This question occurred to me as I was listening to the infamous German song, "Neinundneunzig Luftballons", where Nena pronounced the word "horizon" something along the lines of /hoʀiʦon/.

How did that come to be? That sound doesn't appear to be there in just about any other language that has this word. I couldn't think of any other explanation, other than the fact that in German, the letter Z is pronounced as a /ʦ/.

My question is, did that distinct pronunciation (along with other words from that language, of course) dictate these reading rules, or rather the opposite is correct? And could that be true in other languages as well?

I'm referring of course to long-used words that have been used in the language for centuries, not to any modern words, in which case it would be quite obvious.

Thanks in advance for your answers.

  • 2
    This phenomenon is widespread in languages that significant numbers of people are literate in. See Spelling pronunciation
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Oct 20, 2017 at 11:19
  • Zeus is pronounced /tsois/. :-)
    – Lucian
    Commented Oct 21, 2017 at 21:16

1 Answer 1


/ts/ is, as you already noted, the standard German pronunciation of the letter "z". This applies to loan words from other languages, including classical Greek, too.

It is not unusual that words mainly learned by reading (instead of hearing them) are pronounced according to their written form. The English pronunciation of Latin and Greek loan words has nothing to do with their original pronunciation in any variety of Latin or Greek—it follows the spelling.

  • 1
    True. It seems strange to an English speaker that Euclid would be pronounced Oyklid in German. And an ancient Greek would not recognize Zoos as a divine name.
    – jlawler
    Commented Nov 19, 2017 at 18:58

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