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Zhān mǔ sī

Different pinyin values for the same word

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Zhān mǔ sī

I am learning Mandarin primarily using Pimsleur's CD course.  As I learn new words and phrases, sometimes whole sentences, I type them into a document in English, pinyin, and Chinese symbols.  The act of typing helps me to remember things such as pronunciation, sentence structure and so on.  I originally made the decision not to concentrate on symbols, since my primary aim was to learn to converse, but I am beginning to question this decision, and I try to always input the symbols also.

 

I am presently going through my documents prepared as above, and checking the pinyin representation of the sounds.  To check myself I have four sources: the Pimsleur CD itself, which gives the tonal value of new words; Pleco on my smartphone; Collins Mandarin Chinese Dictionary; and the FLTRP New Century Chinese-English Dictionary.

 

Yesterday I was checking the tonal values of two words for 'morning', zaochen and zaoshang.  I was surprised to find that I received different values from my four sources.  Zaoshang was the easiest.  All sources gave its value as zǎoshang, that is tone three followed by neutral.  However, the New Century gave as an alternative zǎoshǎng.  The only difference stated by the New Century was that zǎoshǎng meant simply 'morning', whereas zǎoshang means 'early morning' or 'Good Morning'

 

Zaochen was another matter.  Pimsleur gives zǎochén (tone three followed by tone two).  Pleco gives both zǎochen and zǎochén when I write it with tone numbers, thus zao3chen and zao3chen2 both have the translation 'early morning'.  When I write 'morning' Pleco gives zǎochen.  Collins gives me zǎochen in the chinese-english section but zǎochén in the english-chinese section. New Century gives zǎochen.  This is very confusing, and I have discovered a degree of uncertainty in connection with other words also.

 

Now this may be considered a trifling matter, since context would indicate that zaochen means morning, and there is really very little difference between zǎochén and zǎochen in speech, but it adds a degree of insecurity to learning Mandarin which one could well do without and besides there will be other words where context perhaps does not play so large a role.

 

I had thought that perhaps pinyin, which is a form of phonetic transcription, might be subject to regional differences, but as I say above, Pleco accepts two different inputs in pinyin with tone numbers, and Collins is so illogical that it gives one value in the chinese-english section and another in the english-chinese section.

 

Somehow I would like to standardise on one source to check my notes against, and wonder if readers have any suggestions on that point.  I do have to say that I think Pleco is the easiest in use, especially when compared to the roughly five kilogram New Century!

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Publius

First off, there's nothing wrong with different pronunciations for the same word. It happens in English too: http://www.tfd.com/primarily

 

And for everybody's convenience, let's use numbers. Tone marks are difficult to read on high resolution screens. The convention is 1, 2, 3, 4 for the four tones and 5 for neutral.

 

I don't have the venerable New Century, but it's simply wrong to read 早上 as zao3shang3. Period. 上 is always shang4 in Mandarin, the only exception is when it's in the word 上声(shang3sheng1) meaning 'the third tone'. For zao3shang3 to mean 'morning', it has to be 早晌, a somewhat dialectal term.

 

To address the other issue, zao3chen2 vs. zao3chen5. You need to know that neutral tone is less widely used in southern China. So it's basically a regional thing, and both readings are correct. Since Putonghua is “以北京语音为标准音,以北方话为基础方言,以典范的现代白话文著作为语法规范” (The pronunciation of the standard is based on the Beijing dialect, its vocabulary is drawn from Mandarin dialects, and the grammar is based on literature in the modern written vernacular), you can argue that zao3chen5 is more 'correct', but that's about it, people you meet on the street still speak the way they always speak.

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Zhān mǔ sī

Thanks for your reply, Publius.  And for the tip about using numbers for tones instead of accents.

 

You said: "For zao3shang3 to mean 'morning', it has to be 早晌, a somewhat dialectal term." and when I check again, I see that it is indeed 早晌.  I was so concerned with the pinyin that I didn't notice that the symbol for shang was different.

 

So I'm left with my quandary about which source to use.  Notwithstanding your respect for the New Century, and mine, for that matter, I think I have to say that Pleco is so easy to use that I'll use that as my source, not least as I see I can get a New Century add-on for it.

 

Your note on the fact that the neutral tone is less common in the south was interesting.  I'll pass that on to my fellow Mandarin students.

 

Thanks again for your time and trouble.

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Mati1

It's worth mentioning that there are some words where the dictionary form and the pronounciation in daily usage have drifted apart.

I have also noticed that (some?) older books provide different pinyin for certain words. These may be cases where the dictionary entries have since been updated with the actual oral usage.

 

Concerning characters with multiple pronounciations in general you may be interested in this posting: https://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/forums/topic/51902-character-with-multiple-pronounciations/&do=findComment&comment=402092

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Lu

On the one hand, the North uses the neutral tone more often, and that's not a bad thing to learn. On the other hand, if you learn the original tones of the word, that's useful knowledge. When you know 早晨 is zǎochén, you know 晨 is chén, also (usually) when you encounter 晨 in a different context. So if I were you, I'd generally lean towards learning the original tone of the character, no matter which dictionary it's in (but stick to either mainland or Taiwanese dictionaries, don't mix those for the first few years). You can then listen to what people around you actually say and follow their lead.

 

Secondly, those things are called characters, not symbols. 'Symbols' is only for people who don't know that they're actually called characters.

 

(On a side note, I disagree with Publius on tone marks. All those numbers are ugly, if you ask me. Marks look much more elegant. But clearly this is a matter of personal preference.)

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Mati1

Right, I like tone marks and hate the numbers; I think they should only be used when simple keyboard input with tone marks is not available (I am also guilty of previously being too lazy to write tone marks).

On the other hand I haven't had real problems reading tone marks on computers yet; probably because there is hardly ever a need to read those (at least in my case). From a technical point of view, if the tone marks are too hard to read on a high resolution display then it's a bad font and / or there is a font scaling problem. A font should actually look better on such a device.

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Publius
25 minutes ago, Lu said:

(On a side note, I disagree with Publius on tone marks. All those numbers are ugly, if you ask me. Marks look much more elegant. But clearly this is a matter of personal preference.)

I agree tone marks look more elegant. But they're bad for my eyes. I had to copy-paste 'zǎoshǎng' to see what tone it really is. :(

Plus they're not easy to type. Plus I'm already accustomed to Jyutping, a Cantonese romanization system that uses numbers, which is considered by many, me included, to be superior to the Yale system.

I'm fine with both methods. I just want less eye squinting. :mrgreen:

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laogui

With ancient eyes the tone marks often evade me too, so in my (Excel) vocabulary lists I have a separate column beside the pinyin column where I write the tone numbers for character pairs (or singletons) - 44, 35

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