Pronunciation & Romanization

Introduction

This introduction is written by Prof. Robert Sanders, and has been revised to fit the purpose of this web presentation by the web page author, Wenze Hu. We are very grateful for Prof. Sanders' allowing us to use this material as the introduction to our Chinese Pronunciation guide. The copy right of this introduction belongs to Rober Sanders, and that of the web presentation of this introduction belongs to the Harvard Chinese Language Program.

1.1 Introduction

The pronunciation of any foreign language will include some sounds that are just like English, some sounds that are similar to but not quite the same as English, as well as others that are totally alien to English. Mandarin Chinese is no exception. You will discover that beyond the well-known challenges of tone and a few of the consonants and vowels, there is actually a lot about Mandarin pronunciation that is easy for native English speakers to master. While it may ultimately prove difficult for you to attain native-like pronunciation in all aspects of the phonology, with a little bit of hard work and application you can expect to have very little difficulty with the pronunciation within a relatively short period of time.

One further point should be made about paying attention to accurate pronunciation--within the Chinese cultural context a non-native speaker with excellent pronunciation but modest fluency will always be held in much higher esteem by native speakers than one with a high level of fluency but with a noticeable foreign accent.

To assist you in learning proper pronunciation, an entire week is devoted to pronunciation and romanization. The particular romanization used here --H2ny} P%ny%n--was initially devised by linguists in China in the 1950s to assist native speakers of dialects other than Mandarin to more accurately pronounce Standard Mandarin. Other romanizations and symbolic systems of indicating Mandarin pronunciation do exist, each with its own strengths and weaknesses, and each with its share of enthusiastic supporters. However, there is no objective evidence to date to suggest that any one of these is more effective in teaching proper pronunciation than any of the others. The reason H2ny} P%ny%n  is used here is simply because it is the official romanization of China.

When first learning H2ny} P%ny%n it is very helpful to keep three general principles in mind:

  1. The relationship between any letter and any sound is arbitrary. A particular letter can represent one sound in English and another sound in Chinese.
  2. The same letter or combination of letters can sometimes be pronounced in more than one way in the same language. English has many such examples, e.g. ough as used in 'tough', 'though','through' and 'bough'.
  3. The pronunciation of a particular spelling combination does not always sound exactly the way it looks. Again, English has many such examples, e.g. igh in 'sigh' or psy in 'psychology'.
Traditionally, the Chinese syllable is divided into two parts--the initial consonant and the final. The relationship between the two is much the same as the relationship between subject and predicate; Chinese syllables start with a consonant, called the initial or initial consonant, and anything remaining in that syllable beyond the initial consonant is then called the final.

Altogether, Mandarin has 22 initial consonants (including something Chinese linguists call the zero initial, which means nothing more than the fact that there is no consonant in syllable-initial position) and 36 different finals. Together they combine to form 411 possible syllable types.

Superimposed on top of each of these 514 different syllables is tone. Tone in Chinese is called lexical tone because with a change in tone, the very same syllable suddenly becomes a completely different word. Altogether Mandarin has four different lexical tones. For a native Mandarin speaker, then, the differences in both sound and meaning among m` 'mother', m1 'hemp', m2 'horse', and m3 'to scold or curse' are just as striking as those among pet, pit, put and pat are for a native English speaker.


1.2 Initials:

  1. b-, p-, m-, f-, g- and k- are pronounced almost exactly the same way as they are in English. When pronouncing p- and k-, be certain that each is accompanied by a strong puff of air.
  2. d-, t-, n- and l- are pronounced slightly differently from the way they are pronounced in English. In English the tip of your tongue is touching just behind the ridge behind your upper teeth (see illustration); in Chinese the tip of your tongue is touching the interface between your upper teeth and the ridge behind them (see illustration). As with p- and k- above, a strong puff of air should accompany your pronunciation of t-.
Finals:

-a:

In all but two cases the letter a should always be pronounced as if you were being asked by the doctor to say ahh. This is true for the letter a regardless of whether it constitutes the entire final (i.e. -a) or whether the final contains other vowels and/or consonants in combination with a (e.g. -ai, -iao and -an).

