This is a question asked on behalf of thousands of new beginner learning 漢語拼音. When giving a 漢語拼音 dictation test (like spelling test in English) to my students, one very smart student write "g" for my pronunciation of 歌. When I pointed out it's wrong, he argued: "you taught us HYPY "g" is pronounced as 歌/哥. So when I heard you pronounced 歌 and I wrote "g". What's wrong with that?" How can I reply? Especially knowing it is the biggest flaw if 漢語拼音 teaching.

  • 1
    What's HYPY????
    – dan
    Sep 30 '20 at 14:02
  • @dan Hanyu Pinyin, I suppose.
    – monalisa
    Sep 30 '20 at 16:35

元音有韵,辅音无韵。is a fundamental phonetic concept. Since HYPY barrowed English alphabets as its symbols, it should stick to the separation of the "names" of the letters and the pronunciation of the letters in spelling. The name of letter "b" is "bee", but the pronunciation is very short bursting solid sound of both lips, without any "vowel" involved. When teaching 辅音,all the material pronounced either with "e" or "o" rhyme. Wrong! Unless you remind your students that you are introducing the "names" of the symbols, followed by the right pronunciation in spelling, i.e. 辅音无韵。 Thus 歌 is rhymed, must be spelled "ge" as "e" contributes the rhyme.

Is it that the teaching method is so authoritative that no one ever pointed out its flaw? BTW, what's wrong with 声母 and 韵母 that they must be changed to 辅音 and 元音?

  • Very good answer which hits the nail exactly on its head. I have been annoyed by this for a long time. The problem is that many teachers are unaware of the difference between the label we put on certain sounds, as compared to the actual sounds. Yes, in English, we can say that a word is spelt "bee eye tee", "bit", but it's not pronounced "beeyetee". Similarly, Chinese teachers, without thinking about it, say it's pronounced "te ien", "tian", but it's obviously not pronounced "teien".
    – Olle Linge
    Oct 2 '20 at 10:03
  • Too long a comment here, but the answer to the original question is that it's wrong for the same reason it would be wrong to write that the little flying, humming insect is called a "b" on an exam.
    – Olle Linge
    Oct 2 '20 at 10:04
  • Are we missing something here? If you told be "b" is pronounced as [bə] (as you didn't clarify it's not the pronunciation), what should I pronounce whe I see "bi", [bə-i]? Your example is entirely missing the point. It is letter "b" [bi] or bee, not the pronunciation of "b". The pronunciation of "b" is short lip-bursting sound, not [bi]/bee at all. You are still mixing the name of the letter and the pronunciation of the letter, which is exactly the point in the first place. Oct 2 '20 at 13:06
  • I think there's some miscommunication here. I agree with your answer to the question (I said so in my first sentence). The original question is why "g" is the wrong answer to "how is 歌 pronounced", and my answer, which I think agrees 100% with yours, is that it's wrong for the same reason it's wrong to write the letter "b" on an exam where someone asks you to write how to pronounce the name of the flying insect.
    – Olle Linge
    Oct 2 '20 at 20:33
  • Agreed. The confusion comes from your habit not to add "letter" or "(the) word" in front of your [bi] sound. Letter [bi} definitely is "b", the word [bi] must be either "be" or "bee". Oct 2 '20 at 20:42

Because the consonants, aka initials, in Chinese Pinyin don't work they do in English. When Chinese pupils are learning the alphabet for pinyin, teachers won't teach the standard English pronunciations for all the letters. Instead, they would categorise initials into several categories:

b p m f - all are given an extra final [wo] (we shouldn't see it as a vowel because it contains a [w] pronunciation)

d t n l g k h - all are given an extra final [ə]

You can find more details in the Wiki page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pinyin, where initials are set into several groups by different colours.

b p m f
d t n l
g k h
j q x
z c s r
zh ch sh

  • Do you mean when in spelling, you still keep [w] and [ə] in the pronunciation? So "di' should be pronounced as [dəi]? “这是辅音 d [də](拉长), 在拼音的时候它的发音时用舌头顶住上颚........音 [d], 不能有韵(拉长),它的韵是后面的元音提供的。” Wouldn't be much better? I think you miss the part that the "name" and the "pronunciation" should be separatedly introduced and specified clearly. BTW, are you suggesting that English pronunciation is based on phonetic principles while Chines/Mandarin is not? Oct 1 '20 at 10:35
  • No, I specifically referred to bpmf in Chinese pinyin. They are not pronounced, such as /bo/ but more like /bwo/
    – Alec Sandy
    Oct 1 '20 at 10:47
  • So, you are correcting which part? The name of "b" or the pronunciation (in spelling) of "b". My point is very clear: they shouldn't ne the same. Names are names, in Taiwan many still pronounce "b" as ' Oct 1 '20 at 11:56
  • Sorry, typo. In Taiwan "b" is still pronounced as "bə", not "bo" or "bwo", but whatever the names you use to call it, does no change the fact that there is only one pronunciation for "b" in spelling. And teachers should make this point clearly. Oct 1 '20 at 12:00
  • I referred to OP's quote. Only main land Chinese would pronounce g (the initial) as /ge/
    – Alec Sandy
    Oct 1 '20 at 12:41

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