Pinyin pronunciation: <an>

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English - Midwest United States
Hello, I'm Nick. I've been studying Japanese for a couple of years and have started learning Mandarin about a couple of months ago. I'm a very academic learner of these languages, trying to perfect pronunciation by studying linguistics and speech patterns from people around me. In summary, I'm having trouble with the ending pinyin sound "-n," as in these examples. (安,万,晚, etc) At the moment, "an" is the only final I've been training this sound with.

I am looking for help preferably from people who've possibly investigated this as well, have had a similar experience, may have personal insight, or just any information at all that could be useful. Do keep in mind that I am absolutely being a perfectionist about this. I do have certain philosophies giving my reason for why I'm doing this and, although I would completely accept any criticism or skepticism, I would prefer not like replies telling me that this is a waste of time, but use your freedom how you'd like to.

Right now, I'm drilling and trying to perfect the phonology and have been doing so with my partner who's from Shenzhen. I'm not having too much difficulty replicating a lot of sounds and my tones are getting there, but my girlfriend and I have been really working with the pinyin ending "-n" as, for some linguistic reason, mine keeps sounding like an "-ng" sound.

I've been studying Duanmu's second edition of "The Phonology of Standard Chinese" and it taught me several things in addition to the information that I've been gathering from my Chinese friends on my campus.

A list of information I've gathered on the ending "-n" sound:
- Unlike the pinyin initial "n-" and general English "n" sound, the nasal "n" after certain finals does not always close.
- This sound nasalizes vowels before and after as well as consonants after it, similar and almost identical to Japanese "ん."
- This sound "fronts" the vowels before it, in opposition to "ng" which "backs" vowels. (Mandarin "an" sounds similar to English "an." Mandarin "ang" sounds like English "on" minus the "n" sound.)

Information I've gathered from my girlfriend and other Mandarin speakers:
- The Mandarin "-n" sounds to me like it's identical to English ending "-n" in isolation despite my bad pronunciation. Also, I have no problem identifying the sound in most phonetic environments.
- My "-n" sounds better when I either 1.) keep the "-n" as short as possible, almost inaudible (in opposition to "ng" which sounds okay when I pronounce it longer) or 2.) use a glottal stop \ʔ\ directly after it, possibly like \anʔ\

I've documented all that I have been able to. I will add information when I see fit and would love to discuss this to help myself as well as others. Thank you for considering to help if you've read this far.
  • I think whether the final n is closed or not depends on where the speaker is grown.
    Northerners tend to use nasal vowels while complete obstruction seems to be common among southerners.
    In either case, the Chinese -n is very different from the English -n in that the release is never audible. Inserting a glottal stop is definitely a way to achieve it.
    The Northern-Southern difference you point out is consistent from what I've been hearing, I notice. I'll consult with my partner in a bit, but I think she may still use nasal vowels despite the obstruction in her isolated pronunciations.

    One note I have, though, is that I've never thought of it heard of English nasals having an audible release. At least, I don't think I have it in my dialect. You are referring to the bit of sound following consonants like /t/ and /p/ at the end of words, right? Because I don't have that behind my /m/, /n/, and /ng/.

    As per your confirming advice, I think I'll resume using that glottal stop. Thank you so much for your input!
    Actually I'm referring to the sound at the beginning or in the middle of a word. You do not realize there is such sound because there is no such contrast in English.

    Most Chinese speakers cannot make an isolated consonant without special training. As a result, we always treat a syllable as indivisible and subconsciously decide whether each sound (whether vowel or consonant) we hear should belong the preceding or following syllable.

    Mandarin does not have consonant endings except -ng and -n. Because there is no ng- initial in Mandarin, /ng/ always belong to the preceding syllable. /n/ is trickier because the n- and -n contrast exists.

    Considering the word 天安门, how do we know it is /, not / ?
    The answer is: we need to be careful so the onset of /an/ is not affected by the release of the final /-n/ of the previous syllable. For those who pronounce /-n/ as a stop rather than a nasal vowel, inserting a glottal stop is an obvious choice.

