The famous character Judge Dee is based on the historical magistrate Di Renjie, according to Wikipaedia. But I have seen this name spelled as Ti Jentsjié in Dutch, pronounced roughly like /ti/ /jen.tsji.eː/. Now I am curious what it should sound like in Chinese. I don't know what the Chinese character are (or were, during the Tang).

I'm interesting in the pronunciation in modern Chinese, in 18th-century Chinese, and in Tang Chinese, in as much as the pronunciation has changed over the past centuries.

P.S. I see it spelled Ti Jen-Chieh on this page, but without an explanation: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poets_and_Murder

  • @ColinMcLarty: I did not see the pronunciation, at least not in the introduction to the article. I know very little about Chinese pronunciation, but I'd be interested in a general idea of what it might have sounded like or sounds like in IPA or in whatever way it can be explained to a layman.
    – Cerberus
    Jun 17, 2017 at 23:10
  • @ColinMcLarty: Not entirely, nor to what extent it would represent the pronunciation of the 18th century or of the Tang...
    – Cerberus
    Jun 19, 2017 at 3:06
  • For a comprehensive survey of ideas about historical phonology of Chinese, notably including Tang and 18th century, see chapter 2 of Jerry Norman's book Chinese, Cambridge University 1988. It is a complex and controversial subject as is historical phonology of any language and while there has been a lot of work later than 1988 I do not know any later overview as comprehensive as this. Jun 19, 2017 at 5:52
  • @ColinMcLarty: Thanks for the reference. I'm afraid I don't have the time to study Chinese phonology at present, but it's good to know that such a book exists. I suppose perhaps my question is too difficult.
    – Cerberus
    Jun 19, 2017 at 20:38
  • 1
    This IS NOT Hanyu Pinyin, read it like English words: Dee Zhen Jye [di: ʒən dʒje].
    – xenophōn
    Jun 20, 2017 at 2:45

2 Answers 2


This character is 狄仁傑, the original Chinese novel about his cases is 狄公案.

Different spellings are caused by different romanisation schemes, and which languages is used (from & to).

In the 唐 dynasty, it was Middle Chinese; nowadays Cantonese is still highly related to it. The pronunciation of this name is:

狄 dik6; sound file

仁 yan4; sound file

傑 git6, sound file

You may change the scheme used at the top right corner of the page, to IPA :)

Have fun :)

  • Hey, thanks for those sound files, very helpful! So this is Cantonese, and you think it's quite close to the Tang pronunciation? I must say it sounds quite different from any of the spellings I have seen, such as the /k/ sound...
    – Cerberus
    Jun 19, 2017 at 3:05
  • yes, cause 狄 dik6 is entering tone, mandarin lost this tone nowadays; so cantonese is more "close" to tang pronunciation. the rime dictionaries of that time, e.g. 切韻, 廣韻, we can still use cantonese to lookup characters, but not mandarin. the phonology of chinese is, well, very complicated, and controversial. btw, "judge dee" at tang dynasty had to do the investigate, prosecute & judge by himself; like "judge dread" :) Jun 19, 2017 at 5:58

ti vs. di

Chinese and English both do not have voiced alveolar stop. "t" and "d" is distinguished by aspiration. Therefore, when translating to English, simplity t->t, and d->d is OK. The former one "t" is an aspirated voiceless alveolar stop, while the latter consonant "d" is an unaspirated voiceless alveolar stop. In standard IPA, they should be written as [tʰ] and [t].

However, Dutch is a different story. Their "t" and "d" are both unaspirated, and they are distinguished by voiced/voiceless. In IPA, they are denoted as [t] and [d]. Therefore, for Dutch speakers, a Chinese "di", which is voiceless, sounds like "ti" to their ears.

Chinese pronunciations of "狄"

Chinese pronunciation changes over time and space. There is never only one pronunciation given a character. There are ancient phonological dictionaries, but they only told us the classification of characters in terms of their pronunciation. Although there are many research working on investigating ancient phonetics, for actual way to pronounce in a certain historical time at a certain location, there's no absolute answer.

The closest answer to your question may be found here: ytenx.org. For the pronunciation of Tang, 《廣韻》 is maybe the best source to refer to. For 18-th century Chinese, 《洪武正韻》 is the book you need. Related contents are listed below:

  • 《廣韻》 徒歷切 <- This is the pronunciation 荻小韻 <-This is the classification 定母 錫韻 四等 開口 <- This is property of the consonant, voxel, etc. Most researcher believe it pronounced as /dek/ (near the capital city Chang'an).

  • 《洪武正韻》 杜歷切 <- This is the pronunciation 入聲七陌 狄小韻 <-This is the classification The pronounciation is much like the contemporal Chinese. In northern China, it's "dee", and southern China "dik" or something similar.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.