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I had thought I knew how to pronounce pinyin "c," like the English "ts" in "cats." But on a trip to Shanxi it seemed like most of my friends were pronouncing it like pinyin "ch." Village names ending in pinyin "cun" seemed to be pronounced as if they had "chun." Chinese "蔬菜" (shucai) seemed to be pronounced "shuchai."

Was it just my bad ears?

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    Many dialects merge zh with z, ch with c, and sh with s. Usually the preference is for the z-c-s series, but it's possible to go the other way too. Mar 30 '13 at 21:39
  • Maybe it just your mishearing. Maybe you also know that every kind of person, have their own speaking tone. So, every place speaking tone will be little different. May be cause by that tone, made you mishear. Also speaking fast will some time speak c,s,z became ch,zh,sh or opposite.
    – Kasnady
    Apr 26 '13 at 4:40
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Your pronunciation is correct.

This is a common mis-pronunciation in many places in China, not just Shanxi. In fact, this is so common that nearly every modern Chinese input software supports so called "模糊音"(ambiguous pronunciation). The user can config if this function is enabled. Here's a screenshot of the config in Google Pinyin software:

模糊音 config in Google Pinyin software

As you can see, there are more than just "c" and "ch".

This is actually also a problem in China. It's a common topic in the many exams of Chinese language. The national exam for entrance to university used to have questions on this every year.

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HaHa your pronunciation is right. Please don't learn from that accent. It is so so hard for you. every province has different accents. Usually, In Sichuan or some Southern city, you will hear this accent. If you move to the more southern city, the more distinctive the dialects you will hear. For example, the dialects between in Fujian province and Hei long Jiang province are too different to find any similarities. Even the grammar is also different. Remember the Mandarin is enough. As a native speaker, I also can't pronounce most dialects.

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That's difference between dialects and Mandarin.

In fact, they should be pronounced just the same as how they're spelled.

Yes, "ts" is right.

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  • But do you know if this is a Shanxi dialect? Or was I mishearing it? Mar 30 '13 at 18:27
  • @user2223 generally in 山西 and 陕西 dialects, 菜 is cai. However each Chinese dialect has many variations, in some of which it is totally possible 菜 is read chai.
    – NS.X.
    Mar 30 '13 at 18:43
  • I think it is more a problem of personal pronounciation. A lot people from my hometown (Mandarin speaking commnity) don't differenciate between c and ch, s and sh, z and zh. I consider their pronounciation not following the standard rule. Apr 1 '13 at 17:34
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    @孤影萍踪 I think the question is about Shanxi dialect in particular. Are you also talking about dialects from that area?
    – NS.X.
    Apr 1 '13 at 20:44
  • I probably should not say "dialect." Most of my friends there grew up speaking local dialects, not all the same one. They learned a rather polished Mandarin for their academic careers and use that when speaking around me or to me in Chinese. Based on all these comments I think my ears were not wrong, it was a matter of personal pronunciation, and maybe it happened in the more informal contexts. My thnaks to everyone. Apr 2 '13 at 12:27
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According to Wiktionary, the pronunciation of the character 菜 is /t͡sʰai⁴⁵/ in the Shanxi (Jin) dialect (t͡sʰ = Pinyin "c"). In fact, 成 with initial "ch" in Pinyin is pronounced /t͡sʰə̃ŋ¹¹/ which suggests that in the local dialect zh, ch, and sh merge with z, c, s, like in a large number of other Chinese dialects. One possible explanation is that when they learned Standard Mandarin, they may have tried to change words that are zh, ch, sh in Mandarin but z, c, s in Jin to zh, ch, sh, and that may have been extended to all words, even ones with initial "c" in Mandarin, like 菜.

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