition as well — turning it into [h] for the time being).

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

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