Why in Chinese some people pronounce the vocal "i" in 士 in the word 博士 (bó shì) as the IPA /i/ in the English "she", but sometimes they pronounce it as the IPA /ə/ in the English "her". Which one is more correct?

Links I found of both pronunciation /i/ and /ə/

Which one is more correct to standard Mandarin Chinese?

And also, which one is actually more practiced in real life ? If the /ə/ is more used than /i/ in 博士 in Chinese Speaking , why is it like that?


2 Answers 2


Actually neither of them is correct [technically speaking]. Also in the link you provided, that does sound like /i:/ as in "see", but that is not the sound actually made. Maybe the one provided such pronunciation might put her tongue a bit close to the teeth and create a bit confusion, or the recording is not authentic enough.

Acceptable way: let the position of your tongue ready for pronouncing /r/ in English. Then to pronounce "sh", just keep this position and let the air out of the mouth. When you do that, the air should pass through the small gap above your tongue. Now for the full "shì", do the same thing and let your voice box vibrate at the same time.

In Standard Mandarin or "Putonghua" [普通话], "i" after "s/sh, z/zh, c/ch, r" are never pronounced like "/i/" as in "bit" or "/i:/" as in "see". In these cases, you could think of them as an extension of the sound in the front of "i".

If someone pronounces "shì" as "shè", then maybe s/he is used to pronounce "shì" for a short time then immediately s/he let his/her mouth open and relax before completing the pronunciation. Technically speaking, they actually pronounced "shì e", but not as much explicit, thus many native speakers would accept such a sound as well.

The phenomenon "儿化" truly exists, but not all words end by sound "i" are acceptable to be "儿化" i.e. add a little /ər/ [IPA] at the end. The word 博士 should not be "儿化" in general [although some people may make this mistake because of the influence of their dialect].

P.S. "sh" in mandarin is not the same as /ʃ/ in English.

P.P.S. when referring to IPA symbols, I had used / / to wrap, while to Chinese Pinyin, I had used quotes "" instead.


For safety, I am here to paste useful explanations I made in comments.

  1. When I said that

you could think of the "i" as an extension of the "s/sh, z/zh, c/ch r" sound in the front of "i"

I meant that, e.g. when you pronounce "shi", you just need to hold the position of your tongue that produces "sh" and let your air out for a bit of longer time. Equivalently the "shi" sound would sound like prolonging the shhhh sound as @TomSofty33 understood.

  1. When I said

they are actually pronounced "shì e", but not as much explicit

The "not as much explicit" here is referring to the /i/ sound being not to explicitly pronounced as @TomSofty33 understood. And the "e" in "shì e" does sound a bit like /ə/ in english IPA as in the word "her".

  1. The pronunciation in the 1st link provided in the OP does not soun awkward to me as a native Chinese speaker, but might not be clear in the records. Personally I do not recommend. Some people might pronounce 博士 like that in the link. But technically speaking that is not the correct or standard one, however acceptable.

  2. I am a native chinese speaker with satisfying TOEFL grade. So when I write the description starting with an English sound /r/, you could totally do as I explained, you do not need to worry about something like I may pronounce the English words in a wrong way, which would lead you to mistake if you do take what I have written in my answer.

  • ""i" after "s/sh, z/zh, c/ch, r" are never pronounced like "/i/" as in "bit" or "/i:/" as in "see". In these cases, you could think of them as an extension of the sound in the front of "i"." I don't quite understand this part.
    – Tomsofty33
    Aug 20, 2018 at 9:55
  • "you could think of them as an extension..." can I confirm what is "them" specifically referring to?
    – Tomsofty33
    Aug 20, 2018 at 9:56
  • @Tomsofty33 Sorry. "Them" refers to the "i".
    – xbh
    Aug 20, 2018 at 9:58
  • "...of the sound in front of "i"" Which sound are you referring to as the sound?
    – Tomsofty33
    Aug 20, 2018 at 9:58
  • @Tomsofty33 I mean the sound of "s/sh, z/zh, c/ch r". Sorry again.
    – xbh
    Aug 20, 2018 at 9:59

Both link you had for /i/ and /ə/ are the same, they are /i/ and is the correct pronunciation.

Honestly, I have never heard anyone pronounce 博士 as bó shə, in fact, /ə/ is not a standard pronunciation in Chinese.

The case where you heard bó shə might be the phenomenon called 儿化,and even though, 博士 is not commonly where you use 儿化。

  • 1
    /i/ is correct. /ə/ is the "e" in en or eng, but you might hear "i" as /ɿ/ in some dialects/.
    – Mou某
    Aug 19, 2018 at 19:26
  • @zyy Really? Did they sound the same to you? There is no way they sounded the same. They clearly have different soundings in both the link. In the first link, the 士 is more like "she" in english, the "i" there is sharper towards that direction. In the second link, it is nothing like "she" /ʃi/ in english, but more like /ʃə/, or more like the /ə/ in "her" . I think my ears are still functioning correctly. I had already double checked on those links.
    – Tomsofty33
    Aug 19, 2018 at 19:35
  • @Tomsofty33 They could sound a little different by the fact that the person is not pronouncing exactly precisely, which no one could. But they sounds quite the same to me and indeed, /i/ is correct.
    – zyy
    Aug 19, 2018 at 19:46
  • @user3306356 If as you said, /ə/ is the "e" in en, then shə would be the pronunciation of 奢 instead of the 儿化 phenomenon. Thanks!
    – zyy
    Aug 19, 2018 at 19:49
  • 1
    The e in 奢 is /ɤ/ - 儿化 is often /ɚ/
    – Mou某
    Aug 19, 2018 at 19:56

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