Pretty In Chinese Letters
Pretty In Chinese Letters – When learning a new language, one of the first places to start is its alphabet.
Contrary to the title of this article, Chinese does NOT have an alphabet. Well, sort of. It actually
Pretty In Chinese Letters
Has the form of an alphabet, but this alphabet is not used in the same way as the English alphabet…
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Unlike English, the Chinese alphabet ONLY helps people with pronunciation. So it’s really more of a Chinese phonetic system than a Chinese alphabet.
Because real written Chinese does not use the alphabet at all. Instead, it’s made up of radicals and other complicated things that we won’t get into right now. A topic for another article.
The Chinese phonetic alphabet is also colloquially known as bopomofo after its first four letters: bo, po, mo and fo, just as in English we sometimes refer to the alphabet as ‘the ABCs’.
There are two main systems of writing the Chinese alphabet. The pinyin system used in mainland China and the zhuyin system used in Taiwan.
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The Pinyin system uses the same ABCs used by English speakers. And the zhuyin system uses its own symbols.
Well, pinyin is more common. After all, there are more people in China, and if you’re reading this, you already know your ABCs. So you don’t have to learn a whole new set of symbols to learn pinyin.
However, many English learners struggle to pronounce Chinese accurately because they try to pronounce pinyin the way they pronounce English. They do it subconsciously, out of habit, and the habit is hard to change.
Of course, there are many similarities between pinyin and English phonetics. But also many differences. So it can be confusing for some people to learn two pronunciation systems for the same written alphabet.
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But if you have the interest and bandwidth to learn zhuyin as well, it might help you avoid some common pronunciation mistakes.
(And if you ever want to impress a Taiwanese person, you might as well decide to upgrade your zhujin!)
Chinese “letters” are divided into initials, medials and finals. Initials start a word, medials are in the middle, and finals end a word. For example, here is the word “zhong” which means “center, middle” and the first character of the word “Chinese” 中文 (zhongwen).
If you speak Chinese, you’ll also need to learn 4, sometimes 5 tones of the language, but we’ll save that for another time.
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First, we have labial initials. They are called lips because they use your lips: ㄅ B, ㄆ P, ㄇ M, ㄈ F
So the first one, ㄅ, thinks of a burger. Get rid of the “-uger” and you get “ㄅ”. In pinyin, it’s just “b” and zhuyin looks like a mouth turned to the left, about to eat a burger.
Now we have ㄆ. For this letter, think purring cat, get rid of the “-ring cat” and you have ㄆ. In pinyin it is “p” and zhujin looks like a cat’s face… maybe a one-eared cat with whiskers?
Then ㄇ is the same as “money” without “-one”. ㄇ. The pinyin is “m” and zhuyin looks like an upside down wallet shaking money out.
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The final lip initial is ㄈ, as in “fun game” without the “-and game”. As you can see, ㄈ is represented by “f” in pinyin, but in zhuyin imagine a gameboy controller on its side. Next one:
Now we move on to the second type of initial, dental initials, so named because you have to touch the tip of your tongue to the back of your teeth to make these sounds. And they are: ㄉ D, ㄊ T, ㄋ N, ㄌ L.
So ㄉ is “duck” without the “-uck”. Pinyin is D, which makes sense, and zhuyin looks a bit like the profile of a duck with a wing.
Then ㄊ is like when you say “tough guy” and get rid of the “-ough guy”. Pinyin is simply “T”. And as for zhuyin, imagine a tough guy throwing up his arms. And maybe even holding a dumbbell.
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Now ㄋ we have the pinyin for “n” as in “nut”. (of course without -ut. Just ㄋ) To remember zhuyin, think of a nut hanging from a branch.
The last dental initial is ㄌ. Like “lucky 4-leaf clover” without “-ucky 4-leaf clover”. And no surprise, the pinyin is L. And the zhujin looks like a 4-leaf clover, or at least a 4-leaf cross? Yes? No? You can use your imagination 😉
ㄍ is pronounced like “gut punch” without the “-ut punch”. The pinyin is “g” and when it comes to zhujin, imagine two people getting punched in the stomach and doubled over in pain. That’s what it looks like.