-i (in all cases except after zh-, ch-, sh-, r-, z-, c- and s-):

This is pronounced like the ea in sea, only you must make certain to push the tip of your tongue as far forward and as high up in your mouth as you can, and to make the tip of your tongue as stiff as you can. If there is no preceding consonant, i.e. there is a zero initial, then this -i should be rewritten as yi. When the tone mark is placed above the letter i, i.e. in the case of the four finals -i, -ui, -in and

-ing, then the tone mark itself replaces the dot above the i.

-ai:

The pronunciation of this final closely resembles the English pronunciation of eye. However, just as you are completing the pronunciation you must make certain to push the tip of your tongue as far forward and as high up in your mouth as you can, and to make the tip of your tongue as stiff as you can. You should also be certain that the -i part of the final is pronounced just as loudly as the -a part. The tone mark is always placed atop the -a.

-ao:

The pronunciation of this final closely resembles the ow in 'how'. However, just as you are completing the pronunciation you must make certain that your lips are puckered up tightly and are sticking out as far as possible, as if you have just eaten something incredibly sour. Also, you must be certain that the -o part of the final is pronounced just as loudly as the -a part. The tone mark is always placed atop the -a.

-an:

This final is not pronounced like the English name Anne. Rather, the -a should resemble the sound you are asked to make when the doctor sticks a tongue depressor into your mouth in order to look at your throat (i.e. ahh). The pronunciation of the final -n should be more emphatic than in English.

-ang:

This final is not pronounced like the ang in 'hang'. Rather, the -a should resemble the sound you are asked to make when the doctor sticks a tongue depressor into your mouth in order to look at your throat (i.e. ahh). The pronunciation of Chinese -ng is much softer than that of English -ng. Therefore you must be careful not to include a guh sound at the very end.


Tones:

Initially, the four tones of Mandarin might sound quite similar to you. However, by the end of just one hour of class you should be able to hear the differences among the four tones. By the end of another one or two days you ought to be able to distinguish the differences in your own pronunciation, but only for single syllables spoken in isolation. The real challenge will come when syllables are strung together to form words, phrases and sentences. Getting the tone right for each syllable in a longer string of syllables is something you will have to pay particular attention to for a significantly longer period of time.

A considerable amount of misunderstanding exists about Mandarin tones. In particular, many first-time learners are told how easy it is to utter something unintended by failing to utilize the correct tone, for instance blurting out "I came here on a fat chicken" when what you intended to say was "I came here by airplane". In actuality, you must first get to the point where you can produce natural and authentic Mandarin tonal contours on a consistent basis before you are capable of making that kind of error. In the beginning, before your tonal contours are clear and consistent, you are much more likely to sound very garbled, creating things with the equivalent clarity of "Ah keem har by futpleen". In other words, in the beginning, your problem will likely be the frequent use of pseudo-tones that are not very recognizable as tones to native speakers. Furthermore, you would not even be able to repeat them on a consistent basis. Under your primitive control of tones, the listener is forced to filter out the distracting noise and make an educated guess as to what you were really trying to say. To get to the point as quickly as possible where real Mandarin tones are coming out of your mouth on command, a word or two about how tone in Chinese is produced and how it is best represented are in order.

Tone in Chinese is formed by controlling the pitch of your voice to form a distinctive pitch contour. By maintaining or changing your pitch over the entire duration of the syllable you are able to control the pitch contour for that syllable. To make your tones sound as natural as possible, you should keep the following two points in mind:

  1. Each tone has a fixed, underlying contour such as level, rising or falling.
  2. There are no fixed frequencies for these contours, however. Just how high or how low the frequency of a particular tone should be will vary on the basis of individual voice type, rate of speech and emotional state at the time the syllable is spoken.
A good tone is best characterized in terms of its starting point and end point within any particular speaker's normal voice range. For several decades Chinese linguists have been using a convention devised by Y. R. Chao to indicate fixed, underlying tonal contours. Based on a relative scale of 1 through 5, with 1 indicating the low point of a person's normal pitch range and 5 indicating the high point, it is possible to describe any level, rising or falling contour in terms of its starting point and its endpoint. A high, level tone is thus represented as 55, while a full falling tone is represented as 51. For tones that dip or peak, a mid-point is added in addition to a starting point and an endpoint. A tone that starts low, goes down even further and then rises to a point somewhere around the mid-level of a person's normal pitch range would be written as 213. Using this system we can now look at the four underlying contours of Mandarin.

