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In the “group a finals” rows of the Wikipedia pinyin and zhuyin tables I see an “ong” row present in the pinyin table absent from the zhuyin table.

Zhuyin expresses this final with the combination of “ㄨ+ㄥ”, that is like an “u+eng” sound. But this sound, even with the components slurred together quickly, seems to be very different than the “ong” sound from pinyin.

While neither phonetic system is more correct than the other, one of these sounds must be more correct than the other because they are so different. If both sounds are “correct” in that they are the sounds spoken by native speakers, then native speakers must speak distinctly different depending on which table they used to learn.

This is the first functional inconsistency I find between the two phonetic systems. Are there others just as noticeable?

Edit: I see from a recent question that “ㄩㄥ” may in fact be the more appropriate sound for “ong”, but that too sounds very different, so my question remains.

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  • 1
    According to 汉语拼音方案, ong is ㄨㄥ.
    – fefe
    Oct 17, 2021 at 10:26
  • Are you sure it's missing? In the wiki zhuyin table, the last row of "Group ㄨ u Finals" is dedicated to "ㄨㄥ ong"
    – joehua
    Oct 17, 2021 at 12:38
  • Yes ㄨㄥ is certainly not missing, I’m saying ㄨㄥ = “u+eng” sounds distinct from “ong” and therefore “ong” seems to be missing. Oct 17, 2021 at 13:13

7 Answers 7

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I think ㄥis on its way to history. I have found so many people, myself included, who can't or don't pronounce ㄥ correctly. Even though 國語/普通話 is based on 北京話,I have found that even some Beijingers can't pronounce ㄥcorrectly. In fact, so many Beijingers, even news anchors, pronounce 北京 as 北今. I wonder how many Beijingers can differentiate 北京 from 北今.

I know how ㄨ is pronounced, I know how ㄥ is pronounced, so I know how ㄨㄥ should be pronounced. However, everybody I know pronounce ㄨㄥas ong.

I know how ㄧ is pronounced, I know how ㄥis pronounced, so, I know how ㄧㄥ should be pronounced. However, I had never heard anybody pronounce 影 in 電影as what it should be. Everybody pronounces it as 電引.

The same is true for 鄭, which becomes 鎮, 慶 becomes 泌, 蒙 becomes 門, 冰 becomes 賓, 朋友 becomes 盆友, etc. ㄥ(eng) is in the transition to ㄣ(en).

For a long long time, I had questioned maybe some mistakes were made when designing 注音符號.

It was only until recently that I had finally found that 影 is really pronounced as ㄧㄥ, not ㄧㄣ. If you go to youtube, search 王弟講電影, and watch any of his videos. Within the first 10 seconds, he would say 這是王弟講電影. The way he pronounces 影 is exactly the way I expect it to be. It is really ㄧ + ㄥ, not ㄧ + ㄣ. After all, there is no mistakes in designing 注音符號.

Yet, I still believe ㄥ is on its way to history. One person won't make a difference.

Oh! 風 probably will never become 芬 and 勇 won't become 雲. So, maybe ㄥ will survive there. And I'm still looking for one who can pronounce ㄨㄥ, as in 老翁, the way it should be (or the way I expect it to be) and not ong.

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  • Love your post, but it seems tricky to define correctness. Is it what the phonetic system describes (and thus what we’d expect), or is it what native speakers say? After all, wasn’t zhuyin (and pinyin) designed to match the native speakers of the time? And matching up using only 37 symbols seems only capable of rough approximation. So I still wonder if it’s the phonetic system that’s erroneous. Oct 17, 2021 at 13:59
  • "After all, wasn’t Zhuyin (and pinyin) designed to match the native speakers of the time?" - Wrong. Zhuyin is the phonetic alphabet system developed in the early 20th century to standardize Chinese pronunciation of speaking, As a standard, it regulates rather than "matches" how people pronounce the words. Note that pinyin is the young sibling of Zhuyin, so I wouldn't surprise to see some sound has been added to reflect how people pronounce a certain group of words in Mainland China. After all, the communist region has revolutionized the Chinese culture/language in many ways.
    – r13
    Oct 17, 2021 at 16:42
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    @ Joseph Johnston Since I have found that ㄧㄥ is pronounced as what it should be by the zhuyin rule, I tend to believe zhuyin is correct to describe the various sounds in mandarin. Remember that zhuyin was designed 100 years ago and was based on 北京話. The 北京話 today is already different, somewhat, from that 100 years ago. The demography has changed a lot. A lot of people from other provinces have moved in to Beijing and have invariably changed 北京話. So, trying to fit today's 北京話, let alone the pronunciation from other provinces, to zhuyin or pinyin is at least questionable.
    – joehua
    Oct 18, 2021 at 1:21
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    There is this addendum「修正國語字音之說明 」at the end of the book 《校改國音字典》. It explains how zhuyin was used to express various sounds.
    – joehua
    Oct 18, 2021 at 1:31
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    Interestingly, although 冰 in 閩南語 is pronounced exactly as what ㄅㄧㄥ (bing) should be in mandarin, the same person who can pronounce 冰 correctly in 閩南語 (and thus theoretically also in mandarin, just keep the same pronunciation) when pronounces it in mandarin, the pronunciation automatically changes to ㄅㄧㄣ (bin), not ㄅㄧㄥ (bing) anymore.
    – joehua
    Oct 18, 2021 at 7:32
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There is a dedicated letter for -ong (ㆲ), however in Mandarin -ong is not phonemic, just an allophone of phonemic -ung (ㄨㄥ), and is spelled as such. Taiwanese, which does have the phonemic final -ong, uses the dedicated letter and uses ㄨㄥ for -ung.

