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What happens to the "n" in shiyan yi xia?


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Ah yes I was assuming it was in isolation, which is why it felt odd to say it without tongue-strike at the end as closure.


On 9/28/2022 at 8:28 PM, sanchuan said:

Would anyone find it remotely puzzling to hear 按照 as ã4zhao4?

I think I would, because the tongue has to strike for the ZH: to deliberately prevent it doing so for the duration of the A sounds odd, no? But i've spent the last five minutes barking variations of a-jao at myself so I don't particularly trust my ears right now.


On 9/29/2022 at 3:16 AM, sanchuan said:

because students are taught to pay conscious attention to an explicit distinction that doesn't really exist as such

This is more a question about pedagogy rather than phonology, and it's hard to criticise without knowing how and where this piece of pronunciation advice fits into the the broader teaching content being offered.


Interesting question as to whether nasalisation requires specific instruction from the start, or whether most people just acquire it naturally over time (and so perhaps simply need reassurance at a later point that they're doing it right and/or not hearing it wrong). In this respect it's a bit like how, after the first few lessons, teachers prefer to teach 'tone' instead of 'pitch'.

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On 9/29/2022 at 7:39 AM, realmayo said:

But i've spent the last five minutes barking variations of a-jao at myself so I don't particularly trust my ears right now.

Same. Still - my "按照" doesn't seem to require much of a tongue strike as opposed to, for example, "Anne 照", where Anne isn't nasalised and requires a regular N. You're right to suspect that nasalisation is often acquired without instruction. There are many googlable examples of nasalisation in English too (such as the word "kindness" - a Cambridge website suggests - where the first vowel is nasalised and the n then kind of fuses with the d), but you'd be mad to explicitly instruct ESL students about such subtleties. It isn't needed - at least outside of a speech therapy room.


On 9/29/2022 at 9:15 AM, EricJMa said:

I have always wondered about the word 什么 shenme. I never ever heard the n in shen.

Indeed. It would be okay to produce the first syllable with a final obstruction of the tongue against the ridge, but I think it would sound over-articulated. A fine affectation in isolation, perhaps, or opera singing. 



But the interesting question prompted by the poster upthread is whether this also applies in utterance-final position, that is to say, whether a pause during speech (eg at the end of a word, phrase or sentence) turns this nasalisation into a "regular N", as claimed in the poster. Is the N in 这么干 (zhemegaN) different to the N in 干活 (gaNhuo)? And is it really the same N as in 你 (Ni)? I don't really agree that's the case.


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On 9/28/2022 at 7:22 PM, sanchuan said:

It states that the third N in nan'an is phonetically equivalent to the first. In actual fact, that first N is the only N in that whole graphic that forms a syllabic initial and that should therefore be pronounced like a 'regular' N


Earlier we had 成年人 where the 年 appeared to have no 'regular' N either in initial or final. This seems to suggest that forming a syllabic initial may not in fact be sufficient to require this now notorious 'regular' N, I think?

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I don't think the initial n in your example was ever really missing; it was an ordinary case of slurred co-articulation, where n was produced almost at the same time as the previous ŋ (resulting in what I actually hear as ɲ). It might have been retained in full if it had come out of a southerner's mouth with the n~l merger. Either way, the n can certainly be reduced like that, but so can all initials within words. Reduction is the normal phenomenon that gives us 知道 pronounced as zhirao or "February" pronounced by some as "Febjuri". Like in a chemical reaction, the elements going in may not seem to be all there at the end but they were there at the start - and were required to be there for the reaction to take place.


The nasalisation of -n finals, on the other hand, is no intra-word artifact of fast speech - it's simply how those finals are normally produced, with a regular N only sometimes (or obligatorily when in utterance-final position, if we are to believe the ChineseZerotoHero graphic) appearing in addition to it. 



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On 9/29/2022 at 2:50 PM, sanchuan said:

it was an ordinary case of slurred co-articulation

That makes more sense. And in which case it seems easier just to remind oneself that in e.g. NAN, N- is an initial and -AN is a final and because they are thereby very different sounds, there's no reason for the two n-sounds to be at all identical.


But i'm still puzzled:


- the initial n- is a nasal sound

- both the -n and -ng finals are nasal sounds

- nasal sounds are produced by the tongue closing up against the top of the mount to force the air out through the nose

- the n- nasal sound is produced by the front of the tongue doing that

- the -n nasal sound is produced by the front of the tongue doing that

- the -ng nasal sound is produced by the back of the tongue doing that

- for -n finals full obstruction is optional ('allophonic') and depends on enunciation, dialect, idiolect and/or chance


... then the big difference in NAN is that n- must be fully nasal and the -n often isn't?

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The big difference is that n-, as an initial, must release airflow in order to give the syllable sound. Logically, it must perform a full consonantal obstruction (a full strike of the tongue) to make any kind of air release happen. 


Finals never need do that; they are just there to close (or check) the phonation of the syllable, so they only need to achieve closure, or an approximation thereof. Chinese has form with this: tones are thought to have emerged out of the progressive approximation and reduction of consonantal finals. At this stage of evolution, I think it would be safe to argue that Mandarin lacks any kind of true final consonant, and the few still transcribed that way in pinyin are just there to indicate approximant features that colour the vowel one way or the other, eg using the letter n to indicate that the vowel should be voiced through the nose. 


The degree of approximation/reduction of such final segments can be up for debate, but there's little debate about the fact that initials and finals are just different entities, no matter the Roman letters you use to transcribe them with. The Chinese syllable is a circular prosodic gesture and, when transcribed, it shouldn't be read linearly, segment by segment. That's why I found the ChineseZerotoHero graphic likening n- to (word-final) -n so problematic. 

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  • 2 weeks later...

Glad to report the misleading information on that ChineseZerotoHero graphic has been rectified, and at length, in video format. They give a thorough explanation of how and why final -n represents a nasalised vowel without any [obligatory] tongue obstruction, as I suggest above, regardless of whether it's in the middle or at the end of a word. (They even give 晚安, mentioned upthread, as a example of the latter.)


Unsure if the guys at ChineseZerotoHero have read this thread at all, but the video was posted all of 8 days ago. YouTube algorithms just (spookily) recommended it to me, so I had to click. 


From the bits I saw, I think they've done a great job this time. Good on them. They offer a nice phonetic analysis of the whole thing, with sample sounds given both in isolation and in words (towards the end). Here's the link: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=qNqNKR5D7CI

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