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Even as a native speaker I don't know the reason of this. Another example would be Xavier.


Español


Aunque el español es mi primera lengua, no sé por qué razón sucede esto. Otro ejemplo es Xavier.

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3  
Don't forget about Oaxaca... –  Richard Nov 16 '11 at 21:42
5  
I don't always spell "México" and "Texas", but when I do, I prefer dos equis. –  Flimzy Nov 16 '11 at 22:27
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Xavier is pronounced Shavier, not Javier. –  Serabe Nov 17 '11 at 0:35
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@Serabe With names, I suspect that pronunciation and spelling vary wildly. I know many people who spell their name one way and pronounce it another. It is probably specific to individual preference and families. I know this is particularly true for American names –  Richard Nov 21 '11 at 15:12
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@Richard If a person from Spain is called Xavier, chances are 99% that his name is not spanish but catalan and therefore the correct pronunciation is indeed "SHavier". –  Mackie Messer Dec 8 '11 at 2:20

2 Answers 2

up vote 21 down vote accepted

In Ancient Castillian, words like "caja", "bajo", and "jaraba" were originally spelled with an "x", and pronounced as "sh" (voiceless palato-alveolar sibilant).

In the mid- to late-1700s the spellings were changed from an "x" to a "j", including words like "Mejico" and "Tejas". During that time, the "j" was actually pronounced as a "j" in English. Over time, some words (like "Mejico", "Tejas", "Oajaca", and "Javier") reverted back to the "x" spelling, but retained their "j" pronunciation. And the letter "j" took on the "h" pronunciation that we know today.

Here is an excellent article on the subject


En la antigua Castilla, palabras como «caja», «bajo» y «jaraba» se escribían originalmente con una «x» y se pronunciaban como «sh» (fricativa postalveolar sorda).

Entre mediados y finales del siglo XVIII, la grafía cambió de la «x» a la «j», incluyendo palabras como «Méjico» y «Tejas». Durante esa época, la «j» se pronunciaba en realidad como una «j» en inglés. Con el tiempo, algunas palabras (como «Méjico», «Tejas», «Oajaca» y «Javier») revertieron a su escritura con «x», pero conservaron su pronunciación con «j». Y luego la letra «j» adquirió la pronunciación «h» que conocemos hoy.

Aquí tienes un excelente artículo sobre el tema

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9  
The archaic use of x for the current sound of j explains why Don Quijote is spelled Don Quixote in English. –  Jaime Soto Nov 17 '11 at 3:14
    
Looking at Flimzy's answer, I guess this answers the historical aspect of the question without address the practical aspect. The "foreign" words must have decided to revert back to (or keep) the "x" spelling. –  Richard Nov 21 '11 at 14:59
    
But usually nobody writes Javier with X in Spanish, while the correct way to write Mexico is with X. See on DPD: lema.rae.es/dpd/?key=mexico Usually when somebody is Xavier or Xavi, is because his name is Catalan and then read with the Catalan pronunciation for X, as Serabe said. –  David Dec 19 '12 at 9:49

X pronunciation in Spanish:

The Spanish x is usually pronounced as the English ks between vowels, or as the English s before consonants and at the beginning of words. In words of foreign/indigenous origin, it is pronounced as the English h or sh.

In the two examples you provided, the origin of the words is a foreign or indigenous language:

  • The name Texas comes from the Caddo language, which was spoken by a group indigenous to the Oklahoma region.

  • The name México is Aztec in origin, so also foreign/indigenous.

  • The native Spanish version of the name Xavier is Javier, and therefore pronounced with a J sound. Compare, for instance, the Wikipedia pages on Francis Xavier in English and Francis Javier in Spanish. If the name is ever spelled as Xavier in Spanish, it seems it is likely to be pronounced as with an English s sound.

  • Oaxaca is originally a Nahuatl word.

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I read that it is pronounced "ks" before consonants (e.g. extra), in careful speech, though more often as "s". –  Theta30 Nov 17 '11 at 22:31
    
That's a great quote... Where is it from? –  Richard Nov 21 '11 at 14:59
    
@Richard: It's a paraphrase of the text used in my Spanish class here in Guadalajara. A paraphrase, because I no longer have the original text book, but I have my notes. :) –  Flimzy Nov 22 '11 at 1:21
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-1 Not even close. Medieval spanish used X instead of J for pretty much anything. When spaniards arrive to America, they named whatever they heard with the sound of J as X. Hence, Mexico instead of Mejico, Oaxaca instead of Oajaca,etc. Those old names remained even though spanish language evolve to use J instead of X –  OscarRyz Nov 30 '11 at 1:06
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"X" in place names of Native American origin can also sound like "s" as in "Xochimilco", the floating gardens in Mexico City. –  hippietrail Dec 5 '11 at 20:17

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