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Yes, there are rules - it is not irregular at all. The two different pronunciations of 阿 actually reflect different usages. The original Old Chinese pronunciation of ē is for using the character as a verb or noun, which is what the character 阿 originally meant. In contrast, the later pronunciation of ā emerged as a particle with completely different ...


'e' is the older pronunciation and is used to reflect the older pronunciation in some particular words (usually more formal words), such as 阿胶 (ē jiāo, some animal gelatin), 阿房宫(ē páng gōng -- notice that 房 is pronounced páng instead of fáng), 阿谀奉承. 'a' is the modern and default pronunciation, used in translation of foreign names (e.g., Algebria - 阿尔及利亚) as ...

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