Friday, July 06, 2007

sichuanhua primer--四川话入门--sǐcuáhhuǎ rǔmen*--part 2: pronunciation

Sichuanhua Primer


sǐcuáhhuǎ rǔmen*

from longleggedfly

by k.m.m.

Part 2 Pronunciation


This is the part where most casual readers will throw up their hands, say “what the fuck!?” and give up. Sichuanhua does, indeed, sound quite different from putonghua, with numerous consonants, vowels, and diphthongs changed, as well as a few irregularities in pronunciation and just general strangeness—even asking “what” and “how” are different.

Well, there’s no choice but to deal with it now, at the very beginning. But don’t despair. Once you have mastered the first three portions of this primer, you will find that grammar, vocabulary, and syntax are largely consistent with putonghua. Despite the rather numerous changes in pronunciation, if you are exposed to these differences on a daily basis you will very quickly adapt to them.

(Of course, if you don’t feel like putting up with the boring stuff, you can just wait for the part on swear words.)

Anyway, let’s begin with consonant, vowel, and diphthong changes. There are a whopping twelve changes in total.

NOTE: Changes in vowel pronunciation occur only in the case of terminal vowels. For instance, in the word ren, the ‘e’ is not pronounced ‘oe.’ Only a word such as he, with the ‘e’ at the end, should be pronounced ‘hoe.’

  1. ZH-->Z
  2. CH-->C
  3. SH-->S
  4. W-->VW
  5. AN-->AH
  6. –UAN-->–UAH
  7. –IAN-->–IAH
  8. –O-->–OE
  9. –E-->–OE
  10. –UO-->–OE
  11. –UE-->–UOE
  12. R-->ZR

Here are samples of each sound, with an accompanying audio file.

  1. si*
  2. vwù
  3. cuáh
  4. diǎh
  5. poě
  6. hoe*
  7. hoè
  8. xuoe*rzen*



OE is pinyin invented by me, because no adequate pinyin exists in putonghua. It is neither the same as the “ou” sound, nor is it the same as the “o” sound. I originally wanted to represent it with an umlaut (ö) because showing it as a diphthong is misleading, however there is no way I could put pinyin tone marks over an umlauted “o”.

I do want to emphasize, however, that there is no “E” soundit is just a straight "o" sounding like the English “hoe,” “low,” “bow,” or “po’ ” (as in “we po’ folks!”)

I don’t know if Chinese language books have their own representation of this sound. If they do, please let me know, and I will change it here accordingly.



Sichuanhua’s “w” is quite different from the putonghua “w,” and contains much more of a “v” sound at the beginning, hence it’s representation here as “vw.”



“AH” is distinct from the Mandarin “a”; here it sounds like the “a” in “bad,” “mad,” or “sad.”



Special sound unique to sichuanhua. It will be explained more in part 3.



Blogger Uncle Angel said...

The links to the oe and vw audio files are the same, linking to the first, not the second.

Without being absolutely certain, oe sounds like it might be a mid-low back rounded vowel (U+0254), although given that the corresponding vowel in putonghua is a mid-high back unrounded vowel (U+0264), it might be /o/ rather than U+0254. However, I'm no phonetician so I can't be sure.

From your description of vw, I'd guess it's a labio-dental semivowel (U+028B). I heard something similar when I was in Xinjiang about three years ago.

Your description of Sichuanhua is a fortuitous discovery. I arrived in Chengdu last week and was keen to hear the local speech to see how it compared with other forms of Chinese I've encountered during my time in China. I ended up in a nearby restaurant not long after I arrived and instantly noticed the "alien" tone which, it seemed to me (although I couldn't understand a single word) to be a clause final tone. Or perhaps it was most noticeable there.

7:29 AM  
Blogger teresa said...

i just saw balzac's little chinese seamstress and i could barely understand it. i spent the first 15 minutes wondering if they were speaking cantonese. you've got your work cut out!

5:12 PM  
Blogger KMM said...

Hi uncle angel, thanks very much for the comment--it's really good to get feedback on this project. Your linguistic terminology is also quite helpful, even if you're not a phonetician--do you have any suggestions on how to represent those sounds in type?

The special Sichuanhua tone is definitely not a clause final tone. It can appear in any part of a sentence, and just general follows the conversion rule that I mentioned in the first part of the primer (second tone becomes the special tone). It probably was just easier to notice at the end of a clause because, just like in mandarin, sichuanhua speakers tend to slur a bit, and their tones won't be very clear in the middle of a sentence/clause.

weirui--I watched that the other day and the Sichuanhua spoken is a really, really, really thick Sichuan accent, spoken by peasants in the far rural regions of the province. The city accents, and especially the Chengdu accent, is much easier to understand.

Also, sorry to both of you for the delay in replying. Usually I receive an email telling me I've had a comment on my site, but this time I didn't get one. Strange. I wonder how many other comments there are on my site that I don't know about.

11:25 PM  
Blogger Uncle Angel said...

The problem with using IPA symbols is that not everyone has a font with IPA characters. You'd need to direct people to the SIL site and tell them to download the Doulos font (probably the best choice).

You'd have to compromise with representation of such sounds. vw seems like a reasonable attempt to represent U+028B.

Representing high mid and low mid back rounded vowels has always been tricky. You could use 'o' (or 'ọ' (U+1ecd), which is often used in older books where the distinction between high-mid and low-mid vowels is important) for the high mid vowel and 'ǫ' (U+01eb), but neither is standard. Or you might represent the latter with a digraph such as 'oa'. But that, of course, depends on the actual sound.

/o/ (mid-high) is the unmarked vowel. In other words, if a language has 'o', it's usually this one. That's why the low-mid vowel is the one you might prefer to mark distinctively.

8:54 AM  
Anonymous James said...

Being from the UK, to me the "ah" which replaces the Mandarin "a" sounds very similar to the American version of the vowel in "mad" "bad" etc. Last time I checked linguists use a symbol which looks like a fused a and e for represent this sound. So many "ae" would be a good choice?

As for "oe", sounds roughly the same as when English people say "or/oar/ore" (we don't pronounce the "r"). As far as I know that is indeed a mid-low back rounded vowel.

12:23 AM  

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