4

阿 sometimes pronounced 'a' sometimes pronounced 'e'.

I've noticed specific instances for both.

Are there any rules as to how to pronounce 阿 in different circumstances/contexts?

7

Yes, there are rules - it is not irregular at all.

The two different pronunciations of actually reflect different usages. The original Old Chinese pronunciation of ē is for using the character as a verb or noun, which is what the character originally meant. In contrast, the later pronunciation of ā emerged as a particle with completely different meanings.

Unfortunately most people have became unfamiliar with the older usage, so that the ē form is usually only seen in set phrases (成語).


ē

  1. verb, meaning:

    • to pander to
    • to (unjustly) side with (someone in a dispute)
  2. noun (archaic), meaning:

    • a hill
    • a (geographical) twist/turn
    • a building
  3. A surname


ā

  1. prefix for names or familial titles, originally meaningless but can carry connotations of:

    • familiarity
    • endearment
  2. particle (archaic, superseded by 啊) indicating:

    • surprise
    • doubt

As the above shows, the two different pronunciations do not overlap in their usage.

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4

'e' is the older pronunciation and is used to reflect the older pronunciation in some particular words (usually more formal words), such as 阿胶 (ē jiāo, some animal gelatin), 阿房宫(ē páng gōng -- notice that 房 is pronounced páng instead of fáng), 阿谀奉承.

'a' is the modern and default pronunciation, used in translation of foreign names (e.g., Algebria - 阿尔及利亚) as well as some colloquial/informal addresses/names to express familiarity (e.g., 阿爸, 阿伯, 阿花)

You may treat 'e' as an irregular pronunciation and memorize irregular words.

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