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For example,

  • 小黄儿, 小欢儿, 小花儿;
  • 唱歌儿, 树根儿, 一横儿;

What's the difference?

I can't understand the difference between each phonetic symbol in the same row in the table below:


The picture is from Wikipedia.

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I don't think you can distinguish from pronunciation; you need to rely on context. –  congusbongus Nov 6 '13 at 13:06
儿化音只是一种发音方式,这是东北方言中常带的,在标准普通话中没有儿化音。加一个儿字,对词语本身来说没有什么意义上的改变,没有什么区别。 –  shuangwhywhy Nov 7 '13 at 1:43
Sometimes Wikipedia delves much further into linguistics topics than would be useful to a typical language learner. –  hippietrail Nov 7 '13 at 3:55
Actually I can hear the difference when asking native speakers(Northerners), but I can't describe it. –  simonmysun Nov 7 '13 at 15:30
@shuangwhywhy As much as I hate 儿化音, even CCTV newscasters use it (although much less than the average northerner), so I think it's greatly exaggerating to say that standard Mandarin "doesn't have" any 儿化音. –  Stumpy Joe Pete Nov 8 '13 at 15:40
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3 Answers

I agree with TaraWordoor. You shouldn't be able to differentiate /er/ from /nr/ because when the sound /n/ is "erhua"-ed, you don't pronounce /n/ at all. So if you want to say 人儿, you're actually pronouncing /rer/. (BTW, these sounds are not in international phonetic alphabet. They're basically pinyin.) However, you should be able to hear the difference between /er/(/nr/) and /ngr/ because /ngr/ has a nasal sound at the end.

As you said, after you move to southern China, it's not a problem any more. It is mainly because "the southerners" (with all due respect) don't have 儿化音, and they don't have the difference between /n/ and /ng/ either. However, if you watch sit-coms about people from the north, it should be pretty easy to tell. I can't agree with some of the responses that standard Mandarin doesn't have 儿化音. Mandarin, as a partially artificial language, uses Beijing accent as a standard and northern accent in general as a base. So by definition, Mandarin should have 儿化音. The reason why you don't hear them often in the news is because 儿化音 is more colloquial and less formal. When you say something like 可爱的人儿, you're basically saying "cutie pie"; but when you say 可爱的人, you're saying "lovely person". Not just the meaning changes, the connotation changes as well.

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Background information: We take “jiang” as an example: “j” is the initial, “iang” is the final, and in the final, “i” is the head of the final, “a” is the “central” of the final, “ng” is the end of the final.

Of course some of the syllables don’t have the “head” of “end”, but they must have a “central”. And the pronunciation of “erhuayin” is up to the “central” and the “end”.

  1. For the that syllables don’t have an “end” or the “end” is “u”, add “er” directly after the syllable, like: cher, baor, hua4.

  2. For the syllables ending with “i, n”, you need to omit “i , n” then add “er” after it, like: kuair renr

  3. For the syllables with “ i, Ü” as their “central”, you need to add an “a” after the syllable then add “er”, like “xir, yur”

  4. For the syllables which are “ zhi chi shi zi ci si”, change the “i” to “er”, like: zhir, zir, xir.

  5. For the syllables ending with “ng”, omit the “ng” and add “er”, like: pingr, mangr.

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Although this has useful information, I don't think this really answers the question, which is, as far as I can tell, "How do you tell the difference between ger/genr/gengr (or any series of -r/-nr/-ngr)?". If you look at the chart, it suggests that the -r and -nr syllables are always pronounced identically, but the -ngr syllables have nasalized vowels. I personally have never been able to hear a difference. But then I moved south and it didn't matter any more :) –  Stumpy Joe Pete Nov 8 '13 at 18:55
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Actually, the difference of the pronunciation with and without erhuayin is just like British English pronunciation and American pronunciation, for example, 'worker', in British you can't hear 'er' pronunciation but can clearly hear 'er' in American English. So, typically that's the 'same difference' in Chinese speaking, erhuayin or not.

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