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Old National Pronunciation (老國音)


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Okay, I know this isn't technically 'non-Mandarin', but it's not technically the modern Mandarin language used elsewhere in these forums either.

That being said, does anyone have an interest in the old form (1913-1931) of the Chinese National Language (老國音)? It is an artificial language based on both the Nanjing and Beijing dialects of Mandarin, with influences from other Mandarin dialects and Ming-Dynasty Mandarin as well (a more even-handed and fair approach to constructing a national language compared to the current version). The reading of each character was voted on by delegates from each province with diverse linguistic backgrounds.

The phonemic differences with the modern language (新國音/國語) include:
1 - additional initials 'v' [ʋ], 'ng' [ŋ], and 'gn'('ny') [ɲ]
2 - additional finals 'yo/-io', 'yai/-iai', and (initially) 'yuo/-üo'
3 - additional tone/coda [43]/[-ʔ] (entering tone)
4 - absence of the neutral/light tone
5 - round-sharp distinction (i.e. historical ['gi/gü' 'ki/kü' 'ngi/ngü' 'hi/hü'] becomes ['ji/ju' 'qi/qu' 'gni/gnu' 'xi/xu'], whilst ['zii/zü' 'cii/cü' 'sii/sü'] remains intact yet distinct from ['zi/zu' 'ci/cu' 'si/su'])
6 - final 'ong' distinct from 'eng' after ['b' 'p' 'm' 'f' 'v']
7 - final 'ê' distinct from 'e' after ['zh' 'ch' 'sh'] ('ê', but not 'e', can occur after 'r')
8 - final 'e' (distinct from 'o') only in syllables with the entering tone and without a medial (both 'e' and 'o' are thus distinct from 'wo/-uo' as well)

Beyond the phonemic differences, one of the primary differences is that literary readings are prioritised over colloquial readings (with some exceptions, like the literary reading of 色 as 'se4' being adopted in the modern language, rather than the colloquial 'shai3').

In short, it resembles an admixture of Beijingese, Nanjingese, and Ming-Dynasty Mandarin. Although I cannot say for sure, I believe that it may be mutually intelligible with modern Mandarin. This language was never officially Romanised, as it had its own alphabet (國音字母/注音符號), although Gwoyeu Romatzyh (based on the modern language) was crafted around the time of its demise.

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No input method has ever offered the additional initials to my knowledge. However, they do exist in Unicode: ㄪㄫㄬ. The entering tone was marked with a dot [ ˙ ], just as the neutral/light tone is marked today.


Yes, several old charts exist. Here is the one most commonly found online:



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Thank you all for these resources! I've been searching for this recording for years!


Three points of confusion for me:

1) The final yuo/-üo (ㄩㄛ) was omitted in the pronunciation chart.

2) The final yong/-iong was spelt as ㄧㄨㄥ in the pronunciation chart, yet it is spelt (correctly) as ㄩㄥ in my copy of 校改國音字典.

3) I was under the impression that V (ㄪ) was pronounced as [ʋ] rather than [v], as in Hakka and early Ming Mandarin.


Michaelyus, I am grateful that you've written a Wikipedia article for this topic in English (it certainly helps me). Once I figure out how to edit Wikipedia, I'd like to translate and add the missing sections from the Chinese page (e.g. the conjoined finals table and the National/Pekingese comparison table). One minor issue, however, is the misleading tone markings; the four-corner dots were alternatively placed around the character itself (rather than the phonetic annotation), as we can see clearly in the phonetic guide that realmayo posted. Also, in 1922, the four-corner tone markings were dropped altogether in favour of the tone marks that we use today.

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I now have doubts about whether the 'yuo/-üo' final ever existed in 老國音 to begin with, or if it was merely a typo the entire time.



- There is no mention of ㄩㄛ in the phonetic guide coupled with the gramophone record.

- There is no mention of ㄩㄛ in the officially promulgated 國音易通, even though the other then-obsolete sounds were consistently represented.

- The first official dictionary (校改國音字典) initially recorded this spelling, but a subsequent addendum discounted these spellings as errors (not previously official sounds that were later updated or modified, mind you, but rather flat-out erroneous sounds that were clarified to have originated from northern dialectal speech).

- Although ㄩㄛ is listed as a final in the 老國音 Wikipedia article, it only gives one usage example (卻), whose pronunciation is ㄑㄩㄛ only as a Beijing literary reading (the colloquial Beijingese reading is ㄑㄩㄝ, while the 老國音 reading isㄑㄧㄛ, which 校改國音字典 confirms).




