Pinyin pronunciation: xi

kirsitn

Senior Member
Norway, Norwegian
In my Chinese audio course words with the pinyin xi are sometimes pronounces as "she" in English, other times as "see". Similarly the word xin is pronounces sometimes as "shin", other times as "sin", and the same for xiao (she-ao or see-ao).

Which way is the (most) standard mandarin pronunciation?
Is the pronunciation dependent on the tone of the word or is it just different regional accents?
 
  • samanthalee

    Senior Member
    Mandarin, English - [Singapore]
    The problem with explaining about pronunciation in the way you describe is that there are different English accents too.
    In my brand of Chinese(Mandarin) and English, I would say that:
    xi = "see" in English
    xin = "sin" in English.

    Additionally, I think:
    xu = "she" in English
    xun = "shin" in English

    In my humble opinion, it is a good idea to attend a couple of lessons with a real human trainer to get the pronunciation right before attempting self study.:)
     

    kirsitn

    Senior Member
    Norway, Norwegian
    In my humble opinion, it is a good idea to attend a couple of lessons with a real human trainer to get the pronunciation right before attempting self study.:)

    I did a few years ago, so I do have a general idea of what it should sound like. I just want to know which one is the more common pronunciation, since people from different regions of China pronounce things differently.

    Okay, if we stick to American English and the international phonetic alphabet:

    Is xi more commonly pronounced as si or ʃi ?
     

    Outsider

    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Portugal)
    Chinese xi is neither "si" nor "shi". The consonant is an "s"-like sound, but it is different from any sound in the English language (though I believe it does exist in some Scandinavian languages). Here it is in IPA, and you can listen to it here.
     

    LikeBarleyBending

    Senior Member
    China, Chinese
    I think 'she' in English is the closest to the pronunciation of 'xi' in mandarin. 'si' is not the standard pronunciation, though many Chinese in certain regions may often use this pronunciation. So definitely 'she' is more commonly used.
     

    traveler2007

    New Member
    China Chinese
    Hi ,

    When you pronounce 'xi' , do like this:

    Hold you mouth solid when you are pronouncing 'yi'...
    Hold and make air out of you mouth...

    I think you hear 'xi' now...
     

    Anatoli

    Senior Member
    русский (Russian)
    I think 'she' in English is the closest to the pronunciation of 'xi' in mandarin. 'si' is not the standard pronunciation, though many Chinese in certain regions may often use this pronunciation. So definitely 'she' is more commonly used.
    I would stick to Outsider's description - IPA. Describing a sound in one language with another one may never be perfect, especially if the sounds have something in common but the difference is very important like in this case. If I ask you how to describe the Pinyin 'shi' sound. What English combination would you use? Also 'she'? I agree that English 'she' is the best you can get to describe it. :)
    'xi' is palatalised and 'shi' is not.

    I think you are referring to 'shi' pronounced as 'si' in many Southern regions, not 'xi'.

    In other languages voiceless alveolo-palatal fricative (ɕ): Mandarin 'xi' is similar to Japanese し (Romaji: shi), Polish 'si' (ś + i), Swedish (in one of the regiolects) as in "kjol", German (some dialects) as in "ich", the Russian 'щ' is this sound doubled (ɕɕ).

    This sound doesn't exist in English, so "sh" is only an approximation.
     

    Anatoli

    Senior Member
    русский (Russian)
    Agreed, but I'd say that the sound in "kjol" is standard Swedish. Other Swedish examples are "tjuta" and "kilo". Apart from the very South of Sweden, I can't think of any differing pronunciations.
    Tak ska du ha, Lugubert :) The other pronunciation is so common in the South I thought it could be standard. Thanks for clarifying. Anyway, not all Swedes speak like this.
     

    Anatoli

    Senior Member
    русский (Russian)
    The one that says "Voiceless alveolo-palatal fricative". One site doesn't say "voiceless" but has the same symbol. I haven't listened to the file, I am at work. Do they sound different?

    Japanese 'jishin' 地震 [ʥiɕĩɴ] is transcribed using the same symbol.

