When listening to normal conversation or fast spoken Mandarin chinese, can native speakers still hear the aspiration in 他 vs 大, particularly if relying only on sound or what is heard?

As an English speaker, I have to say that I find that I hear little difference.

We can listen to a Chinese speaker say 大他

And an english speaker say data

The former sounds more like "tata" and the latter is more like "data".

Now, the comparison is problably not a good thing to do, but just as a learner, I suppose it is the conundrum one faces. Is it more correct to say the former or the latter?

Would it be a fair statement that for a person with an english or similar background learning chinese, that the initial D in mandarin pinyin is an unvoiced and unaspirated initial sound, and that the effectively heard or produced sound can be either a D or T sound (for a person of English speaking background), depending on the the letters that follow.


2 Answers 2


他 starts with a [tʰ] (pinyin "t") which is aspirated. It is like most of the "t"s in English, for example: top or tap

大 starts with a [t] (pinyin "d") which is non-aspirated. It is like the "t"s in "start" or "stop"

The problem is in the pinyin. The "d" in pinyin is not a true voiced consonant. it is just a non-aspirated t. It is not the same as an English d.

As a native Chinese speaker, I only realized this when I started to learn French where most "t"s are non-aspirated.

Check this two links for more information about t and aspiration:



  • The confusion is to the English speakers. I doubt there is any Chinese native who couldn't distinguish the two sounds.
    – r13
    Commented Sep 19, 2023 at 1:34
  • @r13 agree. [t] vs [tʰ] is just for English speakers. For Chinese speakers, some have problem to distinguish [d] vs [t].(for example: Hindi has [t] vs [tʰ], and some India people with accent will say "time" as [t]ime, to some Chinese, they would think the India accent says [d]ime, but it is not, it is just a non-aspirated [t]. Hindi even has [dʰ] which I can't even imagine how to pronounce lol ) It is always hard to get used to something that rarely show or does not exist in one's native tongue. Commented Sep 19, 2023 at 17:54

Please check the video files to hear the differences between the pronunciations of 大 and 他, and their starting sound - ㄉ(d) and ㄊ(t) respectively.

enter image description here 發音

● 大 [dà/ㄚˋ] https://www.zdic.net/hans/%E5%A4%A7

● 他 [tā/ㄚˉ] https://www.zdic.net/hans/%E4%BB%96

Other Examples - pay attention to 0:20 (ㄉ); 0:34 (ㄊ)

ADD: 拼音 注音 对照

enter image description here 拼音-注音 对照

  • do you believe the initial of spoken 大 approximates the english understanding of D or T?
    – user55570
    Commented May 18 at 23:59
  • Approximately, "ㄉ" = "d", as in "dog", and "ㄊ" = "t", as in "tea".
    – r13
    Commented May 19 at 3:20

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