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I came across this comment just now:

“秘”声符是“必”没问题,但是并不是说“秘”和“必”一定同音,“秘”这个字是北京话读错了,其实应该读bi,“秘鲁”一词还残存bi的读音

Which got me thinking.


秘 is still read "bi" in:

  • surnames

  • transcriptions (e.g.: Peru)


Cantonese carries the pronunciation:

bei3


Sichuanese also has 秘 as "bei" in certain instances:

秘密 beimi 秘,读“背”。成都人通常称有所隐蔽,不让人知道的话及事情:~档案│~活动。又为“背密”。


Matthews' also has it listed under "bi":

enter image description here


Middle Chinese pronunciations also seem to be way close to "bi" than "mi."

So what gives? Where did "mi" come from?

edit: I'm thinking maybe 秘 sounded like 屄, and it was changed purposely because of taboos. (http://www.sohu.com/a/219931086_413427) "山东方言对女性的某个器官的发音为“比”,因此,为了避免与比字同音,凡是在读笔字时都要读成北,于是,便有了钢北,毛北,圆柱北。"

  • I think someone confused 秘密(bi mi) with 密密(mi mi). the former means "secret " the latter means "secretly"; and for some reason people start reading 秘 as mi too. As the reference stated, it was Beijing dialect read it wrong. Cantonese doesn't have this problem – Tang Ho Aug 26 at 5:02
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    The problem with 秘 sounded like 屄 can be fixed by a tone change, no need to change the pinyin itself – Tang Ho Aug 26 at 5:22
  • @TangHo The tones are different to begin with, but sometimes these types of evolution do take place. – user3306356 Aug 26 at 5:33
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    Language evolves over time, and usually in a gradual way. Consider that the lip-placement of "m" and "b" is actually the same, lips pressed together in front. It's not hard to imagine how these pronunciations can diverge over time. – Marko Aug 26 at 6:53
  • yes, b and m are both labial consonants. – droooze Aug 26 at 7:14

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