    So, Japanese Romaji's 'shi' = Chinese Hanyu Pinyin's 'xi'. They are quite identical, IMHO. E.g Chinese 西 (xī)

    (Note: Hanyu Pinyin shi (是) represents a quite different sound from Japanese shi 仕事).
     

    Spectre scolaire

    Senior Member
    Maltese and Russian
    Unless you are familiar with a ‘narrow’ phonetic transcription based on IPA, I think a description based on a comparison with other languages is more or less futile. So, what is the alternative?

    In all languages the inherent distinctions between minimal pairs are of capital importance. Finding minimal pairs including the sound in question would therefore solve the problem – provided you can find a native...:D

    In Mandarin you can cough up the following sibilants in which pinyin x is in the middle:

    pinyin sā, “cast, let go; piss”
    pinyin xiā, “be blind”
    pinyin shā, “sand; (of voice) hoarse

    Chinese and Polish both have three sibilants, but the Chinese [pinyin] sh is more distinctively a retroflex sound, not like Swedish sjö, however, which is characterized by a double articulation (compare Czech ř – not phonetically the same, though!). Neither do I understand the reference to Swedish kjol - ##7-9 constituting a deviation! - a sound which is more like the German ich, and clearly different from Chinese [pinyin] x.

    Synoptically, [pinyin] s is found in most languages (not Spanish and Greek, though, which only have one sibilant!), but x and sh are, if not peculiar to Chinese - Japanese has been mentioned for one of them (and the /s/ phoneme in Greek and Spanish is also very much like the pinyin x!) - they are indeed very specific sounds. In order to produce them correctly, some attentive listening to a native is required. They are both articulated differently from sibilants we usually learn in the West.
    ;) :)
     

    Anatoli

    Senior Member
    русский (Russian)
    Spectre Scolaire, not sure I understand your post. Are you saying that my comparisons are incorrect?

    I mentioned that German "ich" pronunciation is dialectal and Swedish "kjol" is standard as corrected by Lugubert.

    In this case the comparison is valid, IMHO, because they really represent the same sound, as for IPA. If you have any doubts, search for reference to "voiceless alveolo-palatal fricative" and see, which languages have this sounds. English doesn't have this sound, so it can only be described with some approximation, not perfectly.

    Sorry but I don't agree with your reference to Spanish and Greek (despite my low knowledge of these two), since this sound is not present there, unless you wish to provide some very rough approximation, which is not better than comparing to English 'sh' (as in 'she'). :)

    A good source for IPA sounds and examples is Wikipedia.

    I agree if you don't know any of the sample languages, you just have to learn it from native speakers or use your listening skills and listen to recordings and try to imitate.
     

    Spectre scolaire

    Senior Member
    Maltese and Russian
    Mandarin 'xi' is similar to Japanese (Romaji: shi), Polish 'si' (ś + i), Swedish (in one of the regiolects) as in "kjol", German (some dialects) as in "ich", the Russian 'щ' is this sound doubled [#7]
    Anatoli said:
    I mentioned that German "ich" pronunciation is dialectal and Swedish "kjol" is standard as corrected by Lugubert.[#14]
    As I said in #13 “a description based on a comparison with other languages is more or less futile.” And if you introduce dialects without even pointing out which dialects, we have a problem. Contrastive phonetics (not only linguistics) is important when teaching a language to foreigners whose native tongues are different. But I honestly think we should stay away from Swedish phonetics. Swedish fricatives are awkward to pronounce, one is unique among world languages, and there are considerable regional differences. The worst is, however, that even professional phoneticians don’t agree on how to describe them! When you are able to pronounce correctly the city of
    Växsjö (in the local dialect!), we might return to Swedish phonetics.:D Because of these problems, Swedish is not a good language sample to contrast with Mandarin 西. Sorry, Lugubert!

    Greek and Spanish have only got one sibilant – in contrast to Polish which has got three. When Greeks pronounce Swedish kjol they apply their only sibilant and it does’nt sound good to a Swedish native speaker.

