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One of the local specialty favourite dishes in Shaanxi province where I am now is Biángbiáng miàn.

Restaurant in Xi'an selling Biángbiáng miàn. Photo by hippietrail

The hanzi character for "biáng" is usually the focus of discusssions of this dish since it takes 58 strokes and is not supported by computers, including Unicode.

But I want to discuss the syllable "biang" in this question. To a beginner in Chinese like myself it seems to be composed of common initial "b", medial "i" and final "ang".

But the Wikipedia article informs me that the alternative names for the dish with more common characters are 彪彪面 (biāobiāo miàn) and 冰冰面 (bīngbīng miàn), which each use a different syllable in place of "biáng" as well as a different hanzi character.

So is this syllable not even possible? If not, which phonological rules does it break? Also if it's not "possible" how could it become popular as part of the name of a dish? Is it something to do with the dialect or accent spoken in Shaanxi?

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Biang is an interesting character, being absent in many dictionaries, and having an unverified origin. I don't think it being uncommon is reason enough to consider its pronunciation to be non-standard, however. There are quite a few characters that have very uncommon pronunciations, so much so that for the rare ones, most native speakers would also find them odd.

A few examples from http://eastasiastudent.net/china/mandarin/unusual-syllables:

怎 (zěn)

谁 (shéi)

These characters are extremely common but their syllables are very rare. 给 in particular is the only character that is pronounced "gei".

咯 (lo)

覅 (fiào)

鞥 (ēng)

These may fool many native speakers, but they are indeed real characters.

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So can native speakers pronounce these all without difficulty? For instance neither the syllables "shmoog" nor "ngih" exist in English but the first is pronounceable by all speakers while the latter is not, even though it would be pronounceable by speakers of some other languages. Also, "biang" doesn't seem to exist with any tone, at least on Wiktionary. I don't know whether the examples you list are rare just in the noted tone or in all tones. –  hippietrail Nov 19 '13 at 12:10
@hippietrail, I saw these characters a short time ago from a TV show, but they don't appear very often, you know, but even if I didn't know these characters, provided with the pinyin (like 'biang'), I can pronounce it, and I think everyone knows pinyin can. When I look at 'shmoog', I could guess it is pronounced as '/ʃmu:g/', while 'ngih' is really difficult to guess its pronunciation. –  shuangwhywhy Nov 19 '13 at 13:17
Although I didn't find citations on this one, I'm pretty sure this is not standard Mandarin Chinese defined as the official language of the CCP government. Most probably this comes from some northern dialect, which is closer to Mandarin Chinese than southern ones. –  phoeagon Nov 19 '13 at 14:29
@hippietrail why is ngi not pronounceable for English speakers? The English has the sound ng, what's the substantial difficulty of putting that sound at the beginning of a syllable? –  user58955 Nov 19 '13 at 18:00
覅 must be dialectal. This character doesn't even exist in Kangxi dictionary. And it sounds exactly like Wu dialect. I would say this is a bad example. If you look at Cantonese, you'll see more weird characters (of course those words are mostly not Chinese -- the base stratum of Cantonese is Kam-Tai) –  user58955 Nov 19 '13 at 18:02
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