Pinyin pronunciation: z, c

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Alan Evangelista

Senior Member
Brazilian Portuguese
What is the correct pronunciation of the letters Z and C in Pinyin? Chinese phonology wikipedia says that Z is pronounced /ts/ and C is pronounced /tsʰ/, but several websites and videos on Internet say they are pronounced /dz/ and /ts/, respectively. Examples:

When i hear Z and C in the YouTube video above and the pronunciation of different words with these letters on Google Translate, I always hear the latter pronunciation ( /dz/ and /ts/ ). Am I hearing it bad because I am used to hear an aspirated T in English (I also speak Spanish where the T is unaspirated and I can hear it clearly there)? Why Wikipedia says that Z is pronounced /ts/ ? Why isn't there a consensus about the IPA transcription of these 2 letters?
 
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  • Skatinginbc

    Senior Member
    Mandarin 國語
    why isn't there a consensus about the IPA transcription of these 2 letters?
    There IS a consensus with regard to the IPA transcription of these two sounds. Read carefully through the sources you provided, and pay special attention to the descriptional difference between "IPA" and "(like) English" or notational difference between /ts/ (in IPA) and "ts" (in English).
     

    Alan Evangelista

    Senior Member
    Brazilian Portuguese
    Read carefully through the sources you provided, and pay special attention to the descriptional difference between "IPA" and "(like) English" or notational difference between /ts/ (in IPA) and "ts" (in English).
    Hmm I thought that "English's dz" and /dz/ were the same thing. If "English's dz in the word 'kids'" (as described in the first link in my original post) is equivalent to /ts/ , that explains it. Anyway, that is a very confusing description of the sound IMHO. Thanks for making it clear!

    Another issue is that I "clearly hear" the woman in that YouTube video say /dz/ and I pronounce /ts/ differently (identically to the way I pronounce /tsʰ/ in English, but without the puff of air). I assume that I don't have the hearing perception yet to hear /ts/ and that I am also pronouncing it incorrectly?

    One thing I am not able to do is to see /ts/ as a single sound. To me, it is the combination of two sounds: /t/ and /s/. Does that make any difference for pronouncing correctly? Theoretically I know how to pronounce a non-aspirated /t/, but I am not sure how to pronounce a non-aspirated /s/ (I am not even sure that /sʰ/ exists).
     
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    Skatinginbc

    Senior Member
    Mandarin 國語
    The distinction between Pinyin <c> and <z> lies mainly in aspiration, with the former being clearly aspirated and the latter unaspirated. Pinyin <z> corresponds to IPA [t͡s] (unaspirated) and occasionally can be voiced (still unaspirated) as its free variation. In other words, voicing is not so much a factor as aspiration (or the lack thereof) in the articulation and recognition of the <z> sound. As a consequence, we may say it sounds like English "dz" except that the Chinese <z> is usually devoiced (no vocal cord vibration) or not clearly voiced (little vibration).

    Pinyin <z> (and <c> as well) should be realized as a single sound, not a sequence. Failing to do so is a giveaway of non-nativeness.
     
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    Alan Evangelista

    Senior Member
    Brazilian Portuguese
    Pinyin <z> corresponds to IPA /ts/ (unaspirated) and occasionally can be voiced (still unaspirated) as its free variation.
    I see. Could you please take a look at the beginning of the YouTube video that I have posted in my original post and tell me whether the woman pronounce the Pinyin initial "z" voiced or unvoiced? I don't trust my ears when listening new phonems.

    Pinyin <z> (and <c> as well) should be realized as a single sound, not a sequence. Failing to do so is a giveaway of non-nativeness.
    Thanks for the feedback. Unfortunately, I have no idea how to do that, as /t/ and /s/ are produced differently (the first is a stop and the second a fricative). The Wikipedia about affricates (manner of articulation of /ts/) seem to agree on this problem:

    An affricate is a consonant that begins as a stop and releases as a fricative, generally with the same place of articulation (most often coronal). It is often difficult to decide if a stop and fricative form a single phoneme or a consonant pair.
     

    Skatinginbc

    Senior Member
    Mandarin 國語
    I know it may be difficult for non-native speakers to pronounce /ts/ as a single sound, but you have to train yourself to do so in order to sound like a native.

    The Chinese <z> is actually rather similar to Italian <z> as in zucchero, in which the <z> corresponds to IPA /ts/ although you may think it sounds like English <dz>. Go to Forvo and listen to the Italian <z> (/ts/) in zucchero.

    As far as your YouTube video goes, the <z> sound is inconsistent in terms of voicing. When she ennunciates it, she deliberately draws out the <z> sound and (unnaturally) voices it (with vocal cord vibration).
     

    Alan Evangelista

    Senior Member
    Brazilian Portuguese
    The Chinese <z> is actually rather similar to Italian <z> as in zucchero, in which the <z> corresponds to IPA /ts/ although you may think it sounds like English <dz>. Go to Forvo and listen to the Italian <z> (/ts/) in zucchero.
    That's nice to know. I am also learning Italian and I have always pronounced the initial "z" in zucchero as /dz/.

    As far as your YouTube video goes, the <z> sound is inconsistent in terms of voicing. When she ennunciates it, she deliberately draws out the <z> sound and (unnaturally) voices it
    Yes, that's what I thought. I am so glad to know my ear is not that bad! Indeed, she says /dz/ when she presents the letter and /ts/ in some examples later.

    All is much clearer now. Thanks for your help!
     

    Skatinginbc

    Senior Member
    Mandarin 國語
    I have always pronounced the initial "z" in zucchero as /dz/.
    Wiktionary's IPA notations suggest that the <z> in zucchero can be realized as either [t̪͡s̪] or [d̪͡z̪], like Chinese [t̪͡s̪], which has [d̪͡z̪] as a free variation. You can hear the Italian /ts/ from Forvo's razza [ˈrät̪.t̪͡s̪ä] "race" pronunciation. Also, zio "uncle" is pronounced as /ˈtsio/ in Standard Italian as well as Central and Southern Italian, but as /ˈdzio/ in Northern Italian. Anyway, I find Italian <z> (/ts/) and its Chinese counterpart very much alike.

    Hold your throat to feel the vocal cord vibration (or the lack thereof) while making English "zzzzz" (prolonged voiced /z/) and "sssss" (prolonged voiceless /s/) sounds, and then "dzdzdzdzdz" (prolonged voiced English /dz/) and "tststststs" (prolonged voiceless English /ts/). I believe you should be able to feel the difference. Now hold your throat and try to make a prolonged dz-like but voiceless sound. If you can successfully produce a devoiced /dz/, you have managed to make the Pinyin <z> (/ts/) sound.

    I personally see the /ts/ in Mandarin and other modern Chinese dialects as a devoiced /dz/ because it evolved from Middle Chinese /dz/ (voiced). Accordingly, when we enunciate the Pinyin <z>, we tend to voice it, that is, restore its Middle Chinese way of pronunciation, although it is voiceless in modern natural speech. To me, the underlying representation of Pinyin <z> is /dz/, with /ts/ as its surface representation (the actual pronunciation in natural speech). This point of view may be controversial however.
     
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