Tone 1 high level 55 ma 'mother'

Tone 2 mid rising 35 ma 'hemp'

Tone 3 low falling 21* ma 'horse'

Tone 4 high falling 51 ma 'to scold/curse'

*Traditionally, the Mandarin tone 3 contour is portrayed as being 213. However, this contour is only used for individual tone 3 syllables spoken in isolation or spoken directly before a pause. The rest of the time, when the tone 3 syllable is directly followed by another syllable (i.e. in the vast majority of cases that a tone 3 syllable is spoken), a 21 contour is normally used. This tone 3 contour is nothing more than a low, gravely voice. Additionally, in Taiwan, many native speakers no longer use the 213 contour, even when the tone 3 syllable is spoken in isolation. Finally, it has been observed that when tone 3 is taught as having an underlying 213 contour, many students experience long-term difficulty discriminating that contour from the tone 2 contour (35). However, it has been reported that this problem is largely avoided when tone 3 is instead taught as having an underlying 21 contour. For all of these reasons tone 3 is taught here as having a 21 contour.


1.3 Initials:

1. The initial series zh-, ch-, sh- and r- is pronounced by pulling back your tongue fairly far and touching the roof of your mouth with the tip of your tongue (see illustration). The Chinese name for this series--juan3she2yin1 'curled tongue sounds'--causes many native speakers to mistakenly believe that you should somehow curl your tongue back in order make these sounds. It is actually a near physical impossibility to do so, let alone talk at the same time. Therefore, even if you or a native speaker were capable of doing so, the resultant noise would bear little resemblance to proper zh-, ch-, sh- and r- sounds.

The 'default' pronunciations of zh-, ch-, and sh- (i.e. when no particular final is assumed, and the way your teacher is likely to practice them) sound quite a bit like the ger of germ, the chur of church, and like 'sure' respectively; there really is no close English equivalent to r-. The only provision that you will have to make in the pronunciation of all four initials is that you pull back your tongue further than you would in English and softly touch the roof of your mouth with the tip. These 'default' pronunciations are spelled in H2ny} P%ny%n as zhi, chi, shi and ri. In this and all other cases of ch-, be sure that it is accompanied by a strong puff of air.

2. The series j-, q- and x- is pronounced by touching the tip of your tongue directly behind your lower front teeth and then putting the blade of your tongue just behind the ridge behind your upper teeth. A flow of air is then pushed through between your tongue blade and the upper, front part of your mouth where it is touching. Also as you pronounce each of these three initials, make certain that your lips are pulled widely apart and are tight, as if you were making a forced smile (see illustrations).

The 'default' pronunciations of j-, q- and x- (i.e. when no particular final is assumed and the way your teacher is likely to first practice them today) sound quite a bit like the jee of jeep, the chee of cheese, and the shee of sheep respectively, only with the provisions that:

a. you touch the tip of your tongue firmly behind your lower front teeth and then put the blade of your tongue just behind the ridge behind your upper teeth.

b. your lips are pulled wide apart and tight.

The 'default' pronunciations of j-, q- and x- are spelled in Hanyu Pinyin as ji, qi and xi. In this and all other cases of q-, be sure that it is accompanied by a strong puff of air.

