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Yesterday I was watching Pokémon where I encountered this word "archenemy". It is definitely not the first time I am hearing it, though it is the first time I am putting thought into it.

When I googled the word arch I found four different meanings and usages. Two of them are just the raw words arch, while one uses it as a prefix (arch-) and another one as suffix (-arch).

However, I have always heard archenemy pronounced as arch-enemy with the /t͡ʃ/ ⟨ch⟩ pronunciation very evident. On the other hand, monarch is pronounced as mon-arc with the ⟨ch⟩ replaced with /k/. But the Google pronunciation for arch1 (Google Dictionary) which is the suffix form, is pronounced as 'arch' with a /t͡ʃ/ ⟨ch⟩ pronunciation. Is that a mistake?

Also, I would like to know the etymology of these words and how come they are pronounced different if they have the same Greek origin word arkhos (I did not make it, Google said that)?


1 combining form, suffix: -arch (forming nouns) denoting a ruler or leader. Example: "monarch"

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  • Oh that is to indicate that it was the fourth meaning there on Google. Wait let me fix it, Nov 6 '20 at 9:37
  • The fourth pronunciation on Google has a k, not ch. Is it right?
    – Void
    Nov 6 '20 at 9:38
  • Not when you hear it. I replaced the word 'given' with 'pronounced' so that people won't get confused. Nov 6 '20 at 9:40
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    Ah.... yes, that's a mistake. They've given the transcription with a /k/ and pronounce it with a <ch>. That's incorrect.
    – Void
    Nov 6 '20 at 9:44
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    Strangely, the 'ch' is pronounced differently in the prefix of archbishop (soft) and archangel (hard). Also the suffix is different in starch (soft) and matriarch (hard). Nov 6 '20 at 10:10
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There are no consistent rules for the pronunciation of the digraph ⟨ch⟩; it can be pronounced either /k/ or /t͡ʃ/, depending on the origin of the word.
There are some general guidelines, but they too have exceptions.

Adam Brown in his Understanding and Teaching English Spelling suggests that the digraph ⟨ch⟩ has three main pronunciations [modified]:

  • /tʃ/ in Anglo-Saxon words, e.g. church, chicken, teach, speech, much, beach, Chelsea
  • /ʃ/ in words of French origin, e.g. chef, machine, champagne, niche, chalet, charade, panache
  • /k/ in words of Greek origin, e.g. chemist, chaos, Christopher, ache, monarch

⟨ch⟩+Consonant in the beginning

When the digraph ⟨ch⟩ precedes a consonant in a single word, it's almost always pronounced /k/ and not /t͡ʃ/, probably because English Phonotactics doesn't allow affricates (/t͡ʃ/ and /d͡ʒ/) in complex onsets i.e. /t͡ʃ/ and /d͡ʒ/ cannot make an onset cluster. Therefore the ⟨ch⟩ in words like chlorine, chrome, Christ etc., is pronounced /k/.
Words starting chr- and chl- are mostly of Greek origin and are pronounced with /k/.

⟨ch⟩ in Greek-derived words

The ⟨ch⟩ is usually pronounced /k/ in words that are derived from Greek like monarch, amphibrach, anarchy, archaic, anchor etc.

The prefix arch- is derived from Greek and it means important or chief. It has a few forms in English (arch-, archi- and arche-), all borrowed from Greek (arkh-, arkhi-, arkhe-) which is confusing.

The only thing that comes to mind is that it's pronounced with a /k/ in simple words like architect, archaic, archive etc., and pronounced /t͡ʃ/ in compound words such as archenemy, archbishop, archduke etc., though it has many, many exceptions like archangel.

⟨arch-⟩ in compound words

  • Words that were compounded with ⟨arch-⟩ in Greek are also pronounced with a /k/ such as archangel (from Greek arkhangelos; compound of arkhi- and angelos).

  • Compound words in which the prefix arch- is prepended to an English word, the ⟨ch⟩ is pronounced /t͡ʃ/ such as archenemy (from Greek arch- and English enemy).

⟨arch-⟩ in the beginning of Greek words

When ⟨arch-⟩ begins a Greek word and is followed by a vowel it's almost always pronounced with a /k/ as in archangel, archipelago, architect, archive, archaism etc.

⟨arch-⟩ in the beginning of English words

When the ⟨arch-⟩ is prepended to an English word and it begins with a consonant, it's almost always pronounced with a /t͡ʃ/. Examples include archduke, archdeakon, archbishop.

There may be exceptions and irregularities, however.



Quotes from other sources

According to the Dictionary of the British English Spelling System by Greg Brooks, the digraph ⟨ch⟩ is also pronounced /k/ in words that begin with ⟨arch-⟩ when followed by a vowel letter as in archaic, archive, architect, archetype etc. However, there are only two common exceptions; arch-enemy and archer.


According to A Survey of English Spelling by Edward Carney, ⟨arch-⟩ is pronounced /k/ before i and y, though he doesn't explain it further and leaves us with many questions.


According to The History of English Spelling by Upward and Davidson, the English value of ⟨ch⟩ as /t͡ʃ/ originated in Old French and was integrated into English after the Norman Conquest. They've given some other examples like bachelor, brooch, butcher, chair, chamber, chance, exchequer, franchise, merchant, treachery.

The authors further go on to say that the ⟨ch⟩ is pronounced /ʃ/ in more recent borrowings like brochure, chalet, champagne, chateau, chef, chic, cliché, moustache,nonchalant, etc.

Here's a more detailed explanation of the ⟨ch⟩ in The History of English Spelling:

CH

And about arch-:

arch-



Also from English Words: History and Structure by Stockwell and Minkova:

Digraph ch




/t͡ʃ/ is the sound in chip
/d͡ʒ/ as in jam
/ʃ/ as in ship
/k/ as in king


References:

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  • Sorry for accepting your answer so late. I had intended to wait for a whole day before accepting yours as an official answer, but looks like I forgot later that your answer was waiting to be accepted. And I hardly think someone would be able to provide a more concrete version than this. But of course, anyone is welcome to post an answer. Thank you once again. There are parts and bits I didn't understand in your answer (because I am new to phonetics), but don't you worry, I am studying on it. Nov 15 '20 at 19:57
  • @DhanishthaGhosh: No worries. Ask any questions you have
    – Void
    Nov 16 '20 at 5:44

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