I'm always hearing the pronunciations jiào and xiào being used interchangeably by native speakers for the character: 酵.

  • What's the deal?

  • Is there a standardized pronunciation for 酵?

  • What's the history behind the different pronunciations?

  • Or is it just a case of 四川人生得憨?

  • What's the story about 四川人生得憨?
    – NS.X.
    Commented Jan 22, 2015 at 19:26
  • 1
    @NS.X. 四川人生得憨,认字认半边, guess the pronunciation from half of the character (and get it wrong).
    – Mou某
    Commented Jan 23, 2015 at 2:03
  • I have heard Singapore/Shanghai pronunciations of the word, and I have literally never heard the "jiao" version before. Thanks for the TIL.
    – March Ho
    Commented Jan 23, 2015 at 20:31
  • wow I've never heard jiao4 either for that character, always xiao4. Interesting. 校 can be read jiao4 in 校对 etc, and people mix it up (as xiao4) sometimes as well, though maybe that's just being too used to the xiao4 reading. I wonder why there seems to be a relationship between the two sounds for characters incorporating 交 and 孝 as phonetics. BTW really like the bit about Sichuan people ;) Commented Jan 23, 2015 at 22:04
  • It reads xiào also in our Xi'an dialect and most northern areas. The pronounciation of some characters in Mandarin are not so logical sometimes. For example: 核 reads hái in our dialect, the same as 亥, 孩, 咳, 骇 and 氦, but different tones, so I prefer xiào than jiào, though the later one is the standard.
    – xenophōn
    Commented Feb 18, 2019 at 11:28

5 Answers 5


The standardized pronunciation is "jiào", it not "xiào" in the word "发酵." But in south of China, like Taiwan, people read it as "xiào" which is not standard.

I think that because of the two pronunciation is so similar that people always read it as "xiào".

发酵 means 有机物由于某些菌或酶而分解称“发酵”。能使有机物发酵的真菌称“酵母菌”。亦称“酵母”、“酿母”。

  • 3
    Taiwan standard for 酵 is xiào.
    – Stan
    Commented Jan 22, 2015 at 9:33
  • Never been there just see in TV or movie.:)
    – lqhcpsgbl
    Commented Jan 22, 2015 at 9:36
  • 1
    @Stan Which standard would you say is most traditional then? Mainland or TW? Middle Chinese readings for 交、教、酵 all seem to be a variation (tone wise) on kaew which translates to something closer to jiao than xiao.
    – Mou某
    Commented Jan 22, 2015 at 10:15
  • @user3306356 sorry I know very little about phonology, so I can't answer this question :)
    – Stan
    Commented Jan 22, 2015 at 10:26
  • You would people would not mix up the pronunciation since one sounds the same as the word for yelling Jiao and the other is xiao like laughing lol
    – Huangism
    Commented Jan 22, 2015 at 14:16

I agress with @zoosuck, the standardized pronunciation is jiào. but in different dialect like Sichuanese people use xiào

example: 发酵, 酵母片, 发酵了以后的葡萄


酵 pronounced as jiào. it is a pictophonogram, the left part telling the meaning, the right part telling pronunciation.

孝, xiào, filial piety, is a very important character for Chinese. All Chinese know it. So when the first time they saw a new character 酵, their first instict is to read it as xiào. actually, it should be read as jiào.

by the way, 孝 is the look of a child or young child supporting his father or other senior generations.


You have to realize first that Mandarin is a much younger(roughly 600 years) language than the other much older Chinese dialect. This is why all the older dialects have 'xiao4' as reading. 酵 and 孝 are both hau in Hakka and Cantonese with different tone.

The same can be seen in words like 粘 and 黏 being pronounced as nian2(TW) or nim1(Cantonese), niam1(Hakka), liam/niam(minnanese), while mainland mandarin would read it as 'zhan1'

So if you're interested in learning the culture, then 'xiao4' makes more sense, if you're trying to just communicate then 'jiao4' is the current standard unless if you're in Taiwan and some southern parts of China(maybe?).

  • I always pronounce 粘 as zhan though 國語詞典 has only nian for this character. According to 漢典, 酵 in hakka can be pronounced as gau or hau. Some places have both gau and hau pronunciations, some has only gau, and no place has only hau.
    – joehua
    Commented Feb 16, 2021 at 11:49

this is a Polyphonic word, like English, there are so many Polyphonic words in Chinese too. here are some other common used Polyphonic words: http://www.maxmandarin.com/lesson.php?lesson=wordlesson10


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