A WORD OF EXTREME CAUTION:

The vast majority of native English speakers experience huge problems distinguishing the zh-, ch-, and sh- intials from the j-, q- and x- initials, both when they listen to them and when they pronounce them. This is especially true for the following contrastive pairs:

zha zhao zhou zhang zhong

jia jiao jiu jiang jiong

cha chao chou chang chong

qia qiao qiu qiang qiong

sha shao shou shang zhei

xia xiao xiu xiang jie

There are a few precautions you can take to minimize the difficulties you are likely to encounter maintaining a clear distinction between the two members of each pair in your own speech:

  1. Remember your respective tongue positions for each of the six initials. When you pronounce j-, q- and x-, steadfastly resist any temptation from English to place the tip of your tongue on the upper roof of your mouth. Instead, place the tip of your tongue directly against the back of your lower teeth.
  2. Note that in each of the pairs above that j-, q- and x- are always directly followed by -i, while zh-, ch-, and sh- never take an i. To maximize the distinction between the two types of finals, you should over-emphasize the pronunciation of the -i, especially during the first few weeks of class. The best way to over- emphasize this pronunciation is to pronounce the six different -i finals as "eeya", "eeyao", "eeyou", "eeyang","eeyong" and "eeye" respectively.

Finals:

-i (after zh-, ch-, sh-, and r-):

The pronunciation of -i after these four initials sounds very much like an -r. Importantly, unlike the normal pronunciation of vowels, its pronunciation involves only a minimal movement of the tongue beyond what is necessary to pronounce the initial consonant that immediately precedes it. In the case of zhi, chi and shi, the pronunciation of -i consists of a very nominal release of the tip of your tongue from the roof of your mouth. In the case of ri, your tongue doesn't move at all.

-ia/ya:

The pronunciation of this final resembles the pronunciation of the ya of yacht. The tone mark is always placed atop the -a. If there is no preceding consonant, i.e. there is a zero initial, then -ia should be rewritten as ya.

-ie/ye:

The pronunciation of this final resembles the pronunciation of the ye of yes. Many English speakers have a tendency to mispronounce this final like the Ya of Yates. You can avoid this through strict concentration. The tone mark is always placed atop the -e. If there is no preceding consonant, i.e. there is a zero initial, then -ie should be rewritten as ye.

-iao/yao:

The pronunciation of this final resembles the pronunciation of the yow of yowl. You should be certain that the -o part of the final is pronounced with your lips puckered up stiffly and sticking out as far as possible, as if you have just eaten something incredibly sour. Also, that -o should be pronounced just as loudly as the -i and -a portions of the final that immediately precede it. The tone mark is always placed atop the -a. If there is no preceding consonant, i.e. there is a zero initial, then -iao should be rewritten as yao.

-in/yin:

This -i should be pronounced like the ean in bean, not thein in bin. However, you must make certain to push the tip of your tongue as far forward and as high up in your mouth as you can, and to make the tip of your tongue as stiff as you can. The pronunciation of the -n should be more emphatic than in English. If there is no preceding consonant, i.e. there is a zero initial, then -in should be rewritten as yin. When writing the tone mark, remember that the tone mark actually replaces the dot above the -i.

-ing/ying:

The -i should be pronounced like the ea in sea, only you must make certain to push the tip of your tongue as far forward and as high up in your mouth as you can, and to make the tip of your tongue as stiff as you can. The pronunciation of Chinese

-ng is softer than in English. Therefore you should be very careful not to include a guh sound at the very end. If there is no preceding consonant, i.e. there is a zero initial, then -ing should be rewritten as ying. When writing the tone mark, remember that the tone mark actually replaces the dot above the -i.

-u/wu:

The pronunciation of this final resembles the pronunciation of the oo in ooze, only you should be certain that your pronunciation throughout is made with your lips puckered up stiffly and sticking out as far as possible, as if you have just eaten something incredibly sour. If there is no preceding consonant, i.e. there is a zero initial, then -u should be rewritten as wu.

-ua/wa:

This is pronounced liked the wa of waddle in most varieties of American English. The tone mark is always placed atop the -a. If there is no preceding consonant, i.e. there is a zero initial, then -ua should be rewritten as wa.

-uai/wai:

This is pronounced liked the wi of wine, only just as you are completing the pronunciation you must make certain to push the tip of your tongue as far forward and as high up in your mouth as you can, and to make the tip of your tongue as stiff as you can. You should also be certain that the -i part of the final is pronounced just as loudly as the -u and -a parts. The tone mark is always placed atop the -a. If there is no preceding consonant, i.e. there is a zero initial, then -uai should be rewritten as wai.

