0

In German "ch" is pronounced in at least three different ways depending on context. It could be pronounced more like a K like in "Charakter" and in the two other forms which I cannot describe in English. The second probably close to "ish" as in "English". I thought the third way does not at all exist in English.

Then I heard this song:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=APTR1zjp2OA&ab_channel=MelissaSings

In which the singer interestingly pronounces "Loch" very close to how a German would pronounce it. A German would not pronounce the k but since the singer does pronounce the "h" I wonder if there is a common origin in the pronunciation of "ch"

Edit: I am aware that the word "Loch" exists in German and has propably nothing to do with the "Loch" the singer sings about. This is how a german would pronouce it.

17
  • Compare English cheese and German käse
    – TimR
    Jan 8 at 21:41
  • 2
    @Niclas Wikipedia has relevant answers. In Old High German, /k/ > /x/ (e.g. maken > machen). This change did not happen in Low German and Dutch, which have maken.
    – Arfrever
    Jan 8 at 22:53
  • 2
    Don't expect English to be consistent with the pronunciation of borrowed words: many English speakers will pronoun machete as if the "ch" is French rather than Spanish, and pistachio as if the "ch" is Spanish rather than Italian.
    – Henry
    Jan 8 at 22:54
  • 5
    Old English had voiced and unvoiced velar fricatives /x/ and /ɣ/. /x/ survives in Scots but not in English. "Loch" is Scots and Standard Scottish English, not standard English; southern British speakers of English often struggle to pronounce it.
    – Stuart F
    Jan 8 at 23:00
  • 1
    @Niclas English had [x] and [ç] consonants until Middle English period. Both were spelt as ⟨gh⟩ in Middle English period, and ⟨h⟩ in Old English period. Spelling with ⟨gh⟩ remains in Modern English, although consonants were lost. E.g. Old English niht / Middle English night was pronounced as [niçt] (like modern Germans would pronounce *Nicht).
    – Arfrever
    Jan 8 at 23:06

1 Answer 1

3

English orthography is ... a mess. This is at least in part because English has evolved from so many constituent parts, with primary contributions from the Anglo-Saxon, Viking/Norse, and Norman invasions, and borrowings from dozens of other languages.

It therefore doesn't make sense to take a letter or set of letters and try to trace their use to a single origin.

The example you give is a clear case of this: loch is not an Anglo-Saxon or Norman word, but borrowed from Scottish Gaelic.

The song itself (contrary to the title on the video) is written in Scots, which is either a dialect of English or separate but related language, depending who you ask (but definitely not a Celtic language). Speakers of both Scots and Scottish English regularly use a voiceless velar fricative, which is what that particular use of "ch" is representing.

In other varieties of English, the sound is rare, and the borrowed word is likely to be pronounced almost identically to "lock" unless someone is attempting an "authentic" pronunciation.

Meanwhile, an alternative spelling is "lough", using the orthography of Irish English where "gh" stands for the same sound. This highlights another key point; you say:

I wonder if there is a common origin in the pronunciation of "ch"

But pronunciation nearly always precedes (or develops independently of) spelling; so the question you should be asking is "is there a common origin in this spelling of the velar fricative?"

In the earliest use of the Latin alphabet for Old English (a purely Germanic language), the sound was generally spelled as "h", e.g. "brōhte". That became modern English "brought" - the "gh" is now silent, but originally represented a similar sound, as it does in the spelling "lough".

So the spelling of "loch" appears to come directly from the standard orthography of Scottish Gaelic, not according to any common rule of Germanic spelling. That doesn't rule out an influence from German usage when choosing how to spell it in English, but it suggests against a common origin as such.

2
  • "In other varieties of English, the sound is rare, and the borrowed word is likely to be pronounced almost identically to "lock" unless someone is attempting an "authentic" pronunciation." The scots-like pronunciation of loch is pretty common in Southern England, where I grew up (London) and live (Bristol). In Wales even more so: Welsh has the same consonant, also represented by "ch", in plenty of common words (e.g. bach = small). Some of these words are used in English spoken in Wales (and not just in place names) so even non-Welsh-speakers are familiar with the sound and use it
    – Chris H
    Jan 9 at 8:43
  • Despite the mess, there is organization.
    – Lambie
    Jan 9 at 14:30

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.