[XeTeX] Pronunciation of "XeTeX" in various languages

Robert Spence spence at saar.de
Wed Feb 21 21:18:31 CET 2007

On 21 Feb 2007, at 16:34 , Bruno Voisin wrote:

> Le 21 févr. 07 à 15:03, Robert Spence a écrit :
>> And what about French?
>> Do French-speaking TeX users usually pronounce "TeX" with a /x/ at
>> the end or a /k/?
> Those I know pronounce "tek", as in technology. But similarly French
> people usually say "bak" for the composer Bach, with only purists
> pronouncing "bar" as it should be in German AFAIR from high school.
> (Sorry for those knowledgeable in phonetic alphabet, I never managed
> to remember it.)

No, I understand!  Germans would of course tense up a bit as soon as  
they felt the end of a word approaching, and would therefore stop the  
vibration of their vocal folds a bit earlier than native French- 
speakers would, and thus that French "r" would get devoiced and would  
turn into the uvular variant of the German "ch" sound (as in "Buch").

> I've always been amazed by Knuth's explanation that TeX should be
> pronounced like loch as in Loch Ness. We French people pronounce
> "lok", but Knuth's explanation seems to imply this should be "lor".

This is one of the many things the Scots enjoy tormenting the English  
with...  I suspect a lot of English-speakers in fact say "Loch" the  
same way as the French do...

> Knuth refers to Greek also, but I must confess I don't know Greek.
> For a couple of years I had a Dutch office mate who had studied
> classics, and he was pronouncing "ter", which seems to imply this is
> how tau-epsilon-xi is pronounced in Greek.

Yes, I think that's what Knuth is trying to get across.  And nobody  
really knows Greek---not even the Greeks!

>> <irrelevant>
>> One of the nicest things about Jürgen Vogel's recent screen portrayal
>> of Frederick the Great of Prussia was the way he pointedly addressed
>> J.S. Bach as (French) /'bak/, not (German) /'bax/.
>> </irrelevant>
>> And is the first sound of "XeTeX" the sound of "x" in
>> "xylophone" [gz] or the sound of "x" in "xénophobe" [ks]?
> Personally I pronounce "kzétèk", a bit like czar.

So really "kz" and not "tz"?

> But I must confess
> I know no other French XeTeX user in person.

France being the best country in the world as far as conference  
lunches and dinners are concerned, I vote that the 1st International  
Congress of XeTeX Users be held there.  (Ah!  Quelles délices nous  

> I was never aware of a difference between the pronunciations of the
> "x" in xylophone and xénophobe, both sound like "kz" to my ears. But
> maybe this is just the Parisian accent I have.

In fact, I wasn't aware of a difference either.  When I checked in a  
concise Larousse dictionary (35,000 words) I found /gz/ for the "x"  
in "xylophone" and /ks/ for the "x" in "xénophobe".  But a much  
larger Le Robert/Collins gives /gz/ for both, with---among all the  
words listed under X---only "xi" and "xyste" having the /ks/ sound at  
the beginning.  Strange...

> In any case, I think Jonathan once said the initial "X" in XeTeX
> should be pronounced like a "Z", as for XUL, though he had no strong
> feeling about the matter.

Yes, that's how I've been pronouncing it in English, and that has  
also been influencing my pronunciation in German and French.  But if  
there's no "official" pronunciation, maybe we should just do a survey  
of current usage within the XeTeX community, taking into account as  
many languages as possible.  And as most of us don't actually know  
many (if any) other XeTeX users in person, and phonetic  
transcriptions are such a bother, I suggest we push ahead with plans  
for the 1st ICXTXU, where we can compare pronunciations directly,  
over Ricard and amuse-gueule...

-- Rob Spence
Applied Linguistics
Saarland University

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