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How to pronounce 小姐?


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Is it xiao2jie3 or xiao3jie? It seems like this should be a simple question, but I have a variety of answers from a variety of sources. Many Chinese (including a couple teachers) have told me it is 2-3, but many others have said 3-0 is correct.

I listened to recording by one of the teachers and was surprised to notice that she pronounced it clearly 3-0.

I looked in two different dictionaries (Langensheidt and Oxford) which both say 3-0. Also, 2 online dictionaries had 3-0, but baidu and nciku both indicate 3-3 (which according to tone change means 2-3).

As long as I am on the topic, I should mention that 哪里 seems to be similar. Those that think 小姐 is 2-3 also think 哪里 is 2-3, and those who think 小姐 is 3-0 also think 哪里 is 3-0.

I am not sure what to think because my sample size is not large but the data appears to contradictory. Maybe both ways are correct, maybe only one is correct and those who think otherwise just don't listen carefully, or maybe there is regional variation. Has anyone looked into this? Any ideas about the real answer?

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This is a notorious one, and it's because of words like this one that I don't like that tone sandhi is not indicated in Hànyǔ pīnyīn. The rules say that "only the original tones are indicated", but when you say 小姐 should be romanised as xiǎojiě, you're forgetting that these characters are used merely to write down a word in the spoken language, not the other way around. In all varieties of spoken Mandarin I've heard, the standard pronunciation is xiáojie, I believe. I don't recall ever hearing anyone say xiáojiě, though it would certainly be a possibility. I've never heard xiǎojie and don't believe such a form is likely to exist.

I think you're right: those who think this word is pronounced as xiǎojie aren't listening carefully, but rather looking at the characters and telling you how to pronounce those in isolation. Do you think it'd be possible to post that recording you were listening to?

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Isn't this merely a case of variant pronunciation? In some regions, the second syllable of some words is stressed; in others, it turns into neutral tone. There are many examples of this in Mandarin: 姑娘 gūniáng or gūniang, 地方 dìfāng or dìfang, 打算 dǎsuàn or dǎsuan, 困难 kùnnán or kùnnan, etc. Usually one is the prescribed, "dictionary" pronunciation, whilst the other is the more common or regional one.

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A cognitive approach to Beginning Chinese, Interactions, which I use in addition to NPCR, first describes the well known Tone Sandhi and then explains in a subchapter "Sound Variations and Dialectal Differences":

"Some lexical items are pronounced with or without neutral tones. e.g., dong1.xi (PRC), dong1xi1 (Taiwan.) In cases such as these we place a neutral tone symbol (a dot) in front of the syllable and mark the orignal tone as well to show the difference."

In the vocabulary list they indeed write xiao3.jie3. (The dot means that regionally the second syllable may have a neutral tone.)


hackinger (struggling beginner studying Chinese on its own since Mid May 2010)

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I agree with Daan, but I let him write it first so he can take the flack in the case I'm horribly wrong. :D

The pronunciation I tend to hear is 30, with the third tone exhibiting the same sandhi behaviour as if the the last tone was pronounced. So it sounds like 20. 33 (pronounced as 23) is another common pronunciation (my girlfriend uses this). To be honest, I don't think that it's an on-off thing, it's just that the second characters can be more or less stressed, from a full third tone to a neutral tone, depending on the speaker and circumstances.

Same with 哪里. The 里 is rarely pronounced as a full third tone. You typically hear 30, with the first tone being a rising tone, so 20.

The neutral tone is very tricky.

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It's one of those words where tone sandhi (33 ->23) takes precedence over neutral tone (23 -> 20). So you get 20 or 23. There are other circumstances (eg reduplications, 宝宝 or 婶婶) where the opposite is the case and the pronunciation is 30.

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Never heard 30 myself, whether it be northern China, southern China or Taiwan.

I usually hear 20 from mainlanders (and this is the standard Beijing pronunciation), or 23 from Taiwanese.

As Carlo has mentioned, this word undergoes tone sandhi first, then tone neutralization.

Dictionaries that list it as 33 probably don't account for tone sanhi or neutral tones across the board.

Dictionaries that give it as 23 were probably edited by southerners or Taiwanese.

And I suspect dictionaries that list it as 30 are just plain wrong...

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There are a miriad of these little nuances which are annoying.

As far as I'm concerned, the Taiwanese based accent allows many more fully pronounced tones, and have many more half tones than in the mainland.

This goes for xiao3jie3, dong1xi1, bu(4)2ke4qi4 and a lot of others that tooironic described before.

IMO, xiao3jie3 is pronounced 23, and this is what's shouted across the shops in Taiwan.

What I find a little difficult is that sometimes you have words mixed in in Fujianese which are also confusing for tonal rules like "mei3mei2" meaning "little sister" (妹妹 as far as I can tell)...

And then you also have half tones for other family names like "ba4ba" which is pronounced as a full 4th tone on the first ba and then as a half 4th on the second instead of a full neautral tone (if there is such thing), and the contradiction you get with "ma1ma1" whose tones are most definately two full 1sts.

Combine all of this with some really odd ones like the pronunciation of "mei2guan1xi", which is always "mei2guan1xi1" as far as I can hear and "bu4ke3yi3" which is always pronounced as "bu4ke3yi4".

hah.. good luck! ;)

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This is a notorious one, and it's because of words like this one that I don't like that tone sandhi is not indicated in Hànyǔ pīnyīn.

And it's cases like these that makes me glad that tone sandhi are not indicated.

Obviously, based on the myriad answers, there is no one answer to how this is pronounced. Given that, which pronunciation would you pick to indicate if tone sandhi is indicated?

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I just knew you were going to disagree with me there :) Well, if you don't indicate tone sandhi anywhere, how will learners know which pronunciation to choose? If you tell them it can be either xiáojie in northern Mandarin or xiáojiě in southern Mandarin, they'll know. Currently, most dictionaries and textbooks don't indicate tone sandhi at all in Hànyǔ pīnyīn, leading to people mispronouncing such words because they're basically left in the dark about the tones.

Here's another example. When you see 老虎 romanised as lǎohǔ in all the textbooks and dictionaries you use, there's no way most learners (including myself) will be able to work out the word for 'tiger' is actually generally pronounced as láohu in standard mainland Mandarin. Something similar applies in the case of 一個. If you were to romanise that as yīge because of the reading of 一 in isolation, how would learners know that this should be pronounced as yíge?

Combine all of this with some really odd ones like the pronunciation of "méiguānxi", which is always "méiguānxī" as far as I can hear and "bùkěyǐ" which is always pronounced as "bùkěyì".

Interesting. bù kěyì sounds really odd to my ears. Has anyone else ever heard this particular pronunciation?

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I just knew you were going to disagree with me there

Have I become that predictable as the resident pinyin apologist? :P

Pinyin is not intended as a pedagogical tool, it's intended as a system of transliteration. Nothing more.

To your examples, the rules for tone sandhi in Mandarin are very simple: 3rd tone -> 2nd tone before another 3rd tone as part of the same word, 不 -> 2nd tone before another 4th tone. I'm probably missing some other examples as well, but my point is that you just learn the rules, and that's how you know how it is pronounced.

Note that pinyin does show tone qingsheng (5th tone) (did I get that term correct?), at least MDBG and the HSK word lists I have do. [Although, weirdly enough, the MDBG entry for 老虎 shows 2 third tones. Error in MDBG?]

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