    But if the -n is not followed by another stop, as in 三大 (big three) /san.da/, this /n/ cannot be released because it is followed by another stop /d/, which is voiceless in Mandarin. In this case, no glottal stop insertion is required.

    I grew up and lived in northern China until 14 before I moved to the south. To my ears, nasal vowels are /-n/, nasal releases are /n-/. When you speak Chinese, you have to be very careful to make the distinction among /.n/ /n./ and /n.n/. While it is natural to pronounce English word an apple with /n/ vibrating through out the word, many Chinese learners struggle to figure out why it spells as an apple but sounds like an napple. The a napron / an apron story rares occur in Chinese.
    This sound nasalizes vowels before and after as well as consonants after it
    Hello, Nick. I cannot think of any occasions where the syllable final /-n/ would nasalize the consonant or vowel that follows it. For example, /h-/ is not nasalized in 安徽 (ān-huī), /y-/ is not nasalized in 萬一 (wàn-yī), and /áo-/ is not nasalized in 難熬 (nán-áo).
    I am looking for help preferably from people who've possibly investigated this as well, have had a similar experience, may have personal insight, or just any information at all that could be useful.
    I'm an American studying Mandarin (普通话). I've studied other languages (including 日本語), but I am not fluent.
    I just have one suggestion.

    In summary, I'm having trouble with the ending pinyin sound "-n,
    Pinyin does not have a sound "-n". Pinyin does not have any English sounds.
    Pinyin was not designed for foreigners, and does not use the English alphabet.
    Pinyin uses the Roman alphabet to describe Mandarin pronunciation.
    Pinyin was designed for Mandarin-speaking children.

    Pinyin has several finals that are written "-n" or "-ng".
    But these do not imitate English "n" or "ng" sounds.
    Instead, they describe how Mandarin speakers pronounce syllables.
    How is that? You can only learn by listening and imitating.

    So that is my suggestion: stop thinking that any syllable ends in "n" or "ng". They don't. This isn't English.
    I don't want to sound rude, but did you read my post? I'm way too far into linguistic study to make any of those mistakes you've listed. I'm sure it's very useful for and very ignored by many beginners and I appreciate the feedback, but I would better appreciate information that I wasn't already aware of. As always though, thanks for the feedback and have a nice day!
    I read all the posts, though I did not study them in depth. In my experience, advanced learners make mistakes. l saw some things that seemed to imply that you were confused, such as the ending pinyin sound '-n'. Sorry if my verbose style seemed to you like "talking down to you".

    Note that this thread is not just for you. Anyone who searches on the word "pinyin" in our dictionary (or even in Google Search) might find this thread. Maybe my post will be useful info for some of them. For you it was just a reminder (perhaps unneeded).
    The "ending pinyin sound -n" makes sense to me because I do believe there is an underlying phoneme /-n/ that occupies a space, whether it is (1) released, (2) unreleased, or (3) merged with the preceding vowel.

    (1) Released:
    天啊 tiāna [tʰjɛ̃na] "Oh heaven" (also written as 天哪 tiān-na), in which /-n/ is released, pretty much the same as the /-n/ in "an apple".
    (2) Unreleased (with nasal closure):
    天地 tiān-dì [tʰjɛ̃n̚-ti] "heaven and earth" (alternatively [tʰjɛ̃ː-ti]), in which [n̚] as a homorganic consonant of [t̚] behaves like the [-t̚] in "sit down" apart from nasalization of the preceding vowel triggered by the Chinese [-n̚].
    (3) Merged with the preceding vowel (without nasal closure):
    天阿 tiān-ā [tʰjɛ̃ː-a] "62 Arietis", in which [ɛ̃ː] is longer than a regular vowel because it annexes the space occupied by the /-n/.

    Note: 天阿 may be pronounced as tiān-ā, tiān-ē, or tiān-hé. To determine which pronunciation is the "correct" or "standard" one is not the main point of this post.
    The /-n/ before the modal particle 喔 /o/ (表驚嘆、 抱怨) may be released as well. For instance, 好酸喔, 好討厭喔.