ㄎ Think of a cross that says “c’mere!” Then get rid of the “-ome here” and you get ㄎ. In pinyin, ㄎ stands for K. And zhuyin looks like an angry face with an open screaming mouth.
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Now ㄏ is like honey without “-one”. In pinyin, it’s H. And in zhuyin, imagine a wand dripping honey.
ㄐ is like gin, without the “-nie”. The pinyin is J and the zhuyin looks a bit like a genie with a smoky tail or something…use your imagination!
Then ㄑ is like the sound of a chirping bird. “Chee(p) chee(p) chee(p)!” Pinyin is unusual here. It’s a Q. It’s not a CH because it represents a different sound, which we’ll get to shortly. So whoever invented pinyin decided to use the letter Q instead.
And we end palatal initials with ㄒ, for example “she went to the toilet”. Zhuyin is another unusual one. It’s X, not SH, because again, SH stands for a different sound, which we’ll cover in a few seconds. So remember X = ㄒ. As for the zhuyin, it looks exactly like an English capital letter T, or maybe part of a sign for a women’s bathroom.
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Now the retroflex initials are ㄓ ZH, ㄔ CH, ㄕ SH, ㄖ R. In Chinese they are called 捲舌音 (Juǎn shé yin) literally translated as “rolled tongue sounds” because you have to roll the edges. from your tongue to pronounce them.
But different accents can be used here. Just as British and American English speakers do not pronounce everything the same, Chinese speakers do not all pronounce things the same way.
Some people like to emphasize tongue rolling, while others have more “flat tongues”. This can be confusing for some people because it’s basically how you pronounce the dental sibilant initials, which we’ll talk about next.
ㄓ is a bit difficult to say. Here’s one way to think about it. Try saying “drummer” first. Then get rid of the “-ummer” and just say ㄓ. Note that you don’t say d-rummer, you say drummer. So, the drummer. ㄓ-summer. Pinyin is “zh” and zhuyin (Ha! Notice zhuyin uses ㄓ as the initial sound) Anyway. Zhuyin looks a bit like a trap on a tripod.
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Now ㄔ is like when you say “truck” and get rid of the “-uck”. Pinyin is CH and zhuyin looks a bit like truck wipers. That way you can remember it.
Then we have ㄕ, which is like when you say “mushroom” and get rid of the “mu-” and “-oom”. So, muㄕoom, ㄕoom, ㄕ. Pinyin is SH, which makes sense, and zhuyin looks a bit like a slanted mushroom.
Then we have ㄖ, which is like all previous retroflex initials, cutting off the first part of the sound. So try to silence someone: Shh! Now vocalize the sound and you get ㄕ (like in the mushroom example above), now get rid of the SH and you get ㄖ.
This is a good example of how pinyin is not the same as English. In Pinyin, ㄖ is represented by R, but you don’t pronounce it with “r”, “er” or anything like that. You pronounce it ㄖ. In fact, “er” is a completely different sound in the Chinese alphabet. We’ll get to it, don’t worry.
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Initials of dental sibilants. ㄗ Z, ㄘ C, ㄙ S. They are like weak relatives of retroflex initials.
ㄗ is like when a mosquito gets too close to an electric fly swatter or lamp and it goes DZZZAP! It’s not just zzzz, it’s dzzzzz, like with a d-ish sound at the beginning. ㄗ. Pinyin is Z, and zhuyin looks a bit like a lamppost.
For ㄘ, think of putzu without the “pu-”. By the way, putz means “stupid guy” in Yiddish. Now I know clowns aren’t stupid, but they like to act stupid, that’s why. And zhujin looks like a clown crouching or something and holding out his arms like he’s juggling.
Then there is ㄙ, like “naked snake”. Pinyin is of course S, and zhuyin looks a bit like a coiled snake raising its head.
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Bye! These are initials. Now let’s take