Pinyin pronunciation: -in / -ing


Senior Member
Canadian English

I have a question about the sounds -in, -ing. In what regions of China are these sounds usually distinguished? (I think it is a minority of speakers who differentiate -in from -ing, right? despite them being the standard sounds) From what I've heard, I think people from 北京 and 山东 do for sure, right? Can this distinction be found throughout 北方? (I think in 南方 and 台湾, -ing is almost always pronounced as -in, right? except for 行)
  • Let me give a very rough answer. First, divide the map of China into 4 parts (take this picture as a reference: 汉语 - 维基百科,自由的百科全书)
    1. Upper right. -in and -ing are distinguished, like in the standard Mandarin.
    2. Upper left. Only -ing exists.
    3. Lower left. Only -in exists.
    4. Lower right (mostly the non-官话 areas in the map). This is very complicated. As you can see, many many different variates of Chinese languages are spoken here. It is not rare that several mutually unintelligible dialects exist in one city in this area. Moreover, many dialects in this area have not only -n/-ng but also -m (which has disappeared in Mandarin areas), which makes it more complicated. I'm not able to give a general rule but I just checked some materials (《汉语方言地图集 语音卷》 129新七的韵尾, 192星的韵母). Most areas will pronounce 新 with an -n final, except many places in 浙江、福建 and a couple of other tiny areas. For 星, there are just too many different types on the map that it's a bit hard to identify all places with a -ng final. My rough impression is that people distinguish -n/-ng in about half of the "lower right" part of China.

    PS: The above is about the local sinitic languages/dialects. Nowadays it is not strange that young people speak perfect 普通话 and it is impossible to tell where they come from. Local dialects are endangered even in small cities.
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    From observation: in the south, the -ing final (韵母) doesn't carry a big nasal twang like it often does in the north (后鼻音+儿化), but it's still obvious enough to make it distinguishable from -in. Freely interchanging -in and -ing could bring unintended, yet significant consequences to what one's saying. Like fyl has pointed out, it's an abating phenomenon among the new generation of Mandarin speakers because they have become more self-conscious, and improper diction is considered a trait of someone who's poorly educated.

    Consider the following and the potential confusion it can cause by being sloppy with the -in's and -ing's:

    拼命 pin1ming4 (risk everything/fight tooth and nail)
    平明 ping2ming2 (dawn)
    平民 ping2min2 (civilian)
    贫民 pin2min2 (the poor)
    Hi, baosheng!

    I'm from the Wu-speaking (吴语) area, and we don't distinguish between -n and -ng. That is, we just pronounce a vowel and put a nasal after that, and it doesn't matter if it's 前鼻音 (like in, lit. "front-nose sound") or 后鼻音 (like ing, "back-nose sound). Not only we can't distinguish them when speaking, but not even when hearing them.
    Someone invented a new expression saying we have 中鼻音 ("intermediate-nose sound), that is an intermediate sound between n and ng.

    I think that we mostly pronounce both in and ing as ing, because it's easier to make a nasal sound in the back of the throat, without moving the tongue towards the teeth. But sometimes, it can also happen that Northerners hear our ing as in, because to us it doesn't really matter which way we pronounce.

    Or even a nasalised vowel (similar to French) is possible in fast speech when there are other words afterwards.

    This also applies to an vs ang and en vs eng.