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 Language Made Easy

       STANFORD LANGUAGE CENTRE

 

Pronunciation

The standard Romanization system used for Mandarin Chinese.

While most of the letters are the same or very close to the English usage, there are some important differences.

Pronunciation Basics

Mandarin Chinese may sound strange, but is actually relatively easy for English-speakers to pick up—much easier than it is for Mandarin-speakers to learn English. A large part of the reason is that Chinese has a very limited syllabary, meaning there are not many sounds in the language, and hardly any new ones if you already know English.

On the other hand, that means Chinese-speakers trying to grasp English must learn to create dozens of entirely new sounds—remember that as you proceed through these first lessons on pronunciation!

One very different aspect of Chinese is its use of tones. Because of its limited syllabary,

pitches of voice are used to help differentiate words. While some dialects of Chinese

have up to nine tones, Mandarin is comparatively easy with only four. It's often difficult

for beginners to distinguish the tone of a word, especially when not sure of the context.

Even if you have perfect pitch, it may be hard to follow or reproduce what can seem like

a rollercoaster ride of tonal transitions. Don't worry though, as you'll improve with

practice. These lessons will describe how to understand and reproduce all the syllables

and tones of Chinese.

A note about IPA

The IPA, or International Phonetic Alphabet, is a standard set of symbols that can be used

to write any sound from any human language. If you know the IPA, it will be used here to

give you a grounding in pinyin—the most common Romanization system for Chinese,

which will be used for the rest of the text.

The Mandarin syllable

There are three parts to all syllables in Mandarin; the initial, the final, and the tone. In

pinyin, the tone, initial, and final are represented as follows:

Tone

The tone is represented by a tone mark placed on top of the syllable. There are exactly

four tone marks: , ˊ, ˇ, and ˋ. The two dots on ü (like a German umlaut) do not have to

do with the tone, so if you see , , , or , the symbol above the dots represents the tone.