When I first came to China, I was quite disappointed to find out that, in so many places, the colloquial pronunciation was so greatly different from the one I've studied so far. The phonological material, which is already rather limited in Mandarin (especially to my foreigner's semi-tone-deaf ears), seemed further reduced: I could no more distinguish shi from si, zhi from zi, chi from ci, and so on. More disturbing, many speakers appear to be totally unaware of any difference, and could pronounce 老师 as laoshi or laosi in the same breath. The problem started in Jinan (Shandong), only to get worse in Wuhan (Hubei) and Nanjing (Jiangsu), not to mention Chengdu (Sichuan).

I recently decided to try to overcome this difficulty by training my ear with a student of mine who comes from Xiangyang (Hubei). For our first course, I asked him to record several chosen stock sentences. I transcribe some of them below, with the standard pronunciation, followed by what I can hear (both in pinyin, which may be not precise enough for a die-hard linguist, sorry!).

  1. 你是什么时候到中国的?
    • Nǐ shì shénme shíhou dào zhōngguó de?
    • Nǐ sì sénme síhou dào zōngguó de?
  2. 我真诚感谢你的一切帮助。
    • Wǒ zhēnchéng gǎnxiè nǐ de yīqiè bāngzhù.
    • Wǒ zēncéng gǎnxiè nǐ de yīqiè bāngzù.
  3. 请仔细看看。
    • Qǐng zǐxì kàn kàn.
    • Xǐng zǐxì kàn kàn.
  4. 老师叫学生保持安静。
    • Lǎoshī jiào xuéshēng bǎochí ānjìng.
    • Lǎoshī jiào xuésēng bǎocí ānjìng.

(In the latter, please note the discrepancy in the pronunciation of sh.)

Now for my question. Do you know any resource (list, table), which clearly summarizes the main variations in the pronunciation of standard Mandarin (I'm not speaking of locale languages or dialects) in one or several given regions?

Update. I'm perfectly aware that most chinese people use both their local dialect and Mandarin depending on the situation. I'm not interested in learning or understanding their dialect. But I need to understand them when they think they speak a perfectly standard Mandarin. The fact is that their pronunciation has usually several non-standard aspects. I've given some examples, and Stumpy Joe Pete has kindly began to provide a list of general patterns, which is exactly what I'm looking for.

By the way, the very fact that Zhang Yao and Aw Qirui Guo, apparently both native speakers, thought my question was about local dialects, tells a lot about one of the greatest difficulties a foreigner encounters in such a situation: people don't realize that their pronunciation is non-standard, or consider that the differences are negligible and uninteresting. This explains probably why it's so difficult to find a simple list of correspondences like the one of Stumpy Joe Pete!

  • 1
    This previous question may also be relevant: Characteristics of Northern and Southern accents
    – Claw
    Oct 2 '12 at 18:22
  • 1
    This one is also relevant: chinese.stackexchange.com/questions/1581/…
    – BertR
    Oct 3 '12 at 11:09
  • Aristide, list questions are usually not fit for Q&A sites. Sometimes short lists are ok or with strict requirements. But in your case, it seems it's much broader.
    – Alenanno
    Oct 3 '12 at 12:29
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    I've voted to re-open this question because trying to adapt your ear to the many ways Mandarin is spoken around China is a real problem and also an interesting topic. It's especially a problem when you're trying to learn Mandarin by immersion but move from place to place with differing ways of speaking Mandarin. However, I'm voting the question down also because of its condescending tone. It reads like a visitor expects the Chinese government should have tried harder to suppress its people's natural linguistic variation. Feb 6 '14 at 15:41

I can't think of any tables I've seen, but I can share some of the patterns I've encountered:

  • zh ch sh merge with z c s (or distinguished at random):
    • Almost everywhere in the south, at least among most speakers
  • n merges with l (conditioned on following vowel):
    • Sichuan, Hunan, Hubei, Chongqing, Nanjing, ...
  • h merges with f (conditioned on following vowel):
    • Some Sichuan?, Hunan, Hubei, Chongqing
  • final n merges with final ng
    • Jiangsu, Shanghai
  • r merges with l
    • Jiangxi? I've met several people like this, and 2 were from Jiangxi.
  • Something about mixing up j q x versus the z c s and the g k:
    • Guangdong, HK
  • I am not an expert but I don't think all of them are "merged". Some distinctions still exist but the rules are different from Mandarin, like in Fujian h and f are inversed in many words.
    – NS.X.
    Oct 2 '12 at 17:57
  • 1
    To clarify what I mean by merged: I mean that the two phonemes have merged, and the two sounds are no longer used in contrast. For instance, in several of my friends' speech, they use both h and f, but which one to use is completely determined by the rest of the syllable. E.g., they have fu but no hu. Oct 2 '12 at 19:04
  • Regarding the merger between f and h, I have heard native Cantonese speakers (in the Mainland) pronounce, while trying to speak Mandarin, 會所 as fuiso. Hu seems to be spirantized into fu.
    – dda
    Oct 11 '12 at 11:11
  • j q x versus z c s and g k may be older pronunciation. j q x evolved from those when in palatalizing environment. Look at old Wade-Giles romanizations of some names: Pei-king (Beijing), Ch'ung-k'ing (Chongqing), Tien-tsin (Tianjin).
    – MickG
    Sep 15 '14 at 18:09

I am from Wuhan, Hubei. But I really don't suggest you waste your time on this unless you are doing academic research. Because even I cannot understand much slang in Xiangyang dialect. Many Chinese people can only communicate in their native language and standard Mandarin.

Standard Mandarin will be the trend and the government is trying the best to "kill" the non-standard speaking - Though this leads to some major controversies (1 2 3), at least in the future, more and more people will be able to speak Mandarin. So keeping your focus on learning Standard Mandarin would be helpful and time-saving.

If you are curious, you can read this article: Varieties of Chinese. Many details are included.

  • 1
    I think the poster's goal is to understand what people say, regardless of their accent. I don't think they're trying to learn how to speak with a Xiangyang accent. Oct 3 '12 at 7:13
  • 1
    Voted down because telling somebody not to bother asking a question is not an answer. OP wants to adapt his ear to understand Mandarin wherever it is spoken. A problem I can relate to after a couple of months roaming around China. Feb 6 '14 at 15:37
  • 1
    vote up because this is a good suggestion Feb 7 '14 at 4:30
  • 1
    Telling people to learn English instead of "wasting their time" with Chinese would be a "good suggestion" in many people's opinion. Suggestions and opinions are bad for Q&A sites like Stack Exchange and belong on forum sites. Feb 8 '14 at 7:07

Nowadays in mainland China, an increasing number of the younger generations are speaking standard mandarin.

I suggest it would be much easier to make friends with these people than to collect and make a list or table.

Keeping the local pronunciation is one part of saving the culture but popularization and learning of standard Mandarin is mandatory.

  • 2
    Voted down because it does not attempt to answer the OP's valid question. Feb 6 '14 at 15:38

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