Xenia is from what I understand a directly borrowed word from Greek. It didn't come through french first or anything, so I see no reason to pronounce is 'z'enia. Why not pronounce as it would be pronounce in Greek: 'ks'enia

  • 4
    Because pretty much everyone in the US pronounces it "zeen-e-uh".
    – Hot Licks
    Apr 27 '16 at 1:42
  • @HotLicks I've noticed this, that is why I ask
    – tox123
    Apr 27 '16 at 1:43
  • Well, that's how it's spelled, and when presented with an unfamiliar word most English speakers will attempt a phonetic pronunciation.
    – Hot Licks
    Apr 27 '16 at 1:47
  • @HotLicks but how should it be pronounced in English?
    – tox123
    Apr 27 '16 at 1:54
  • What does the dictionary say?
    – Hot Licks
    Apr 27 '16 at 2:01

We don't pronounce xenia with /ks/ because it would violate English phonotactics (the way sounds are put together in English words) and graphotactics (the partially regular relationship between sounds and spellings), and English speakers generally prioritize these above fidelity to Greek pronunciation.

English has its own sound system which does not allow words to start with /ks/. Imported words are generally changed to fit into this system. Furthermore, in this particular case, the Greek pronunciation is almost irrelevant, because there are only a few loanwords from Greek that English speakers got by listening to Greek speakers (e.g. gyro/gyros; even that often has spelling pronunciations). Most Greek loanwords in English, especially in technical fields, are derived from the written word (in particular, the Latin transcriptions of Greek words).

The Oxford English Dictionary says the word xenia, in the sense "A supposed direct action or influence of foreign pollen upon the seed or fruit which is pollinated," was taken into English from Latin xenia.

Most people pronounce rare Graeco-Latin words like this based on their spelling. The standard way to pronounce the letter "x" at the start of a word in English is /z/. The standard way to pronounce the letters "ia" at the end of a word is /iə/ or /ɪə/ (depending on the accent). The standard way to pronounce the letter "e" in the context eCia (where "C" stands for any single consonant letter that represents a single consonant sound) is /iː/. Put them together, you get /ziːniə/ or /ziːnɪə/. Most English speakers don't know what the pronunciation is in Greek; many of them don't care, and others (like me) don't see any reason why we should try to pronounce recent loan-words from Greek exactly like in the source language when there is a familiar pattern that has already been established by older Greek loan-words. The pronunciation of words already changes over time anyway; what's so bad about it changing in the transition between different languages?

Personal names are a different story. They are associated with individuals who are probably used to hearing a particular pronunciation. So English speakers often try to approximate foreign sounds in personal names. The extent to which people are capable of and willing to doing this varies, though.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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