    Because the Polish ś has to find an articulation between s and sz, it happens to be very close to Greek (and no less to the Spanish equivalent sound). Mandarin is also in possession of three sibilants, [pinyin] s, x [before i] and sh.

    Standard German ich is more or less the same as [Standard?:eek:] Swedish kjol, and certainly different from Mandarin xī. There are many German dialects, however, in which ich could sound like Greek /s/ - in Dresden, f.ex. In that case, we are approaching Mandarin xī.


    When you say that “the Russian 'щ' is this sound [ich] doubled”, I don’t understand you. Or perhaps you refer to how they pronounce ich in Berlin Dresden? The Russian ш (sic) is almost approaching Mandarin [pinyin] sh.
    I grew up with Russian, but my father could not follow up imparting the language to me.

    I don’t think there is any serious misunderstanding between Greek Ανατολή and Latin spectrum...;)
    :) :)
     

    Outsider

    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Portugal)
    Sorry but I don't agree with your reference to Spanish and Greek (despite my low knowledge of these two), since this sound is not present there, unless you wish to provide some very rough approximation, which is not better than comparing to English 'sh' (as in 'she'). :)
    Indeed, it seems that many people confuse alveolo-palatal consonants with apico-alveolar ones. The Castilian "s" (and, I believe, the Greek one as well) are apico-alveolar.
     

    Anatoli

    Senior Member
    русский (Russian)
    ...
    When you say that “the Russian 'щ' is this sound [ich] doubled”, I don’t understand you. Or perhaps you refer to how they pronounce ich in Berlin? The Russian ш (sic) is almost approaching Mandarin [pinyin] sh.
    I grew up with Russian, but my father could not follow up imparting the language to me.
    ...

    The Russian "щ" is different from the Russian "ш". "щ" is pronounced as a double [ɕɕ] (Polish "śś") and "ш" as a single [ʃ] (Polish "sz").
    The Russian ш (sic) is almost approaching Mandarin [pinyin] sh.
    That's right, not a 100% match, though, when it is "shi" but "sha" sounds very close to Russian "ша".

    BTW, "Ich" in Berlin is more like "ick" [ik] (non-standard). The German example is not perfect either, since pronouncing "ch" as [ɕ] is not standard. The standard is "voiceless palatal fricative" [ç].
     

    Spectre scolaire

    Senior Member
    Maltese and Russian
    Let me correct a passage in my post #15:

    When you say that “the Russian 'щ' is this sound [ich]
    doubled”, I don’t understand you.1) Or perhaps you refer to how they pronounce ich in BerlinDresden?2) The Russian ш (sic) is almost approaching Mandarin [pinyin] sh.3)
    1) Rather ‘I don’t follow you’. щ is primarily śtś (to put it within a Polish orthographic convention), but mostly simplified in daily conversation to ś. Why śś ?

    2) This has now been corrected in my post. There was no reason to write Berlin here. I lived in Berlin in the early 70s and even my first person, as it were, was influenced by ik. Nostalgia?:D

    3) I should have written sha or ш [before a] – as I wrote “x [before i]” in the Mandarin case.

    Outside said:
    Indeed, it seems that many people confuse alveolo-palatal consonants with apico-alveolar ones. The Castilian "s" (and, I believe, the Greek one as well) are apico-alveolar.
    It just proves what I keep on saying – comparisons between different languages are bound to be misunderstood. Detailed phonetic terminology is not commonly understood and, on the other hand, a proper understanding of distinctions within the language is often more efficient than trying to convey a theoretical understanding. Settling down in the local community – like I am presently living in
    Beijing – you’ll find ample opportunity to investigate the quality of Mandarin sibilants and to compare them to sibilants of your own dialect.