吳稚暉, who was the chairman of 讀音統一會 at the time of its inception, wrote the following design manuscript, which includes the ㄩㄛ final.



In conclusion, it seems as though the ㄩㄛ final originated from at least one northern dialect (in the literary register) and was acknowledged by–but ultimately kept out of–the official phonology of 老國音 (in other words, it was listed only as a courtesy to accommodate the possibility of this sound arising from dialectal speech).

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As it turns out, if you exclude the now-controversial ㄩㄛ final, all of the finals in 老國音 were carried over to 新國音 (國語) in some form, albeit rarely:


ㄛ (o)
ㄝ (ê)
ㄧㄛ (yo)

ㄧㄞ (yai)



That being said, most of these characters have primary readings which are contained in the current set of finals, notably in 普通話.

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  • 1 month later...

For anyone who might be interested, I am working on an input method editor that will allow users to type Chinese characters using the Old National Pronunciation.


Here is what the keyboard looks like (all key assignments from the original MPS keyboard remain intact):





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  • 3 weeks later...

This odd example passage covers most of the phonemic and phonetic differences between 老國音 and 新國音. However, it turns out that only two characters have a retroflex initial with the final 'e' (ㄜ): 謫 (zhe5 as in 貶謫) and 坼 (che5).




ㄈㄤˋ ㄒㄧㄛ˙ ㄏㄡˋ,ㄫㄛˇ ㄒㄧˇ ㄏㄨㄢˉ ㄍㄣˉ ㄆㄥˊ ㄧㄡˇ
ㄊㄧㄥˉ ㄧㄣˉ ㄧㄛ˙。ㄖㄢˊ ㄏㄡˋ,ㄑㄩˋ ㄊㄤˊ ㄖㄣˊ ㄐㄧㄞˉ,
ㄏㄛ˙ ㄘㄧ˙ ㄅㄟˉ ㄖㄝ˙ ㄕㄨㄟˇ ㄏㄨㄛ˙ ㄅㄜ˙ ㄕㄨㄟˇ,
ㄔ˙ ㄏㄛˊ ㄈㄨㄥˉ ㄏㄞˇ ㄙㄧㄢˉ ㄏㄛˊ ㄇㄟˇ ㄪㄟˋ ㄉㄧ˙ ㄬㄧㄡˊ ㄖㄨ˙。


Fang4 xio5 hou4, ngo3 xi3 huan1 gen1 peng2 you3
ting1 yin1 yo5. Ran2 hou4, qu4 tang2 ren2 jiai1,
ho5 cyi5 bei1 rê5 shui3 huo5 be5 shui3,
chi5 ho2 fong1 hai3 sian1 ho2 mei3 vei4 di5 gniu2 ru5.



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  • 1 year later...

I figured it out...


[一等/舒聲] 唐韻:ㄤ(䦕口)、ㄨㄤ(合口)

[一等/促聲] 鐸韻:ㄛ(䦕口)、ㄨㄛ(合口)

[二等/舒聲] 江韻:ㄧㄤ

[二等/促聲] 覺韻:ㄧㄛ/ㄩㄛ*

[三等/舒聲] 陽韻:ㄧㄤ(䦕口)、ㄨㄤ(合口)

[三等/促聲] 藥韻:ㄧㄛ(䦕口)、ㄩㄛ(合口)

* The National Pronunciation Character Dictionary (校改國音字典) from 1921 contains inconsistencies; it annotates some (less common) 覺韻 characters with ㄩㄛ instead of ㄧㄛ, as described below in the same work:




Here is my poor translation, which you are all free to correct:


Within the (覺) and (藥) final groups, the toothy-voiced (containing 'y-/-i-') characters are all uniformly read with the 'yo/-io' final. However, within this dictionary, characters with the (覺) final are mistakenly annotated with 'yuo/-üo', whilst the characters with the (藥) final are split halfway between 'yo/-io' and 'yuo/-üo'. The characters '角', '學', '脚', '畧', etc. have now been uniformly amended and annotated with the 'yo/-io' final (it is perhaps better stated that such characters are all read with an entering-tone 'yuo/-üo' final in Beijing speech, according to the northern folk sounds associated with these characters, otherwise read with the 'yao/-iao' or 'yue/-üe' finals when not read as 'yuo/-üo'. As far as the Beijing Mandarin pronunciations are concerned, they are–together with the common speech–read identically with the 'yo/-io' final).

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