I've noticed that some words starting with /ɕ/ in (Chinese) Mandarin become /x/ in some dialects.

For example:

鞋 /ɕjɛ/ -> /xai/

下 /ɕja/ -> /xa/

How close are /ɕ/ and /x/ pronunciation-wise?

Does this kind of deviation make sense, logically?!

  • 1
    Why not to ask this question at Chinese.SE? I guess, there are more people familiar with Chinese dialects to make a good answer. Alternatively, if you ask about consonant shift in general (so it was on-topic here), please update the question with more details. – bytebuster Dec 12 '14 at 10:32
  • Looking at an IPA chart should show clearly how similar they are. If you want to ask purely about Chinese then I don't think this is the best site for the question. – curiousdannii Dec 13 '14 at 2:27
  • I don't really care at all about Chinese, I'm just wondering in general, I don't really have any idea about the similarity between /ɕ/ and /x/ at all, so any clue(s) at all would be helpful. – Mou某 Dec 13 '14 at 11:12
  • It's the other way round in Chinese. The consonant was /ɦ/ or /ɣ/ and became /h/, /x/ or /ɕ/ in different dialects. – user58955 Dec 21 '14 at 0:40

/ɕ/ -- voiceless alveolo-palatal sibilant fricative

  • air is directed toward the teeth by the tongue (sibilant)
  • palatalized postalveolar [ʃʲ] according to Ladefoged & Maddieson (alveolo-palatal)
  • part of the tongue is raised toward the hard palate (palatalized)

/x/ -- voiceless velar fricative

  • this is the fricative equivalent of /k/

/ç/ -- voiceless palatal fricative

  • this is the fricative equivalent of a voiceless /j/

NOTE: /ç/ is a common allophone of /x/ in other languages (e.g. German).

Thus, what I suspect is happening is that in some dialects the tongue tip does not raise enough to the hard palate, but the body of the tongue is shifted toward either the hard palate or velum to compensate (i.e. differentiate it from a [ʃ] sound). This may be because the latter are easier to pronounce.

Source: Wikipedia


[ɕ] and [x] are not very close in pronunciation, articulatorily or acoustically. [x] and [χ] are fairly similar, and [ʃ ɕ ç] and fairly similar. Sumelic mentions that [ɕ] derives from /x/ or /s/, which happened relatively recently, and explains the orthographic velars in the spelling of Peking, Chungking, and the dental in Sinkiang.


Do you know for sure that the sound has changed from an earlier /ɕ/, or only that it corresponds to /ɕ/ in Mandarin? I ask because /ɕ/ in Mandarin is actually a merger of two older phonemes; it is derived from /x/ and /s/ in palatalizing environments. You might want to examine if this was a separate development of these sounds, rather than a development through /ɕ/ (which is also a possibility).

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