-uan/wan:

This should be pronounced like the wan in wand, only you must make certain that the pronunciation of the -n is more emphatic than in English. The tone mark is always placed atop the -a. If there is no preceding consonant, i.e. there is a zero initial, then -uan should be rewritten as wan.

-uang/wang:

This final rhymes with pong. To pronounce it properly the p- sound should be replaced by w-. The pronunciation of Chinese -ng is softer than in English. Therefore you should be very careful not to include a guh sound at the very end. The tone mark is always placed atop the -a. If there is no preceding consonant, i.e. there is a zero initial, then -uang should be rewritten as wang.

-o (found only after b-, p-, m - and f-):

From a language learning perspective there is no justification for writing this final with -o instead of -uo; its pronunciation is exactly the same as that of -uo below.

-uo/wo:

Most varieties of American English do not have a pronunciation that matches the phonetic value of -o. New York City English does have a sound that comes close, as in the o of coffee. The International Phonetic Alphabet represents the pronunciation of Mandarin -o with the symbol []]. The tone mark is always placed above the -o. If there is no preceding consonant, i.e. there is a zero initial, then - uo should be rewritten as wo. Many English speakers exhibit a tendency to pronounce this final as English woe. This brings new meaning to the English expression "Woe is me".

-ou:

The pronunciation of this final is similar to owe, only just as you are completing the pronunciation you must make certain that your lips are puckered up tightly and are sticking out as far as possible, as if you have just eaten something incredibly sour. Also, you must be certain that the -u part of the final is pronounced just as loudly as the -o part. The tone mark is always placed atop the -o.

A WORD OF EXTREME CAUTION

Many native English speakers regularly confuse -uo and -ou, especially during the first few weeks. The key to keeping them apart in your own speech is to remember that:

  1. -u is always pronounced with your lips puckered up tightly and sticking out as far as possible, as if you have just eaten something incredibly sour.
  2. -o is always pronounced with your lips wide apart and relaxed.
Therefore, -ou and -uo can be distinguished from one another on the basis of what your lips are doing over the transition of each final:

3. for -ou you start out with your lips spread apart and relaxed, only to have them pucker up and become tight by the end of the syllable.

4. For -uo you start out with stiff, puckered lips which become less taught and wide apart by the end of the syllable.


Tones:

1. [Tone 3 + Tone 3] = [Tone 2 + Tone 3]

You have thus far learned that the phonetic value of a tone 3 contour is 21. However, if a tone 3 syllable is immediately followed by another tone 3 syllable, then that first tone 3 syllable is instead pronounced as a tone 2 syllable (i.e. the 21 contour changes to a 35 contour).

E.g.

hao <21> 'good' + ma <21> 'horse' = hao <35> ma <21> 'good horse'

In strings of three or more tone 3 syllables, the likelihood that all but the last syllable will change to tone 2 is determined by two important factors--the speed at which the person is talking and whether it is possible for there to be a pause between one tone 3 syllable and the next. The faster a person speaks the greater the likelihood that all but the final tone 3 syllable will change into tone 2. Likewise, any pause between one tone 3 syllable and the next will interrupt tone change, so that the tone 3 syllable immediately before the pause will no longer be affected by the tone 3 syllable that immediately follows the pause.

E.g.

Wo <21> 'I' + xiang <21> 'want' + mai <21> 'buy' + hao <21> 'good' + ma <21> 'horse'

In very rapid speech, all but the last syllable would be pronounced with second tones.

a. W9 xi1n m1i h1o m2. "I'd like to buy a good horse."

However, it is also possible to pause at certain points along the sentence, yielding examples like:

b. W0, xi1ng m1i h1o m2. "Me, I'd like to buy a good horse."

c. W9 xi2ng, m1i h1o m2. "What I'd like to do...is buy a good horse."

d. W9 xi1ng m2i, h1o m2 . "What I'd like to buy... is a good horse."

2. Tone 4 + Tone 4

When two Tone 4 syllables come together to form a bisyllabic compound, the duration of the first syllable is shortened slightly and its contour changes from 51 to 53.

