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I speak Chinese natively (我讲中文,普通话) but my pronunciation is borrowed from Jiangsu parents, so I was wondering what is the difference between "jin" (今) and "jing" (京)? Is there any difference in identifying such? Once, somebody remarked "haha, your southern ignorance voids your ability to understand the differences of jin/jing," and so I hope somebody can help me understand this without saying "it's regional" or "it takes practice". If need be, you can respond in simplified Chinese. Thanks! 多谢!

Update: I pronounce "jin" as "JEEN" and "jing" as "JEENg" but the "g" is so slight I can barely notice it. Is there any way to differentiate them?

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    It's true that Jiangsu people often don't distinguish -n vs -ng. But it also seems to be true that you speak English, and English has this exact distinction. Can you hear the difference between the English words "pin" and "ping"? How bout "sun" and "sung"? – Stumpy Joe Pete Nov 8 '14 at 21:12
  • I can testify that some locals in Hebei (Yantai) will pronounce 天津 as Tianjing. Therefore, this phenomenon is seemingly not isolated to Jiangsu. – user4452 Nov 8 '14 at 22:28
  • @StumpyJoePete Are you saying that "jin" has a slight "ih" sound while "jing" has a long e sound? I'm sure that's not the case. – jeffw Nov 9 '14 at 0:51
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    The distinction between the English pin/ping, sun/sung doesn't have to do with the vowels. The consonants at the end of the words sound different. -n sounds different than -ng. – Stumpy Joe Pete Nov 9 '14 at 0:53
  • pin and ping have different vowel sounds. "pin" has a "ih" while "ping" has a long e sound. It is also possible to confuse sun and sung if the pronunciation is not clear, therefore I don't think the analogy is correct here. Thanks anyway. – jeffw Nov 10 '14 at 0:18
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Studies have shown that if you grow up in a language environment where speakers do not distinguish between two sounds, your brain will lose the ability to easily perceive the difference between them. A notable example of this phenomenon is the inability for most Japanese speakers to distinguish between r and l.

Jiangsu is an area where the Wu Chinese dialects are traditionally spoken. The Wu dialects, on the whole, do not distinguish between final nasal consonants such as n and ng. In many cases, they are allophonic, with the consonant that is actually produced being determined by the vowel that precedes it. This is likely the reason why you currently don't perceive the difference between jin and jing, because the two syllables have the same vowel when spoken according to the standard. However, it is possible to train yourself to perceive them as separate sounds.

Being able to produce both the n and ng sounds is the first step in helping you recognize the difference between them. It may be helpful for you to think of the relationship between the n and ng sounds as being similar to the relationship between the t and k sounds.

  • The n sound is an alveolar nasal and the t sound is an alveolar stop, which mean that they are both produced with the tongue touching the alveolar ridge, which is where your teeth meet your gums.
  • The ng sound is a velar nasal and the k sound is a velar stop. They are both produced with the tongue touching the velum, which is located near the back of the roof of your mouth.

Alveolar sounds require that your top and bottom teeth be touching; therefore, when you say jin, you should end with your top and bottom teeth touching and the tip of your tongue should be against your gum ridge. However, velar sounds are produced with a slightly open mouth, so in order to pronounce jing, try to end the syllable with your mouth slightly open; your top and bottom teeth should not be touching and the back of your tongue should be against the back of the roof of your mouth.

Once you've practice being able to pronounce the two distinctly, keep repeating it to yourself and you should be able to start training your brain to notice the difference when you hear it in speech.

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Since final consonants in Mandarin are not as firm as those in, say, Cantonese and English, people who speak Mandarin often relay on vowel quality to distinguish the -n/ng pair.

-in is of course realized as a front vowel /i/, while -ing often has a tint of back vowel, which someone may find similar to Pinyin i+eng. I think it is perfectly acceptable to pronounce jing as if you were pronouncing jeng (jeng is not proper Pinyin).

Also, final consonants are usually blended into the vowels. When a Mandarin speaker tries to stretch a syllable, they will probably produce a prolonged nasal vowel or rhotacized vowel, instead of a prolonged vowel followed a consonant.

  • What is y+eng? I don't understand. – jeffw Nov 10 '14 at 0:17
  • @jeffw, I mean a short yi followed by eng. You can try to listen to CCTV's weather forecast. There are a lot of 晴 and 明. – Yang Muye Nov 10 '14 at 0:41
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    From this 2004 paper: Recent phonetic studies have shown that in Mandarin syllables with final nasal n or ng, there is an absence of closure; instead, the vowel is nasalized, and the degree of retraction of the vowel serves to distinguish the two nasal endings. – Michaelyus Nov 10 '14 at 15:42
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In Standard Chinese those are two different consonants, much the same as 'n' in [English] 'kin' and 'ng' in 'king'.

In IPA the final -ng is transcribed as [ŋ] while n is [n].

(By the way I have spent some time in Jiangsu and never noticed that local people would not distinguish these two consonants.)

  • It is quite common for people in Jiangsu to not distinguish final -n vs -ng. – Stumpy Joe Pete Nov 8 '14 at 21:11
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    这个问题让一些使用者想起来"劲"这个字的两个发音,即使俩都是去声,jìn、jìng 分别对应于其名和形容词的义项。 this question has reminded some users of the two pronunciations of 劲 corresponding respectively to its meaning as noun or adjective. – user6065 Nov 8 '14 at 21:50
  • @StumpyJoePete Apparently I must have had contact to people only, who had good command of Standard Mandarin. The lack of proper distinction between sh-/s- (and similar) consonants in the South is more of an issue to me than the finals. – Drunken Master Nov 8 '14 at 22:47
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    I come from a Chinese dialect in which trailing nasal sounds literally don't exist. I find the English n and ng very easy, but the Mandarin counterparts are a disaster. :( To me the nasal part in Mandarin is much less distinguishable than in English, and the vowel part do have different sounds when accompanied with n or ng, in a way I can't explain or imitate... – Wang Dingwei Nov 9 '14 at 15:30
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    @neubau A subdivision of 晋语 from 吕梁 region. – Wang Dingwei Nov 10 '14 at 3:41

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