[an] in Chinese languages

Discussion in '中文+方言 (Chinese)' started by Skatinginbc, Oct 21, 2016.

  1. Skatinginbc

    Skatinginbc Senior Member

    Mandarin 國語
    When I looked up dialectal data, I often encountered the phonetic transcription [an] but had no idea how it was actually pronounced. For example, I know for certain that /an/ is fronted or centralized in Standard Mandarin (e.g., 幹 gàn [kɜn] in 幹什麼, not to mention 閻 yán [i̯ɛn] in 閻羅王) although it is described as [an] in Wikipedia's Standard Chinese phonology. To me, [a] denotes a back vowel (as in the word kanji in American English), clearly different from the centralized [ɜ] (as in Taiwanese Hokkien 幹[kɜn]你娘, often misleadingly transcribed as [kan]). Thus when I see something like 長沙 (湘語) 幹 [kan] or 柳州 (官話) 幹 [kan], I really don't know whether it is truly [an] or something else.

    Does [an] (with a back vowel) actually exist in modern Chinese languages? (I mean: in normal speech, not in affected enunciation like 園 yuán [y̯an] pronounced by a singer in a song) If it does, please identify the dialect or language and give me a word or example in which [an] can be found.

    Thank you.
    Last edited: Oct 21, 2016
  2. retrogradedwithwind Senior Member


  3. fyl Senior Member

    Mandarin Chinese
    I think in IPA [a] is a front vowel, and the American English sound is [ɑ] (or maybe [ɒ]). So I'm not quite sure what you mean by "[a] denotes a back vowel". (IPA vowel chart)
    (Are you using a font that shows the 印刷体a as the 手写体ɑ?)

    Personally, I think it should be the front vowel [a] (or something very close to it) whenever you see an [a], because it does not make much sense to me to use "broad IPA transcription" to transcript sounds in different dialects.
    Last edited: Oct 22, 2016
  4. Skatinginbc

    Skatinginbc Senior Member

    Mandarin 國語
    You are right, fyl :thumbsup::thumbsup::thumbsup:. I had a brain-dead moment.

    Anyway, I still would like to know if [ɑn] (with an unrounded open back vowel) exists in any Chinese dialects or languages--That was my actual question and the real reason why I opened this thread. The rest of my gobbledygook in post #1 can be thrown into the garbage can :D. Thanks.
    Last edited: Oct 22, 2016
  5. Youngfun

    Youngfun Senior Member

    Bắc Kinh
    Wu Chinese & Italian
    I never heard 幹 gàn [kɜn]...

    In my Mandarin accent, the vowel in "an" is exactly the same as the single "a".
    But in the North I noticed that the a in an is slightly more closed. I've seen various transcriptions such as [æn], [ɐn], etc.
    I think ang is often transcribed as [ɑŋ], but slightly different from the American [ɑ].
    An American told me that 讓 sounds different from "wrong" (which has [ɑ] in his accent) to him.

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