Examples:

d3g3i  'probably'

di3nhu3 'telephone'

di3nsh* 'television'


3. Neutral tone

Strictly speaking, neutral tone is not the same as the four regular tones of Mandarin--it does not have its own underlying contour and rarely is its usage crucial to the meaning of a word. Having said that, it should still be stressed that the presence of neutral tone is very common in Beijing speech, and that neutral tones are used with all grammatical function words regardless of where in China Mandarin is spoken. Furthermore, to the ears of northern speakers, a person who consistently fails to use neutral tones when it is possible to use them sounds like Forest Gump. Therefore neutral tones are still very important to learn properly.

Neutral tone is a phenomenon created by contrasting the loudness and duration of pronunciation of one syllable with that of the syllable that immediately precedes it. The initial syllable is always relatively long and loud, while the 'neutral' syllable that follows it is brief and soft, making it impossible to pronounce it with a distinctive contour. One can therefore think of what happens to the second syllable as the stifling of its basic, underlying contour, leaving only a momentary blip of pitch as a trace.

Because the pronunciation of the neutral tone is finished just as soon as it starts, one cannot really speak of a distinctive starting point and a distinctive endpoint. Rather, one can only speak of a single blip that lies somewhere along the 1 to 5 scale introduced yesterday to describe the starting and end points of the four tones. Exactly where along that 1 to 5 scale a particular blip should lie is determined by the tone of the immediately preceding syllable.


1.4 Initials:

  1. s- is pronounced exactly the same as it is pronounced in English.
  2. z- and c- are notoriously difficult for native English speakers to pronounce. z- sounds like the z in pizza and Mozart, while c- should sound just like the ts in 'hats'. However, because no English syllable starts off with either sound, English speakers tend to pronounce Mandarin z- as either a d- or an English z-, and pronounce Mandarin c- as either a t- or an s-.
There is one exercise using the two Mandarin syllables za and ca that might help you to feel more comfortable pronouncing z- and c- in a proper fashion. For za, try saying the English phrase "hands off", making sure to hold the -n- for a moment before preceding on with the rest. The resulting second syllable, minus the final -f, should approximate the correct pronunciation of Mandarin za. In the case of ca, try saying "hats off", pausing at -a- and holding it for a moment before continuing on with the second syllable. Once you feel comfortable with this exercise you are ready to try pronouncing z- and c- in combination with finals other than -a.

Finals:

-i (after z-, c- and s-):

There really isn't a close English equivalent to this sound. Its pronunciation is intimately tied to the pronunciation of z-, c- and s-. Therefore, the best way to start your pronunciation of this particular -i is through your pronunciation of Mandarin z-, c- and s-. That is, place the tip area of your tongue firmly upon the ridge behind your upper teeth and close your mouth almost to the point where your upper teeth are touching your lower teeth and your upper lip is touching your lower lip. The front part of your tongue will be pushed toward the upper, front part of your mouth as a result. Then, as you are pronouncing z-, c- and s-, pull the tip of your tongue ever so slightly away from where it is touching.

-e:

The letter e has three different pronunciations in Hanyu Pinyin. As a final all by itself it sounds quite similar to a person who is vomiting. Native English speakers, unfortunately, have a difficult time distinguishing this vowel from the -i described just above. From the standpoint of pronunciation, the main different between the two has to do with how wide open your mouth is and where your tongue is located. For -i your mouth should be almost shut, with your tongue high up and forward in your mouth; for -e your mouth should be fairly open, with your tongue pulled back and toward the bottom of your mouth. It is also vital that there be some muscular tension in your throat. Comparing the syllables si, se and sa, si is pronounced with your teeth clenched while sa is pronounced with your mouth wide open. Se is pronounced with your mouth halfway betweensi and sa.

-ei:

This is pronounced just like the ei of eight, only just as you are completing the pronunciation you must make certain to push the tip of your tongue as far forward and as high up in your mouth as you can, and to make the tip of your tongue as stiff as you can. You should also be certain that the -i part of the final is pronounced just as loudly as the -e part. The tone mark is always placed atop the

-e.

-en:

This is usually pronounced just like the un in under, only you must make certain to pronounce the -n more emphatically than you would in English. One exception to this is in the spelling ren, which rhymes with English pen. The other is the syllable wen, whose -e- should be pronounced like the -oo- in look.

