LINGUIST List 6.555

Thu 13 Apr 1995

Sum: Cheb & [+foreign]

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  1. , Sum: Cheb & [+foreign]

Message 1: Sum: Cheb & [+foreign]

Date: Mon, 10 Apr 1995 22:38:26 Sum: Cheb & [+foreign]
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Subject: Sum: Cheb & [+foreign]

A long time ago I posted a query as to why Germans pronounce the name of the
Czech border town Cheb with an initial affricate [tSep], rather than with /k/
[kep] or a velar fricative [Cep], as one would expect in German words like
"Chemie". The responses proved more numerous and interesting than I'd
expected, and they expanded into the general matter of default phonology of
words marked [+foreign]. I will first deal with the matter of "Cheb", and
then move to the more general issues.

The general consensus on "Cheb" was that:

1. German has no domestic words that begin with a velar fricative, so any
word beginning with the diagraph (ch) tends to be construed as foreign.

2. English is the [+foreign] default language and Germans tend to pronounce
unfamiliar foreignisms by its spelling rules.

3. Aiding and abetting the above are the initial affricate in German words
for things Czech, e.g., Tschechisch [tSeCiS] "Czech", and and a prewar trend
toward Gaullicized pronunciation of initial (ch) as /S/. (This might
indicate an interesting shift in which a change in cultural models, from
France to the US and Britain, has even extended to phonology.)

According to Petra Vogel (pmvogelrzserv.rz.Uni-Osnabrueck.DE), this
Anglicized reading of unfamiliar words can even extend to a German place

)There is a little town called "Cham" in the East of Bavaria, not far from
)the Czech border. I am myself from Bavaria and I pronounce it with a stop
)[k]. But friends of mine from Northern Germany (Hamburg) would always
)pronounce it with a affricate.

Vogel also accounts for the unfamiliarity of velar-fricative-initial words in

)Das Problem ist, dass es kein EINZIGES deutsches Wort gibt, das mit ch
)anlautet, alle sind griechschen, franzoesischen, englischen usw. >Ursprungs.
Das liegt daran, dass es zwar im Germanischen den Frikativ)gegeben hat, der
aber im Deutschen zum Hauchlaut h geworden ist. Zwar)ist ja durch die zweite
Lautverschiebung ein neuer velarer Frikativ)entstanden, aber nur im INLAUT
und eben nicht im Niederdeutschen Gebiet. )Meines Erachtens handelt es sich
wirklich um zunehmenden Einfluss durch)das Englische, der zum Tragen kommt,
wenn man Orte und ihre aussprache)nicht kennt, wie im Falle des
tschechischen Cheb oder von Cham, das fuer)meine Hamburger Bekannten
ebenfalls unbekannt war.

While he disagrees with the possibility of decisive English influence,
Friedrich Heberlein ( gives an interesting
political angle on the matter. Notice, however, that he he mentions that
Germans using the current Czech place names (e.g., "Cheb", rather than German
"Eger") are more likely to be from the former East Germany than from Bavaria.
 My perception while living in Cheb county, however, was that most
non-Bavarian Germans, East or West, used the Czech names. Here are
Heberlein's comments:

)Die Erklaerung fuer die Aussprache Cheb [Tscheb] liegt meines Wissens
)im politisch-historischen Bereich:
)1. In Westdeutschland hat man nach dem Krieg die deutschen Ortsnamen
)fuer die boehmischen Staedte weitgehend beibehalten; anders dagegen
)in der DDR, wo die Verwendung der tschechischen Namen auch in der
)Alltagskommunikation vorgeschrieben war (ebenso der ungarischen,
)rumaenischen etc.). Wenn man also jemand spontan diese Stadt Cheb
)nennen hoert, ist es ziemlich sicher, dass er aus Ostdeutschland
)(Sachsen) kommt und nicht aus Bayern.
)2. In Deutschland war fuer Fremdwoerter, die mit Ch- anlauten, vor
)dem Krieg eine "franzoesisierende" Aussprache weit verbreitet (China
)[Schina], Chemie [(T)schemie] etc.); sie hat sich in der DDR
)weitgehend erhalten und ist auch heute noch fuer viele Ostdeutsche
)charakteristisch; daher auch Cheb = [Scheb / Tscheb].
)3. Ein Einfluss des Englischen ist somit unwahrscheinlich. Im Westen,
)wo die Neigung zur anglisierenden Aussprache der Fremdwoerter
)tatsaechlich stark verbreitet ist, ist der tschechische Name
)weiterhin ungebraeuchlich, Im Osten dagegen war Englisch als
)"feindliche" Sprache wenig verbreitet.
)Schoenen Gruss,
)Fritz Heberlein, Eichstaett / Bavaria (ca. 60 miles south of Cheb)

Achim Stenzel ( supported the English influence

)I am not at all surprised about your experiences. Being a native speaker
)of German myself, I would always tend to pronounce the letters CH, in an
)unknown language, as an alveodental affricate. This is what English and
)Spanish tell us, and the proliferate transliterations of Slavic names in
)English texts (Chernobyl etc.). Thus we simply do not expect >pronunciation
rules of German to apply to other lgs as well.

