Pinyin pronunciation: x, sh

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James Bates

Banned
Urdu
The sounds represented by the Pinyin symbols x and sh do not exist in English. If I were to substitute the sound represented by the English "sh" in, say, both "xī" and "shī", and there were no context of any sort, would I be perceived as having uttered "xī" or "shī"? In other words, is ʃ sound closer to Pinyin x or sh?
 
  • xiaolijie

    Senior Member
    UK
    English (UK)
    First off, for an English speaker, the initial sound in "xī" and "shī" can be said to be /ʃ/ since this is the closest in the English sound system (and we don't differentiate them). Now as we're learning Chinese, we should try differentiate and eventually we'll hear the difference between them:

    When you combine /ʃ/ with a front vowel (such as /i:/ as in "she"), you'll get the Chinese /x/; when you combine /ʃ/ with a back vowel (such as /u/ as in "shoe"), you'll get the Chinese /sh/.
    So these sounds start off the same way but since the position of the vowels influence them, make them different: for the Chinese /x/, your tongue pushes to the front towards the teeth; for the Chinse /sh/, your tongue draws back away from the teeth (and if you do it correctly, the tip of the tongue should curl up and backwards).
     

    James Bates

    Banned
    Urdu
    Oh, I see. That helps a lot :)
    Just one question. If I were to say the English pronoun "she", would it sound more like "xī" or "shī" to a Chinese person?
     

    xiaolijie

    Senior Member
    UK
    English (UK)
    Oh, I see. That helps a lot :)
    Just one question. If I were to say the English pronoun "she", would it sound more like "xī" or "shī" to a Chinese person?
    More like "xī". The problem with the spelling of "xī" and "shī" is that the letter "i" gives us the wrong impression. The two sounds represented by the same letter "i" are actually very different: the sound in "xī" is a front vowel and the one in "shī" is a medial/ back vowel.
     

    Youngfun

    Senior Member
    Wu Chinese & Italian
    Sounds perception vary among people, especially of different native language.
    For me, "sh" is just "s" pronounced with the retroflex tongue. I don't perceive it as a particular "sh", but as a particular "s".

    I have always been pronouncing the Western sound /ʃ/ (is it the same in Italian and English?) and the Chinese <x> in the exact same way, then I don't know in which language I pronounce it wrong.
     
    English /ʃ/ sounds a little round to me. I think Mandarin “x”/ɕ/ is more relax than English /ʃ/.
    You raise the middle of your tongue to touch the back of your palate. It is generally the voiceless consonant version of vowel /i/.

    The “sh”/ʂ/ in shī sounds like the tr in street. /ʃ/ is also widely accepted, but don't round your lip.

    When pronouncing xī sī shī, your tongue position keeps (almost) unchanged throughout the syllable.
    “xi3yi1ji1”(washing machine) may sound like “xiii” when speaking fast.

    As z/c/s/zh/ch/sh/g/k/h must not be followed by i/yu and j/q/x must be followed by i/yu, “she” sounds more like “x”/ɕ/ to me. But “share” sounds more like “sh”/ʂ/.
     
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    AsifAkheir

    Senior Member
    English - Canada
    Hi James Bates,

    There is a lot of variation among Chinese speakers of different dialects. When they try to approximate the Putonghua pronounciation you often hear 'xi' pronounced like the English 'she' or even 'see'

    Pronounce 'shi' as if the dentist had just asked you "has the novacaine kicked in yet?" And you answer "sure!"

    Chinese 'xi' is exactly the same as a backwards German 'ich'. Pretend you're John Kennedy, on drugs, speaking backwards saying "renilreB nie nib hci" (ich bin ein Berliner).
     
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    yuechu

    Senior Member
    Canada, English
    Pronounce 'shi' as if the dentist had just asked you "has the novacaine kicked in yet?" And you answer "sure!"

    Chinese 'xi' is exactly the same as a backwards German 'ich'. Pretend you're John Kennedy, on drugs, speaking backwards saying "renilreB nie nib hci" (ich bin ein Berliner).
    I think you are right about "sure" being similar to "sh" but I would be careful about saying that pinyin "x" and German "ch" are exactly the same (backwards or forwards). The two sounds are quite different for me. /ɕ/ (pinyin "x", more like an "sh" from an English point of view) and German /ç/ (ex. "ich", almost like a type of 'h' sound).
    ... although now that I think of it, I know that in some regional accents in Germany, there is a "sh"-like pronunciation of "ch". In that case, you may be right!
     

    Lucia_zwl

    Senior Member
    Chinese (Mandarin)
    Chinese 'xi' is exactly the same as a backwards German 'ich'. Pretend you're John Kennedy, on drugs, speaking backwards saying "renilreB nie nib hci" (ich bin ein Berliner).
    I would say Chinese "xi" is more similar to German "-ch" (/ç/ as in "ich") than to English "she", but they are still not exactly the same (and German "-ch" in "ich" is definitely not like /h/).
    Here I found the manner of articulation for Chinese Pinyin (scroll down and you'll find both "x" and "sh". Though oversimplified, you can see the position of the tongue) and German /ç/.

    ps: "Ich bin ein Berliner" actually means "I'm a jelly doughnut".:p
     
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