-eng:

This final rhymes with tongue. However, the pronunciation of Chinese -ng is softer than in English. Therefore you should be very careful not to include a guh sound at the very end.

-er:

This sounds very much like a barking sea lion, with heavy emphasis on the final -r. To pronounce that final -r, your tongue should be very high and very far back in your mouth. It should also be very stiff.

-_/yu:

English does not have this sound but French does. Many English speakers have trouble distinguishing it from the more familiar -u. Although both -g and -u are pronounced with your lips puckered and stiff, and with your tongue high up in your mouth, they differ crucially in terms of how far front or how far back in your mouth your tongue should be placed. For -_ the tip of your tongue should be pushed as far forward and as high up in your mouth as possible, and the tip should be made as stiff as possible too. If you are having trouble making this sound try starting out by pronouncing -i, and then without moving your tongue whatsoever, slowly pucker your lips until they are noticeably protruding and stiff. If there is no preceding consonant, i.e. there is a zero initial, then -_ should be rewritten as yu.

Finally, with the exception of the two initials n- and l-, there is no initial that can combine both with a -_-type final AND with a -u-type final. Only -_-type finals (as opposed to -u-type finals) can combine with j-, q-, x- or y-. Therefore, after those four initials -g-type finals are usually just written with an ordinary -u. Anyone seeing such a combination must automatically know that the -u must really be pronounced as an -_.

-_e/yue:

See -_ above for the pronunciation of that vowel. The -e sounds like the e in end and always takes the tone mark. If there is no preceding consonant, i.e. there is a zero initial, then -_e should be rewritten as yue.

-uan/yuan:

See -_ above for the pronunciation of that vowel. The trick in mastering this and the final immediately following this one is to remember that -a is NOT pronounced the way it looks. Instead, it should be pronounced just like the e in end, making sure as well that the -n is pronounced more emphatically than in English. The tone mark is always placed atop the -a. If there is no preceding consonant, i.e. there is a zero initial, then -_an should be rewritten as yuan.

-ian/yan:

The trick in mastering this and the final that immediately precedes this one is to remember that -a is NOT pronounced the way it looks. Instead, it should be pronounced just like the e in end, making sure as well that the -n is pronounced more emphatically than in English. The tone mark is always placed atop the -a. If there is no preceding consonant, i.e. there is a zero initial, then -ian should be rewritten as yan.

1.5

Now you will learn the last three remaining Mandarin finals. None of these three remaining finals are pronounced very closely to the way one would guess they should be pronounced on the basis of their spellings.

Today you will also practice making contrasts in pronunciation between pairs of sounds that are frequently troublesome for native English speakers to distinguish, and will learn some useful classroom expressions.
 
New Finals Troublesome Distinctions
-iu/you -g vs. -u
-ui/wei -ei vs. -ie
-un/wen -ou vs. -uo
re vs. ri vs. er

Finals:

-iu/you:

This is pronounced like the yo in yoke, only just as you are completing the pronunciation you must make certain that your lips are puckered up tightly and are sticking out as far as possible, as if you have just eaten something incredibly sour. Also, you must be certain to maintain the same loudness of voice throughout the entire duration of the final.

When this final combines with j-, q- or x-, i.e. when the spelling is -iu, then the tone mark is always placed atop the -u. When there is no preceding consonant, i.e. when there is a zero initial, then this final should be spelled you and the tone mark placed above the -o.

-ui/wei:

This is pronounced like English way, only just as you are completing the pronunciation you must make certain to push the tip of your tongue as far forward and as high up in your mouth as you can, and to make the tip of your tongue as stiff as you can. Also, you must be certain to maintain the same loudness of voice throughout the entire duration of the final.

When this final combines with an initial other than zero, i.e. when the spelling is -ui, then the tone mark is always placed atop the -i. When there is no preceding consonant, i.e. when there is a zero initial, then this final should be spelled wei, with the tone mark placed above the -e.

-un/wen:

This is pronounced with the sound of -oo- in book stuck between a w- and an

-n. When there is no preceding consonant, i.e. when there is a zero initial, then this should be spelled wen.



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