As did Martin Haspelmath (

)English is so widespread and well-known in Germany that it's almost
)possible to say that we have a diglossic situation, with English as the H
)variety, and German as the L variety.

The following people had interesting comments on foreign default
pronunciation in general.

Claude Boisson (

)I notice similar cases all the time in French, where :
)(1) Many people (pseudo-)anglicize the pronunciation of foreign words. >For
instance German (w) pronounced /w/, as if it were English, and not >/v/.
 English (or what passes for it) is taken as the standard for anything
)foreign, with the caveat of (2) below, and probably some other cases.
)(2) There is often total confusion between Spanish, Italian and >Portuguese.
 For instance, Spanish (c) before >e>, etc., may be treated as >if it were
Italian, and pronounced with the affricate /tS/. But to make)matters worse,
English is often thrown in, so that, for instance, (Rio de)Janeiro> is
pronounced with /dZ/ as in English (judge), and not with the >correct
Portuguese /Z/ (English, French (rouge)).
)(3) When languages are written with a script other than the Roman >system,
such as Russian, the various transliterations cause problems.)The
traditional French transliteration has (Solje'nitsyne). But this is
)interpreted as having a (j> /j/, so that many people say /soljenitsin/
)instead of /solZenitsin/.

Patrick Mather (

)I know of a similar case, and indeed much more generalized: French->speaking
Canadians almost invariably pronounce foreign words,)especially germanic
words, as they would an English word. For example,)it is not uncommon for
French-Canadians to pronounce "Frankfurt" exactly)as an American would, even
though the French name for this city is)"Francfort". Similarly, words like
"iceberg", "Hamburger", etc. are all)pronounced as they would be in English;
in France on the other hand,)where there are also many English loanwords,
their pronunciation is)always adapted to French phonology.

)This state of affairs is best explained by sociological motivations:
)French-Canadians have been dominated economically (and politically) for
)over 2 centuries by the British, and by English-speaking Canadians, which
)they always thought of as foreigners. Furthermore, for a very long time,
)immigrants to Quebec province would assimilate into the English->speaking
minority instead of with French-Canadians. The result is this:
)consciously or unconsciously, French-Canadians behave as though all
)foreigners are English-speaking (as opposed to themselves, who are
)French-speaking), so it follows that all foreign-looking words and
)loanwords should be pronounced like English words. The effects of this
)are extensive: although all French-Canadians use the French uvular
)fricative R in native french words, they ALL use the English approximant
)r when pronouncing English/germanic foreign words. So in fact, their
)phonetic inventory includes the English R, even though its use is

Mark Hansell (

)This is quite a common phenomenon: in the USA the "default foreign
)language" is French. Words of any origin can be pronounced according to
)French reading rules, for example "Beijing", which is widely pronounced
)with a palato-alveolar fricative as the intial of the second syllable,
)rather than the affricate which one would expect from either English or
)Chinese reading rules. Spanish words with initial (ch> are often
)pronounced as fricatives rather than affricates, again (seemingly) >because
of French influence. It seems that for may speakers there is a)single
feature [+foreign] that is applied to a word, which then activates)all the
characteristics associated with whatever the default foreign)language is.

Steven Schaufele (

)Another example that springs to mind of the same sort of thing is the
)common English pronunciation of the name 'Punjab' as 'Poon-jahb'.
)Etymologically, the name is 'Five Rivers', and the first syllable is
)with 'punch', in the sense of a mixed beverage combining five ingredi-
)ents. The Romanization 'Punjab' was deliberately chosen to suggest to
)the English speaker that the first syllable should be pronounced with a
)schwa, like the native English word 'pun'. Unfortunately, we all recog-
)nize the word as a foreign place-name, and the reflex to rely on the or-
)thography/phonolgy associations characteristic of Western Continental
)European languages clicks in; in this case, those associations (especial-
)ly in German and Italian -- French being the odd one out because of its
)diacritic-less front rounded vowels) lead from the letter 'u' to the
)vowel in the word 'loon'. Thus, a conventional Romanization deliberately
)chosen to facilitate the pronunciation of the word by English-speakers
)leads to a characteristic misspelling thereof.

It should be noted (as someone on the list did recently) that such [+foreign]
default pronunciation systems are often applied erroneously to words from
their source languages. One example given on the list recently was the
mistaken palatalization of /n/ in Spanish "empanada" by North Americans who
are aware that the language has such a phoneme. A former co-worker of mine,
cognizant of the final /e/ in French words like "ballet", used to pronounce
"tete-a-tete" as [tejatej]. I have heard Americans pronounce the surname of
jazz musician Joe Venuti as [venutSi], by analogy with names like Carducci.
 The most common Czech pronunciation of "Chicago" is [tSi-'kae:-go] (/ae/ =
low front vowel, as in "tag"), because someone somewhere evidently once
figured that English (ch) is pronounced [tS] and Americans "always" pronounce
(a) as /ae/. Czech students are also often taught to pronounce "sweater" the
same as "sweeter", apparently by analogy with words like "eat".

Thanks also to the others who contributed: Jane A. Edwards
(edwardscogsci.Berkeley.EDU), John Koontz (,
Bernhard Rohrbacher (, Gary Toops

James Kirchner
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