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I was watching this great video interviewing people on the street in Taiwan. The interviewer asks the question “你今天來這裡做什麼?” to many people. When introducing the question to "us", the interviewer uses the "full" pronunciation, but when interviewing, the interviewer and interviewees pronounce the word EVERY TIME as one syllable and sounds more like /jian1/ to me (see 0:057 for example). According to the subtitles they are saying 今天 but the actual pronunciation is not that.

My question is is this a different word, or some aural contracted form of 今天? Is this common in both Taiwan and China?

I noticed something very similar with 這裡 【这里】where the sound comes out as one syllable where the /l/ of 理 seems completely gone. Is this normal/expected?

Is this specific to the interviewer, to Taiwan/Taipei? Or more systematic?

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    I can’t speak for Taiwan, but in many parts of Mainland China, it’s perfectly commonplace to reduce 今天 to something like one and a half syllable: the plosive in 天 is lenited away to almost nothingness, and the nasal quality of both vowels makes them sort of run together, so it becomes something like [t͡ɕĩʲɛ̃ⁿ]. It’s still recognisably different from true monosyllabics like jin_[t͡ɕĩⁿ] or _jian [t͡ɕɛ̃ⁿ], but it’s also shorter than two full syllables. It’s comparable to the common Beijing pronunciation of 多少 as [dʷo˞ːɑ] (with a rhotacised /o/). – Janus Bahs Jacquet Oct 3 '18 at 19:16
  • This leads me to wonder if 今年 is also contracted and how it might be different from the contraction of 今天. Because if I had to "guess" the first time I heard this contraction, it sounded more like 今年 than 今天. – pixelearth Oct 3 '18 at 20:20
  • Yes, it does rather sound like jinnian (the /nt/ merges to /n(n)/). The difference is that in 今天, the second syllable loses its tone and becomes neutral, which does not happen in 今年. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Oct 3 '18 at 20:47
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I don't quite have enough personal experience of enough parts of Mainland China to be able to judge how prevalent it is. I will say however that it is far more prevalent in urban Taiwan (particularly Taipei) than rural Taiwan, and more prevalent across Taiwan than in its closest linguistic areas on the mainland, i.e. Fujian, Zhejiang, Guangdong. I do find more northern Chinese prone to "slurring the sounds", most characteristic of the Beijing dialect of course, but also fairly common in fast speech across the parts of the north that I've been to, from Shandong to the northeastern area.

The 连音 / contraction so common on Taiwan is what you're picking up, enough to be a defining characteristic of casual Taiwan Mandarin, and easily perceived by a Mainland Chinese ear. The "extreme reductions" have been studied by linguistics researchers, and according to this 2009 paper from researchers at University College London, it is actually an ongoing productive process. Vowel + vowel interfaces are most likely to be contracted.

The outcomes of a lot of these contractions are starting to be fossilised, and are changing the phonotactics of colloquial Taiwan Mandarin slightly. Some of these are documented in this 2006 paper from NTU. Certain initials are more resistant to change than others; the labials b-, p-, f-, m- are mentioned as consistently so, with the one exception being 根本 gēnběn which becomes "gèmm" with an elongated m, phonetically [kəmː˥˩].

Of course, removing contrasts do create conflict and confusion. This 2010 paper from UCLA shows that perceptual cues nonetheless remain. Length seems to be increasingly contrastive in this role, as are the exact scale of the tones.

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It's just because of the speed of them speaking. They speak it fast so it ends up sounds like two words are sticking together. When speaking fast, some word like the mentioned 今天(n Tiān)may stick together.

Most of the words that may sound contracted but actually they're not. For example:

知道(Zhī Dào) <--> Zào (造)

不要(Bù Yào) <--> Biào (嫑)

They will only appear in verbal communication since it is understandable but it is not a formal Mandarin, nobody will write mandarin in this way in formal document.

There's only certain special word that are considered as contracted such as (儿).

For Example: 我在这儿 is acceptable in an essay but 你吗? is no way close to formal writing.

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I am from Taipei Taiwan and sometimes when we speak 今天 really fast, it would sound like 尖 (jian) instead of jintian. However, as for 這裡, no matter how fast we speak, it should still sound like zheli. FYI.

  • And what about 今年? – pixelearth Oct 4 '18 at 0:36
  • Yes you are right. When Taiwanese say it fast, 今年 does sound like jin(y)en˙. I didn't realize util you asked. – JillyJelloJean Oct 4 '18 at 16:34
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今天 in that video, to me, just sounds like a typical Taiwan accent. It's a non-standard way to pronounce 今天. It's still understandable within the contexts.

I personally will pronounce 天, but probably weaker than 今 if I go fast. In any case, I will certainly pronounce 天.

I'm from Mainland China by the way.

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I think "今兒" (today) and "這兒"(here) are the ones that got contracted

今/jīn/ 兒/er/ --> 今兒 jin'er

這/zhè/ 兒/er/ --> 這兒 zhè'er

  • I don't think that will happen in Taiwan… or even any south part of China. And it's not the same as the phenomenon described in the question. – 炸鱼薯条德里克 Oct 4 '18 at 14:27

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