The way people explain the pronunciation of the Ĥ letter is rather confusing. The sources I've seen explained it in two very different ways:

1) Like the German CH (like in Sternchen), which is in the aforementioned case a sort of "light" or dampened Ŝ.

2) Like the French R or the Hebrew ר (resh), shown in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yNJtAibUeOc.

Those are very different pronunciations, so, how is the Ĥ letter actually pronounced?

  • Loch Ness. might be more known in English. – Joop Eggen Sep 18 at 13:29
  • Or the yiddish chutzpah (audacity). The Russian h. – Joop Eggen Sep 18 at 13:36
up vote 2 down vote accepted

For those who don't already speak a dozen languages or who have trouble with IPA descriptions, it's easy just to think of of it this way. Ĥ is a heavy H.

If you're not sure what that means, there are plenty of good videos on YouTube which include the Esperanto Alphabet. This video seems like as good a one as any to start with.


Edit: I received a comment elsewhere that "heavy H" is not helpful, at least to some people. Please be sure to notice the video link in the answer above. By "heavy" I actually mean that there is a restriction in the back of the throat, about where the letter K is pronounced. (I am intentionally avoiding the anatomical terms because most English speakers don't even notice a difference between a palatal k and a velar k.)

  • Once again, an answer was downvoted without comment. Please have some courage in your convictions and leave a comment with what is incorrect or could be improved with the answer. As an experienced teacher of Esperanto, I can tell you that this explanation works for most people. – Tomaso Alexander Aug 6 '17 at 10:50
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    Sorry. I downvoted it, because the ‘heavy H’ is indeed unhelpful. It's good that you're trying to avoid technical terminology, but ⟨ĥ⟩ is not simply a stronger version of ⟨h⟩. It doesn't answer the question, because with ‘heavy H’ I would not know how to pronounce ⟨ĥ⟩. The video is very helpful though for a pronunciation in context! EDIT: When trying several times making a really forceful ⟨h⟩, I did kind of get to ⟨ĥ⟩ (or more [χ̠ʰ] or something), but that may be because I already can make [x] natively and I just tended towards that. – Joffysloffy Aug 6 '17 at 17:35
  • If you were to ask me face to face how to pronounce Ĥ and I said "it's a heavy H like this - /Ĥ/ " -- I'm not sure how you could say that didn't answer the question. My answer is basically "it's a heavy H and see this video to understand what I mean." If the video was wrong, then I could see downvoting it. – Tomaso Alexander Aug 6 '17 at 18:30
  • Right, but the ‘heavy H’ part doesn't really add anything, as I argued before. Therefore your answer basically becomes ‘like this: <video>’, which is somewhat helpful because it shows the correct sound, but just hearing the sound in a video is not sufficient to know how to make this sound. Hence I stand by my downvote. – Joffysloffy Aug 6 '17 at 18:42
  • To anybody reading along, that was exactly the point. The question was "is Ĥ pronounced like /ʁ/ in this video" and the answer was "no, like in this video." Clarifications available upon request. – Tomaso Alexander Aug 6 '17 at 19:00

I guess you got terrible sources. :/

You just have to check the Fundamento for this:

So you have to hear the difference between ĥ (a voiceless velar fricative) and different r. The "french r" is a voiced uvular fricative. (Which is also the most common pronunciation for resh in hebrew.) The "german r" is an voiced uvular trill. (I added it because it is often miscalled a french r because it is guttural.)

  • The problem is that there are regional accents. What we're told in Switzerland is that the pronunciation of Sternchen and Ich are the same, that is, as i described. Sternchen is no exception. And also that Nacht is pronounced with a sort of french R sound. The other problem is that the HX sound is difficult to find well recorded, so that you don't hear much when you hear it... If you have a clear recording of the sound in context, please let me know!. – Spooikypok_Dev Aug 5 '17 at 22:42
  • This answer does a good job of explaining why there are confusing explanations. It seems to stop short, however, of actually answering the question. The question, as I read it, was "which explanation is correct?" The answer is /x/. (If most French speakers pronounce Ĥ as /ʁ/, then most French speakers speak with a French pronunciation and not an international one.) For sure the "resh" video does not demonstrate a good Ĥ sound. – Tomaso Alexander Aug 6 '17 at 11:13
  • @TomasoAlexander If the question is "which explanation is correct", I think I did a good explanation: none of them. I think you read my answer too quickly and confused r with ĥ. The explanation 2 is incorrect because it shows a way to do r (the french way), not how to do ĥ. – Vanege Aug 7 '17 at 17:11
  • @Vanege - Please pardon me if I'm reading it wrong, but I don't see where you answer whether the correct way is /x/ or /ʁ/. – Tomaso Alexander Aug 7 '17 at 19:55
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    Sternchen is not an oddity: German has two allophones of ch, the so-called Ich-Laut /ç/ following the vowels e, i, ä, ö, ü and consonants, also used at the beginning of a word (or word segment), and the so-called Ach-Laut /x/ following the vowels a, o, and u. Esperanto ĥ is always Ach-Laut, not matter of its environment. – jknappen Aug 11 '17 at 13:26

As in the comments so far a few wrong things with regard to German were said, I think a new answer has some merit, especially for German speaking learners of Esperanto.

To say 'ĥ' is pronounced like 'ch' in German is not very helpful and wrong in two of three cases. Actually, German has three allophones for its /x/ phoneme. These are [χ] as in ach, [x] as in Tuch and [ç] as in ich. Neither is 'ĥ' pronounced like 'ch' in ach nor like in Sternchen.

So ĥ equals [x], a velar voiceless fricative. For speakers of German: It is pronounced like 'ch' in Tuch.

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