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OK, so I was browsing Wiktionary — as one does — and found out about the word 模特兒 'model', which is apparently pronounced mótèr, with just 2 syllables. there's also an alternative pronunciation, mótè'ér, which looks more "normal" as something you'd expect from a loanword, but I'm not curious about that relatively expected pronunciation

rather, I'm kind of puzzled by mótèr. you usually only see ~兒 pronounced as a non-syllabic -r when it's the diminutive suffix in erhua, like in 一點兒 yīdiǎnr and so on. also coda /l/ and /r/ in loanwords usually becomes its own er syllable (usually ěr and spelled 爾)

but since 模特 mótè without the -r is a thing as well, I wonder if 模特兒 just didn't come later somehow? with the ~兒 added as a suffix and also to make the word sound more like English model, French modèle...

so basically, what I'm asking is:

  • why is 模特兒 like that, with a non-syllabic -r for mótèr? why doesn't it just use 爾 like most other loanwords?
  • and also, are there any other loanwords like 模特兒 where a non-syllabic 兒 -r is used, like to transcribe a coda /r/ or /l/?
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  • 模特 + 兒 = Mod + el, a direct translation by sound/pronunciation. 兒 is related to a person, 爾 is not, so 兒 is a better choice.
    – r13
    Nov 22, 2022 at 17:44
  • @r13 I know mótèr is a regular loanword, so a sound borrowing, from English model, but what weirds me out is that it's mótèr and not mótè'ér (well, it can be mótè'ér, but that's not the pronunciation I'm curious about)
    – matias
    Nov 22, 2022 at 18:06
  • @r13 also 模特 / 模特兒 is actually a phono-semantic matching, because 模 is 'imitate, model, pattern...' and 特 means 'special', but that's also not what I'm trying to get at
    – matias
    Nov 22, 2022 at 18:11
  • In汉典: 模特儿 [拼音] mó tè ér [注音] ㄇㄛˊ ㄊㄜˋ ㄦˊ, but mótèr is also listed.
    – r13
    Nov 22, 2022 at 19:01

1 Answer 1

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Transliteration has a lot of wiggle room, since you are just trying to capture the sound. There may not be an official answer to the subtle differences of choices made.

兒 and 爾 are both encountered commonly, and personally I 100% separate them from any normal rules of use like erhua; transliteration kind of has its own patterns.

Myself I would use 爾 for stronger er sounds, and 兒 for softer "uh-r" sounds 賽茜兒 for Cecil or 巴西兒 for Basil. My english accent makes the majority of er sounds more like uh-r so instinctively I would use it a lot more. However I understand that in standard pronunciation of English terms that transliterations use, a soft uh-r or uh-il sound is quite uncommon. This probably explains why it isn't as commonly seen.

Compare many transliterations that drop the 兒/爾 syllable completely: the more common Basil version 巴西 or 奥利弗 for Oliver.

I think there are no official rules in transliteration, at least that I've ever seen. However so many things have been transliterated by now that patterns have emerged for which characters to use so people know it's a transliteration or try to incorporate the meaning a little. There are so many common terms and names that have created a pattern to follow for similar less common terms and names.

As for mote'r vs mote'er pronunciation, the first is closer the word it's transcribing so it makes sense that way. If you ignore associating it with erhua maybe you will agree.

Of course, this is all discussing modern Mandarin transliteration. Lots of transliterations are based on a different Chinese (compare 巧克力 and 朱古力).

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  • would you say 賽茜兒, 巴西兒 or any loanword/foreign name like that with the 兒 as just -r? or would you give all of these 兒s their own syllable as ér?
    – matias
    Nov 22, 2022 at 23:53
  • I guess that's what you mean by "harder" and "softer" er sounds, in that 爾 would be for a full ěr, while 兒 could be just -r?
    – matias
    Nov 22, 2022 at 23:57
  • @matias whether the 兒 is a 'r or 'er I think is based on the word its used for, it could be either. Same with using 兒 VS 爾. What I wrote is how I feel about it, but not any official rules (I still believe the only thing close to rules are just patterns of what's normally done). What you've said in this these two comments is what I would say though. Or I would just drop the "er" type ending syllable a lot more consistently since most borrow words/transliterations get rid of the thing entirely anyway.
    – zagrycha
    Nov 23, 2022 at 1:19

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