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There are words that many natives Chinese speakers mispronounce. In speaking, if one always pronounces every word correctly (and I believe he/she should), does it make him/her less like a native speaker?

Consider the following example:

她做完针灸(jiǔ),又扎(zā)辫搽(chá)粉完后,因为担忧起自己酸痛的脖颈(gěng),伛偻(yǔ lǚ)的身材和龟(jūn)裂的皮肤带来的创(chuāng)伤而缄(jiān)默。

I am not sure how many native speakers can pronounce the above paragraph completely correctly without referring to the pinyin. But if one Chinese learner does pronounce every character correctly, ironically does it make him/her less like a native speaker?

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    I think most people just judge "nativeness" based on accent. For characters that are commonly pronounced in ways differently than the dictionary says they should, it's valuable to know both of the pronunciations, since you need to understand other people (and it can be valuable to choose which pronunciation you use to fit what other people are saying around you). – Stumpy Joe Pete Jan 15 at 21:15
  • No, native speaker can't figure that out you are not a native speaker at the first time if you don't have ANY other non-native features. This applies for any language, not just Mandarin. – 炸鱼薯条德里克 Jan 17 at 12:34
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As a college student, I can easily pronounce every of them correctly. But as others point out, correctness on pronunciation doesn't mean nativeness, which represents itself more by word choice, tone, accent, fluency, etc. Another reason is, some of these "often misread" words are actually dialects prevailing in part of the land, but because of the standardization they are promoted to be the "correct" one, while people in other areas rarely use or refuse to use it. e.g.脖颈、掉色

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Sigh...we do have many words that even we native Chinese can't pronounce correctly...
However, in most cases, as a foreigner, these words are just trivial matters. Chinese people don't care about what the "standard pronunciation" of the words you referred to is, but rather care about your pronunciation of the remaining words.
Besides, your example is an extreme case:
脖颈 -- too colloquial, thus have a separate pronunciation. Use 脖子 or 颈部 instead.
伛偻 -- people are likely to pronounce it right, but it's a formal word and rarely used in daily life.
龟裂 -- an alternative with less confusion (皲裂) exists.
创伤 -- people may divide on its pronunciation, but the distinction between the correct one and the common incorrect one is small.
缄默 -- Any person with high school or higher education should pronounce it right.

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Aurus Huang has explained the words very nicely, I would like here, to supplement on this phenomenon generally.

Like this character 呆,it is pronounced dāi if you look it up in dictionary. However, its correct pronunciation was once ái. A disease named 呆小症 was supposed to be pronounced as áixiǎozhèng. But for whatever reason, people did not like the way ái is sounded and persisted pronouncing 呆 as dāi. The dictionary finally surrender and denote 呆 as dāi.

This is, though not common, but rather normal in a language, not only in Chinese. When a majority of people is pronouncing some word or character in a way that is different from the literature, this "wrong" pronunciation may eventually become "correct"!

There are other examples in Chinese like

确凿,quèzuò to quèzáo

唯唯诺诺,wěiwinuònuò to wéiwéinuònuò

There are more examples here.


Such changes can happen in English as well.

I was wondering why "k" does not pronounce in words like knee and knock. But in fact, in ancient English, they do hold a position in these words' pronunciation! However, English spelling is fixed way before its pronunciation did. Letter "k" ceased to pronounce soon after the spelling was fixed but those words are still written in its original form. Not to mention, pronunciation is still changing nowadays!

Many other words have changed their pronunciation along the way and it is quite an interesting story.

By the way, the word coyote is having so many different pronunciations that it is making people so confused and asking questions like this!


In conclusion, when speaking, just pronounce the way you feel natural and comfortable with, but in case of an exam, go with the textbook!

Language is always first a communication tool and then a cultural symbol, so it should fit people who have been using it rather the other way around.

  • Thanks! May i know when will a wrong pronounciation become "correct"? When the government recognises it by some official document? – Zuriel Jan 16 at 5:20
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    @Zuriel That could be hard! But fortunately, you do not have to keep track of it, because language is first a tool for communication and you are not supposed to fit yourself into it! – zyy Jan 16 at 5:22

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