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What is the pronunciation of the vowel I in Pinyin si? /ɪ/, /ɘ/ or /ɨ/ ? Each website I read describe it differently.

Please answer using IPA symbols.

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  • Does it so matter to find a "right" symbol for a sound? I described it as [z ̩] Commented Sep 13, 2019 at 23:17
  • 4
    None of those are correct. A character like 絲 is pronounced as /sz̩⁵⁵/; see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syllabic_consonant#Syllabic_fricatives - although /ɨ/ is very close.
    – dROOOze
    Commented Sep 13, 2019 at 23:18
  • Syllabic z ([z̩]) is popular among non-Sinologists. Sinologists often use the non-standard symbol [ɿ]. It doesn't really matter--you can pronounce it either as a syllabic fricative or as an approximant in the same place as the syllabic fricative. Commented Sep 13, 2019 at 23:46
  • @StumpyJoePete : Why would you need a non-standard symbol? Does this suggest the IPA is, in fact, deficient in achieving its supposed mission? (Not at all closed to that possibility - many "standards" leave things to be desired and dogmatism masks room for improvement.) Commented Sep 22, 2019 at 1:46
  • @The_Sympathizer IPA isn't perfect. It's my understanding that IPA only encodes differences that are contrastive in some language, but (a) that's not something you can know from 1st principles, it's empirical and (b) even if it's granular enough for that purpose, there are potentially more language-specific phonetic details than that (which might be helpful for sounding like a native speaker). Commented Sep 22, 2019 at 4:20

4 Answers 4

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The closest is /ɨ/, at least in Taiwan where the accent is very free-flowing. In Beijing it's more like the /z/ in the comments above.

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  • I guess you meant the [z̩] (syllabic Z), not [z]. Commented Sep 16, 2019 at 3:54
  • Yep, just couldn't copy it on my phone for some reason.
    – Curiosity
    Commented Sep 16, 2019 at 4:50
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There is actually no i sound in the syllable. You can pronounce it by [s] and make it longer. The ‘i’ is just a placer, like 0 in maths.

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After z-,c-,s- (resp. zh-,ch-,sh-) pinyin i represents the syllabic consonant [z] (resp. [ʐ]):

More productive are the syllabic consonants [z] and [ʐ ], which do not contrast with each other: [z] occurs after the dentals [ts, tsh, s], [ʐ ] after the retroflexes [ʈʂ, ʈʂh, ʂ, ʐ ]. This is exemplified in (44).

enter image description here

Neither [z] nor [ʐ ] occurs after the palatals [tɕ, tɕh, ɕ], or after any other consonant. Some linguists, perhaps since Karlgren (1915–26), consider [z] and [ʐ ] to be ‘apical vowels’. There are three reasons.

  1. There seems to be an assumption that every syllable must have a vowel—this view has been reiterated in Cheung (1986), Hsueh (1986), and Coleman (1996, 2001); secondly, some researchers argue that [z] and [ʐ ] are phonetically like a vowel. For example, Howie (1976: 10) argues that [z ] and [ʐ ] have formants, which is a property of vowels.
  2. In addition, C. Cheng (1973: 13), citing the X-ray study of D. Zhou and Wu (1963), notes that the back of the tongue is raised in [z], similar to a vowel articulation.
  3. Thirdly, it has been suggested that [z] and [ʐ ] are in complementary distribution with [i] and so they can be analysed as allophones of the same phoneme. Since [i] is a vowel, it is better to consider [z] and [ʐ ] to be vowels, too.
  • Phonology of Standard Chinese, 2.9 Syllabic Consonants
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With z-,c-,s-,zh-,ch-,sh- ,it pronounces nothing, just initial consonant.

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