IPA for Mandarin Chinese

Another back issue of Sino-Platonic Papers has been released as a free PDF: Chinese Romanization Systems: IPA Transliteration (1.34 MB), by Warren A. Shibles. This was first published in November 1994 as SPP No. 52.

This work, whose rather dim view of romanization I do not share, is primarily a useful compilation of various published forms of IPA transcriptions for all the syllables of Mandarin. To these the author adds his own stab at applying the International Phonetic Alphabet to Mandarin. Moreover, a variety of romanization systems are shown, including that from Werner Ru?denberg’s Chinesisch-deutsches worterbuch.

Elsewhere, Pat Moran recently posted an HTML version of his own IPA chart for Mandarin.

I hope that the variety of approaches will provide a useful reminder that standard Mandarin is represented by a range, not a fixed point. And also that standard Mandarin is not the same thing as a caricature of a Beijing accent. Too often, in their quest for “correctness,” students of Mandarin end up with so many ers that they sound like they’re part circus seal. Emulating the sounds of the Beijing dialect of Mandarin is fine (though generally unnecessary); just don’t go overboard.

One thought on “IPA for Mandarin Chinese

  1. I have continued to work on characterizing the sounds of Mandarin in IPA, even though I do not think it is entirely useful since the sounds produced by on-line sources with audio are often close to a sound I’m looking for or far from it, just depending on which speaker it is. I think what happens is that individuals are asked to produce some kind of sound and they arrange their mouth according to their own interpretations of the instructions. My chart changes from year to year, so maybe it will improve over time.

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