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I think the difference between the "ong" of Pinyin and the ㄨㄥ of Bopomofo comes from how you analyze the vowel system of Mandarin and what you consider an initial. Pinyin uses a five-vowel analysis, whereas Bopomofo uses a two-vowel analysis.

(Below, I try to follow linguistic convention by referring to the Pinyin spellings between quotation marks (e.g., "ong"), underlying phonemes between slashes (e.g., /ung/), and the phonetic pronunciation between brackets (e.g., [ʊŋ]).)

According to Wikipedia here, Pinyin analyzes Mandarin as having the following five underlying nuclear vowels: /i/ /u/ /y/ /ə/ /a/. The syllable "ong" is listed as having /u/ as the underlying vowel. The spelling "ong" is just a representation of /ung/ meant to cover the slight change in pronunciation and probably coming from previous romanization schemes. The syllable "weng," on the other hand, is listed in Pinyin as having /ə/ as the underlying vowel, and so has a different final from "ong" in this analysis. In other words, Pinyin sees these two syllables as ending in two different strings of phonemes /ung/ and /əŋ/. They can't be used with the same initials, as Pinyin defines them; however, this is irrelevant for the Pinyin analysis.

In Bopomofo, according to Wikipedia here, there is an analysis that gives only the following two underlying nuclear vowels to Mandarin: /ə/ and /a/, In this analysis, some syllables can have no nuclear vowels or no final at all and can consist only of an initial or an initial with a medial/glide vowel. The spelling ㄨㄥ is listed under the /ə/ vowel. It does double duty phonetically to represent both [wəŋ] and [ʊŋ], because under this analysis it represents a single string of phonemes, namely /wəŋ/. The pronunciation [wəŋ] is used when there is no initial, but [ʊŋ] is used when there is one. In other words, Bopomofo treats the two pronunciations as allophones of the same underlying string of phonemes /wəŋ/ that can have two different surface realizations, depending on the presence or absence of an initial as defined by Bopomofo.

There is a similar mismatch between the two systems in the syllable [jʊŋ] (用). Both systems reflect the same surface pronunciation, but Pinyin analyzes it as a variation of underlying /juŋ/, while Bopomofo analyzes it as a variation of underlying /ɥəŋ/. I thing Bopomofo requires the /ɥ/ to justify the change in pronunciation of [ə] to the more rounded [ʊ]; whereas Pinyin has more "vowel" symbols and can just reflect the pronunciation more directly; moreover, Pinyin does not have separate symbols for initial /i/ and /ɥ/ and just uses "y" for both.

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I hope these examples can clarify your understanding of zhuyin's usage.

Notice the relationship between initials and medials.

ㄩㄥˋ  用  yong4  [jʊŋ]
ㄒㄩㄥ  兄  xiong1 [ɕi̯ʊŋ]

-ㄨㄥ  -ong 
ㄙㄨㄥ  松   song1  [sʊŋ]
ㄊㄨㄥ  通  tong1  [tʊŋ]

ㄨㄥ    翁   weng1 [u̯əŋ]
ㄨˇ   五  wu3   

ㄌㄨˋ  路  lu4
ㄌㄩˋ  綠   lv4

I guess I never really thought about it, but I can see where it might seem a bit strange to use ㄨ to represent an o sound when it is normally w/u.

But basically, ㄩ is pronounced like pinyin's yo/io before -ng and ㄨ is pronounced like pinyin's o when in between an initial and -ng.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Standard_Chinese_phonology

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bopomofo

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  • Thank you for your clarifying examples. I should have consulted that phonology wiki earlier Oct 22, 2021 at 7:28
  • @JosephJohnston You're most welcome! That wiki really isn't easy to find from the main Chinese wiki. Even though I remembered consulting one when I first learned zhuyin, I had trouble finding it. I mainly consulted it for the IPA this time. Best of luck to you and have fun with Zhuyin! :)
    – YQ002lc2
    Oct 27, 2021 at 6:20
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Zhuyin doesn't have a dedicated symbol that corresponds to pinyin -ong, so we just use ㄨㄥ for [ʊŋ] after an intial such as ㄉㄊㄌ. Technically 東 and 翁 shouldn't rhyme, but the ㄨ in 翁 is commonly dropped. The most correct pronunciation would still differ though. To answer your question: no, it isn't absent, it's just written differently.

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  • Not sure I understand. Why should 東 and 翁 (not dropping ㄨ) not rhyme when they share the same final ㄨㄥ? Are you saying [ʊŋ] is the correct sound and ㄨㄥ is the closest zhuyin can match it? Oct 18, 2021 at 2:21
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Both the BoPoMoFo and PinYin systems represent the complete pronunciation of the standard Chinese language. BoPoMoFo is more coherent than PinYin.

For example, we have the rimes (an ang en eng) and the consonants (semi-consonants, glides) (i u v), then we would have the combinations of (ian iang ien ieng) (uan uang uen ueng) (van vang* ven veng). The (*)sound is not practically used in the standard Chinese language.

The BoPoMoFo system represents the combination directly without alternation. But PinYin introduces extra symbols that break the rules of combination.

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ㄩㄥ is yong, ㄨㄥ is ong.

What they should have done is create a distinct symbol for ong instead of using ㄥ for both eng and ong. If they had another unique symbol then this question wouldn’t exist.

翁 is unique. The closest is ㄨㄨㄥ(wuong). Weng sounds like eng in Leng so it doesn’t sound close to the actual sound.

ㄌㄩˋ 綠 may write as lyu, which is better than lv (which can’t be pronounced without special instructions).

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