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How does one pronounce loch? I understand this is a term borrowed from the Scots. Dictionaries are not very helpful with the last syllable. What is the closest English mapping of ch?

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Since the Scottish phoneme isn't "native" to Brits, we generally just say LOK. Personally I think it's a bit of an affectation to emulate the Scottish pronunciation - I don't mind giving their word a pied-a-terre south of the border, but if we do, we're entitled to Anglicise it. – FumbleFingers Mar 15 '12 at 4:38
So the Scots and Welsh aren't Brits? – Wudang Mar 15 '12 at 13:40
@Wudang: It's complicated. They are Brits but they aren't really. Outside of the UK they're fairly British, inside they're definitely not English. FumbleFingers showed that people inside (er...the English that is) kinda don't think of them as British (or Brits; maybe that's different?) See What is the difference between British and English? for more. Oh. You're Scottish? Then frankly I don't know anything. – Mitch Mar 15 '12 at 14:04
That's an interesting observation about dictionaries. In my experience, Foreign languages that have the velar fricative (a 'throat-clearing' sound) tend to say "pronounce it like the 'ch' in Scottish 'loch'", presuming that everyone knows that already even though it is not natural to English. – Mitch Mar 15 '12 at 14:09
The phoneme 'ch' of 'loch' is generally replaced by 'k', since that is the English phoneme that sounds closest to 'ch' to English-speaking ears. This fact was very surprising to at least one German I spoke to, so I guess Germans hear 'ch' and 'k' as quite different sounds. – Peter Shor Mar 15 '12 at 23:14
up vote 8 down vote accepted

In Scottish English, it is a voiceless velar fricative /x/. In other dialects, it is realized as a voiceless velar stop /k/. That's how all foreign sounds are nativized--this is called loanword phonology in the literature.

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Surely you don't mean that you replace all foreign sounds by the voiceless velar stop /k/. They're often replaced by the nearest English phoneme (when we don't use the spelling pronunciation), and I think the OP's question was which phoneme was closest to /x/. – Peter Shor Mar 15 '12 at 23:19
This seems correct to me. It's just an affectation for non-Scottish speakers to replicate the /x/ which is not native to their phoneme set. A bit inconvenient in this case, because non-Scots happen to have an existing word lock which can also be an area of water - much smaller, because it's usually just part of a canal, but it's not ideal. So most non-Scots don't distinguish the two words - but if we have to, we can always articulate something close enough to /x/ that it's obvious we mean the Scottish "lake" (most of us don't know/use the secondary "arm of the sea" meaning anyway). – FumbleFingers Mar 16 '12 at 2:54

Dictionary.com says that it's pronounced lok or logh (try listening to the audio clip; it will help you understand what I mean by logh).

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Your problem is that there is NO direct equivalent in normal English pronunciation.

I can agree that it can sound affected to try to follow too closely the native pronunciation. I say 'Chile' not 'Chilay' and 'Paris' not 'Paree'.

It is 100% acceptable to pronounce 'loch' just as 'lock', but I think that I do tend to soften it just a little, ending in that 'chh' sound rather than the hard 'k'.

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Well this Scot agrees with you but also reserves the right to poke fun at anyone pronouncing it thus. ;-) +1 – Wudang Mar 15 '12 at 13:42
Wait, what's the difference in pronunciation between "Chile" and "Chilay"? Surely you don't say /chili/ for the country? – Marthaª Mar 15 '12 at 16:53
There's always /chy-ul/. :D – cornbread ninja 麵包忍者 Mar 15 '12 at 19:26
@Martha: I assume he's from England, where, unlike Americans, they make no attempt to pronounce Spanish words correctly. (Whereas we try, but often fail.) – Peter Shor Mar 16 '12 at 12:28

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