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"yüan" or "yüen"?


小猫小姐

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In mandarin, I almost always hear 远,原,院,etc pronounced as "yüehn." But the other day I listened to the folksong 卓玛 sung by a tibetan singer, and he pronounced 草原 as "tsao yüahn" - very clear "ah" vowel. I know it's not huge difference and I'm really splitting hairs, but I'm just curious if this is some kind of regional accent of ㄩㄣ? Anyone knows?

-晓雪

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I've heard the "yuahn" pronunciation too, and I'm curious to know who uses it and for which words.

It's like 有/友/etc. and 又: I pronounce them differently, as "yo" and "yew" respectively. I don't know if it's an artifact of Singaporean Mandarin or if there's some basis to it.

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Tibetan singer singing in their second language? If so, have you spotted a well-known change in pronunciation (well known to linguists), where speakers start to model their pronunciation on the orthography, or their pronunciation is affected by their knowledge of the written form of the word. For most Chinese, using pinyin for a relatively short period as part of learning characters for their writing system, for a Tibetan, dependancy on pinyin may have greater influence. An example in English is the pronunciation(s) of 'library'.

Or - have you got an interference effect, from the Tibetan vowel system?

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I think there's more to it than L1 affecting L2, since I've heard 'yuahn' (albeit rarely) on CCTV commercials and radio talk shows. IMHO, the underlying final is indeed /an/, but changes to [ɛn/æn] in front of /y/, and the reason why a performer might change the 'e' sound into 'a' might be purely for rhyming purposes.

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I've heard 元-finals pronounced /yan/ in some kind of opera, and other 山攝 finals also have /a/ nuclei. I think it's for rhyming purposes. In addition, some initials are different from Beijingese speech. For example, 心 initials are /s/, 精 initials are /ts/.

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Is it something like how Faye Wong pronounces 圓 in 何事長向別時 in the song 但願人長久?And also like the 娟 in 千里共嬋? (Note that her pronunciation is not consistent and they only appear at the end of the line. Could be a singing thing.)

PS - also the 全 in 此事古難.

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I've heard yuan with an a on a very old record (1930s?) that came with a very old Chinese-for-foreigners course by a famous Chinese linguist whose name I can't think of now (Zhao Yuanren perhaps?). Must have been standard at the time, and it explained to me why yuan is not written yuen in pinyin.

That being said, I wouldn't take the pronounciation of something by a Tibetan as example for something occuring in Mandarin (unless of course that Tibetan spoke very good Mandarin).

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and it explained to me why yuan is not written yuen in pinyin.

The way I understand, -üan is simply pronounced differently from -uan, and yuan, quan and xuan actually have the -üan final, with the umlaut/diaeresis symbol dropped.

I don't remember ever hearing quan and xuan pronounced with with an [a] sound, but somebody is bound to find a recording which proves me wrong :P

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FWIW, I remember someone in my undergrad class years ago asking almost the same question, and our lecturer saying that [an] used to be the Beijing standard at the turn of the century (i.e. late Qing/early Republic), but had since changed to [ɛn/æn]. He also said some Mandarin dialects have retained the [an] pronunciation...

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  • 3 weeks later...

This is the song I was talking about, anyway:

I can find hardly any info on the singer (张亚东) but apparently he is Tibetan Chinese from Sichuan, so I'd assume he's fluent in Mando and never depended on pinyin enough for it to influence how he pronounces -üan. So I guess that's out.

Is it something like how Faye Wong pronounces 圓 in 何事長向別時圓 in the song 但願人長久?And also like the 娟 in 千里共嬋娟? (Note that her pronunciation is not consistent and they only appear at the end of the line. Could be a singing thing.)

Yes! But in this case the "yuahn" isn't at the end (“啊~卓玛 / 草原上 / 的格桑花”)。 So it's not for rhyming purposes either. [but notice in the beginning of the song, female backup singers pronounce 原 the usual way (yüen)!]

Hmm! Mystery mystery! Times like this I wish I still took Chinese class。

FWIW, I remember someone in my undergrad class years ago asking almost the same question, and our lecturer saying that [an] used to be the Beijing standard at the turn of the century (i.e. late Qing/early Republic), but had since changed to [ɛn/æn]. He also said some Mandarin dialects have retained the [an] pronunciation...

I suspected something similar to this!! :)

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