    And yet, this is not an easy matter! As I said in my post about Greeks in Sweden. They might live there for 20 years without correcting their Greek sibilant to the Swedish local variety. I know Spaniards with a brilliant mastery of English and who would still say, not only “I am from eSpain”, but even “I went to the e:eek:school to escan the picture.” And if a Chinese simply fails to hear that “She cannot take the caz” does not conform to English phonetics - z being (ad hoc) a retroflex z pretending to be an [ł]; there is no car involved on the phone - it just proves my point: We are all stuck in our phonetic behavior...
    :) :)
    PS: I have already paid tribute to Scandinavian phonetic science by recommending a Danish introduction to phonetics, see http://forum.wordreference.com/showthread.php?t=424678&highlight, and in 1988 the Norwegian linguist Rolf Theil Endresen (who has also studied Chinese!) published his Fonetikk, initially a controversial book partly because of his extremely detailed phonetic “jargon”. I was a student in Denmark long before these books came around. Perhaps kirsitn should look up what Endresen has got to say about Chinese xī. ;)
     

    Aoyama

    Senior Member
    français Clodoaldien
    It would be a mistake to link xi with anything close to shi .
    Before pin-yin was in use, the transcription hsi (and also hsia, hsiong etc) was used, trying to show the preceding (retroflex ?) sound before the s , a kind of aspiration .
    xi is obviously different from shi which exists in Chinese, and from じ in Japanese. In fact, all Chinese words pronounced xi, xiao, xiong etc have given Japanese readings differing from shi/ji.
     

    Anatoli

    Senior Member
    русский (Russian)
    Aoyama, I couldn't follow you. Are you referring to the Chinese or Japanese "shi"?

    If the Japanese, then Hanyu Pinyin "xi" (西, 习, 喜) (or "hsi" in another transliteration) is identical (well, almost if ignoring the tones) to the Japanese shi (し). しゃ is identical to "xia" (hsia).

    Using IPA, here's an example of ɕ in Japanese:
    [ɕio] "shio" 塩 'salt'

    Chinese 西夏 XīXià "Western Xia kingdom" is pronounced like Japanese 支社 (ししゃ) "branch office" - [ɕiɕa] (ignoring the tones again)

    ---
    Now to "ji"

    Japanese particle じゃ (ja) sounds similar to Chinese word
    家 [jiā] home, house.

    The difference is here in aspiration. Japanese has "voiced" consonants, Chinese doesn't.

    So Japanese is transcribed using [ʥ] but Chinese using [tɕ], because it's voiceless, in fact it is closer to Japanese ちゃ (cha) than to じゃ (ja).
    1) Rather ‘I don’t follow you’. щ is primarily śtś (to put it within a Polish orthographic convention), but mostly simplified in daily conversation to ś. Why śś ?
    It's the standard Russian, not the Polish pronunciation. Polish people often do mispronounce "щ" as "śtś" or more likely as "szcz". Cf. "barszcz" [barʂtʂ] (Polish) "борщ" [borɕɕ] (Russian) "cabbage soup". The correct and most common Russian accent is "borśś".

    EDIT:
    The IPA symbols I copied keep changing to a smaller size in different places, not sure why. I hope you can read them.
     

    Lugubert

    Senior Member
    As I said in #13 “a description based on a comparison with other languages is more or less futile.” ... But I honestly think we should stay away from Swedish phonetics. Swedish fricatives are awkward to pronounce, one is unique among world languages, and there are considerable regional differences.
    How true! Don't, for example, trust any Internet effort to describe our pronunciation corresponding to the symbol "hooktop heng".

    There was a discussion on Sw vs. Ch, including hooktop heng, at http://www.chinese-forums.com/showthread.php?t=8864&page=5

    The worst is, however, that even professional phoneticians don’t agree on how to describe them! When you are able to pronounce correctly the city of Vä
    xsjö (in the local dialect!), we might return to Swedish phonetics.:D Because of these problems, Swedish is not a good language sample to contrast with Mandarin 西. Sorry, Lugubert!
    (I've tried more that ten times to merge those two quote paragraphs. I now give up.) Växjö. Local indeed. Probably [hooktop heng]. But I clearly referred to Standard Swedish. The way my native Chinese speaking fellow uni students pronounced the Chinese x and the Swedish tj-, nobody heard/made a difference between 西 and the first syllable of Swedish kines(iska) 'Chinese'.

