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Is there a way to distinguish between someone saying the -in and -ing sounds in (particularly Taiwanese) Mandarin speech? Especially casual, rapid speech where those finals are sandwiched in between other words? Or is it better to just memorize that the word for sound is "shengyin" and not "shengying"?

In English ("sin" vs "sing") the "i" vowel sound changes between the two endings, and in Mainland China the -ing is pronounced almost like "yung" instead so it's easier to tell. But I can't seem to perceive any difference between the two in Taiwanese Mandarin.

Also is this like the linguistic phenomenon in Korean where the distinction between ㅔe and ㅐae vowel sounds is slowly disappearing? Or are there actually noticeable semantic differences where people would be offended or embarrassed if you pronounced, say, a word "bin" (which happened to be a vulgar insult) by accident instead of a similar sounding but innocent word "bing" in Chinese?

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  • In rapid speech -in and -ing can sound similar, but they usually don't cause confusion, for the same reason homophonic characters don't cause confusion: we distinguish them by context. In the very occasional situations where a clear differentiation is needed, I usually pronounce -ing as i followed by a rapid transition to -eng. Oct 19, 2023 at 21:15
  • In English, try comparing the difference between lean and ling (as in, duckling), while shortening the vowel of lean as much as possible.
    – dROOOze
    Oct 19, 2023 at 21:45
  • @user2249675 I see, yes context makes sense but I just wanted to make sure there was no risk of accidentally pronouncing a word in a way that resembles a more vulgar word! (Kind of like funk vs. f**k in English). As for your last point, I think that's the "yung" sound I was referring to but which you described a lot more clearly
    – JJ W
    Oct 19, 2023 at 21:54
  • @dROOOze I can hear a sliver of difference between duckling and ducklean in isolation, but honestly past a certain speed they sound identical when embedded in a string of other words. Perhaps context might help in my case
    – JJ W
    Oct 19, 2023 at 22:04
  • 1
    Part of my answer to Why is 听 sometimes pronounced /tʰjəŋ/ rather than /tʰiŋ/? is relevant
    – Michaelyus
    Oct 19, 2023 at 23:32

2 Answers 2

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The reality is they are very similar sounds, and in quick speech or some accents they become even less distinguishable.

Actually this is something even chinese are aware of, I remember reading a dramatic novel where the parents were hiding the fact they had twins from the public eye by only ever bringing one child out at a time. One of the ways they did this was naming the twins with names that only differed in that -n vs -ng ending, therefore no one really noticed different names.

That said, there is a reason that is the example I chose-- its about the only thing I can think of. This similarity in pronunciation usually doesn't get much discussion, and its very unlikely you will meet a "sound alike" vocab that is actually confusable in context.

Compare the english sounds can and can't-- in most english accents that final t is actually fairly indistinguishable. However you don't really see people mixing them up because context is obvious. Hope this helps and welcome (╹◡╹)

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When PINYIN writes i-en as in, and i-eng as ing, it removes the nucleus vowel of e in the syllable, that is a mistake.

In fact, the i-en sound in Chinese is much different from the in sound in English. The i-eng sound in Chinese is much different from the ing sound in English. This is why it confuses the students who learn Chinese as a Second language.

The i sound in i-en and i-eng is a glide, not a vowel. For example, in the syllable ti-eng (听) (hearing), you say the ti (踢) sound first, and then say the eng (鞥) sound. But the i sound is very weak and very short which just modifies the mouth shape from t to i.

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  • Although this is true for standard Northern Mandarin, the op is asking about the Mandarin spoken in Taiwan, where what you said doesn't really apply.
    – Curiosity
    Oct 21, 2023 at 6:00
  • In the following video 央视版三国演义(刘备成亲片段) starting from 1:02, there are five people saying "ying qing". To my ears, the 1st, 3rd, and 5th people say "yin qing" while the 2nd and 4th people say "ying qing".
    – joehua
    Oct 21, 2023 at 11:59

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