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The textbook I'm reading now has liberal sprinklings of the 儿 character suffixing words that I have not previously seen suffixed.

For example: 空儿。

How should this be pronounced? Are there any rules of thumb for pronouncing the 'er' in cases where the previous character doesn't end in a vowel? (Another example would be 馆儿 although I already know that sounds like 'guer')

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My textbook (Integrated Chinese) also prints 儿 on words when the 儿 is simply accent. Is it normal to write 空儿,玩儿,聊天儿 etc? Or is the 儿 normally omitted? –  trideceth12 Mar 5 '12 at 13:20
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It is normal to write the 儿, even for people who do not say them. Sometimes it is used to differentiate between a noun and a verb, as in the case of 花 vs. 花儿. In my experience, sometimes people in the south will switch the 儿 for a 子, for example "lens cap" is 镜头盖 but in the north will be shortened to "盖儿" and in the south "盖子" –  aelephant Mar 5 '12 at 14:14
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4 Answers 4

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Wikipedia has a very useful page on Erhua. I don't know how to type IPA here and I'm not sure whether the OP knows IPA, so I'll summarize the rules informally here, writing the approximate erhua pronunciation inside quotations marks. (Note that this does not represent the pinyin spelling of erhua words; those rules are different.):

  • Final i and n are deleted: 把儿 = ba + er -> "bar"; 伴儿 = ban + er -> "bar"; 盖儿 = gai + er -> "gar"
  • Main vowels i and ü are retained, and the "er" sound is added at the end of the syllable: 气儿 = qi + er -> "qier"; 劲儿 = jin + er -> "jier" (the n is deleted by the above principle); 裙儿 = qun + er -> "qüer", 驴儿 = lü + er -> "lüer"
  • Certain vowel sounds merge. These rules are complicated; I refer you to Wikipedia for more details.
  • Final ng is deleted, but the vowel becomes nasal. I've left this rule until last because (as a native English speaker) I find these sounds difficult to pronounce. Wikipedia, or the sound files mentioned in other answers, will give you a better sense of how these vowels sound.
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This is indeed a very complex question and not easily answered fully (although what other people have said will still get you very far in practical terms). San Duanmu (2007) offers a fairly good introduction in his The Phonology of Standard Chinese. It goes far beyond what most casual learners want to know, but it should be interesting for anyone who wants to delve deeper into this question (and many others, the books is an introduction to Chinese phonology in general).

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I've never heard of this book! It looks great; thanks for the recommendation. –  Jon Mar 7 '12 at 14:44
    
I'll write a review of it shortly, it's by far the best book I've seen on this subject and contains an awful lot of information. Basically, it's an overview not only of current research, but also of past development, which means that the reader gets a feeling of why current theories are the way they are. I'd recommend some kind of theoretical knowledge, but anyone who's interested should be fine. If you have a background in linguistics or are otherwise interested in phonology, this book should be perfect. –  Olle Linge Mar 8 '12 at 7:17
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Audio clips of ”有空儿“ being pronounced can be found on this page. From my (limited) listening experience the 儿化 "儿", as with regional accents in most languages, is not entirely predictable.

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Thanks for the link. Some of them seem to treat the 儿 as silent, the others I can't hear what they are saying well enough to differentiate the sounds. –  Phil Gan Mar 5 '12 at 15:20
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I haven't seen the rules formalized, but it seems to me if a word ends in a vowel, simply add the "儿" on the end just like 花儿. If the word ends in the letter "n", drop the "n" and replace it with the "儿" sound, like 馆儿.

I can't access the sound files that trideceth12 linked in his answer, but I've heard 空儿 pronounced almost like 2 separate phonemes, rather than like one smooth sound like 花儿 or 馆儿. In this kind of case, where the word doesn't end in a vowel or "n", it seems like you just add the 儿 sound on the end without changing the root word at all.

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they are .wav files, you may have to right click and save as; then open the files. –  trideceth12 Mar 5 '12 at 22:09
    
I tried downloading them, but they seem to be chopped off short. –  aelephant Mar 7 '12 at 2:34
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