I am learning Esperanto and I have come across the word "akvon" which of course means water. Something I find distressing is that the consonant cluster contains a voiceless and then a voiced consonant. As I would with Russian, I find that I make a "g" sound along with the "v" sound as it is more comfortable, but this isn't correct pronunciation. So this makes me wonder, why did Zamenhof have it that these combinations exist, even though it seems natural of languages like Slavic languages to not do this? Is pronunciation uniform across the community? Does anyone else have this problem? I almost want to say it like Akfon or Agvon.


It's just my guess, but I think Zamenhof wanted to find a compromise between conflicting principles:

  • the written form of the roots should be recognisable,
  • one letter should unambiguously correspond to one sound.

"Akvo" comes from Latin "aqua". Words such as "aqueduct" are written "акведук" in Russian, "akwedukt" in Polish, and written with "kv" in most other Slavic languages (as well as in Baltic, North Germanic and Finno-Ugric languages, for that matter). "Q" isn't used in Esperanto, so writing it with "qu", as in most Romance and West Germanic languages, wasn't an option anyway. I don't know of any popular languages that use the spelling "akua", "agva" or "akfa", so "kv" is the best choice here, if we want a recognisable word.

The pronunciation is a simple consequence of the "one letter, one sound" principle. But I think some people are unnecessarily taking it to the extreme. The pronunciation "agvo" or "akfo" is not wrong, it's simply not recommended:

En Esperanto ĝi povas konduki al miskomprenoj nur en vere malmultaj okazoj (subtaso - suptaso), do eble estu tolerata - sed ne rekomendinda [...] (Wells, J. 1978. Lingvistikaj aspektoj de Esperanto, p. 24)

So, there is really no problem if you pronounce "akvo" as "agvo" or "akfo". If you say a word that somebody is going to write down, using the recommended pronunciation will make it easier. But in the great majority of the cases, it doesn't matter if you make it voiced or not, and most people won't even notice.

  • You say акведук is "kv", you are right. Though that word is a borrowing word, so in its situation not always uniformly voiced. It does seem fairest that akvo is used so more people could recognize it, I forget that Zamenhof wanted the one sound per letter. I am glad that if I happen to say agvo it will not make it hard to understand. – MissDemeanor Nov 3 '16 at 16:12
  • @MissDemeanor "kw" in Polish "akwedukt" is not uniformly voiced either. But in both languages we have a letter representing the sound /k/, followed by a letter represeting the sound /v/. – miĥaŭ Nov 3 '16 at 16:18

It should also be noticed that the difference between sounds like bdg versus ptk is not only in the voicing in most languages. English, for instance, uses aspiration (an h-sound) after ptk to make them stand out more. Some languages even discard voicing altogether and use only aspiration to make the bdg/ptk distinction (notably Danish and Chinese).

But on top of that, ptk in most languages are also pronounced more energetically than bdg. Some dialects of German even rely on that distinction alone, rather than voicing or aspiration. "Ekzemple" may have a voiced "k" and still sound different from "egzemple", just as "absolute" may have an unvoiced "b" and still not be quite identical to "apsolute".

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