    Greek and Spanish have only got one sibilant – in contrast to Polish which has got three.
    That fact alone has made me want to explore Polish phonetics, to feel the distinctions and to compare them to Chinese (and Swedish).

    When you say that “the Russian 'щ' is this sound [ich] doubled”, I don’t understand you.
    The Russian ш (sic) is almost approaching Mandarin [pinyin] sh.
    My impression sure is that ш is very close indeed to Pinyin sh, which in turn corresponds nicely to Stockholm pronunciations of Swedish written sk-, stj-, skj-, sch-... , most of which in my (rather standard, though) dialect will be the strange throaty hissing hooktop heng. And the contemporary pronunciation of щ seems to have changed from what matched the (older Swedish) transcription sjtj- to a long sj- (шш).
     

    Aoyama

    Senior Member
    français Clodoaldien
    Well, I may have gone a bit too quickly on this one.
    You (Anatoly) are right on your examples.
    Still, xiong will become kyo (but true, xiang will be so ) so there is a like between xi and し/じ (as well as shi in Chinese/し/じ).

    For
    "ji"

    Japanese particle じゃ (ja) sounds similar to Chinese word 家 [jiā] home, house.

    The difference is here in aspiration. Japanese has "voiced" consonants, Chinese doesn't

    very true, no quarrel about that, though -but this is not a criticism- I don't see where the demonstration leads to (家 becomes ka in Japanese, but that may not be the point here).

    (Note: Hanyu Pinyin shi (是) represents a quite different sound from Japanese shi 仕事).

    Very true also, though the point here is with the vowel i, close to French e in 是 , and an open i in 仕 .

    For the problem regarding "ш" and "щ" (Russian and Polish), this is a bit beyond my pratice, though I agree that
    Quote:
    The Russian ш (sic) is almost approaching Mandarin [pinyin] sh.

    because the Russian cyrillic letter ш comes from the Hebrew ש
    (sin or shin), pronounced s or sh.

    One last thing that has nothing to do with this : I sent you (Anatoly) a PM , asking you to please help me retrieve a thread dealing with the word JEW in Slavic languages. You posted there, the thread is closed and I cannot find it. Thank you for your help.
     

    Lugubert

    Senior Member
    because the Russian cyrillic letter ш comes from the Hebrew ש (sin or shin), pronounced s or sh.
    My standard reaction to resemblances between languages or scripts is that if it looks to good to be true, it probably is. Your quote seems to presuppose a direct transfer from Near East scripts to Cyrillic, but if I'm not too mistaken, most cases explain Cyrillic letters via Greek. For ש (to σ, or perhaps rather Σ?) to ш, I think Diringer: Writing agrees with you, and it sure looks probable, but I can't find any clear opinion in Jensen: Die Schrift in Vergangenheit und Gegenwart. Can you provide more references?
     

    Anatoli

    Senior Member
    русский (Russian)

    Aoyama

    Senior Member
    français Clodoaldien
    Your quote seems to presuppose a direct transfer from Near East scripts to Cyrillic, but if I'm not too mistaken, most cases explain Cyrillic letters via Greek. For ש (to σ, or perhaps rather Σ?) to ш, I think Diringer: Writing agrees with you, and it sure looks probable, but I can't find any clear opinion in Jensen: Die Schrift in Vergangenheit und Gegenwart. Can you provide more references?
    An answer to that (pertinent) question would be off-topic on this thread.
    One short comment : it is true that Cyrillic script is based on Greek, it is also true that the Orthodox clergy, together with the Greek version of the Scriptures, knew (and certainly could read) the Hebrew text (to what extent is debatable).
    Therefore, borrowing ONE letter from Hebrew is a very conceivable feat.
    For references, let's say we'll start with my own enlightened guess (?) ...

    For
    ש (to σ, or perhaps rather Σ?) to ш
    see Hebrew alphabet, letters tet and samekh ...
     
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