"Not that there's anything wǎng (往) with that…."
There's no denying it: Chinese is a language full of homophones. And this profusion of words that sound alike but have different meanings can be confusing. But fear not! In the previous post in this series, I offered some reassurance: Mandarin grammar is easy. In that same spirit of optimism and oversimplification, I will now explain why the daunting abundance of homophones is a price well worth paying given what it buys: a simple system of pronuncation.
My main goal is to explain Mandarin pronunciation informally, so I will avoid linguistic terminology and fine distinctions. Words such as "alveolar", "plosive", "labio-dental", and "velar" occur only in this sentence, so you're past them now. (ht2mp) My subsidiary goal is to harvest corrections, so bring 'em on!
There have been many systems for transcribing Chinese sounds into languages that use the Latin alphabet, but there's no question that the dominant, standard system today is Pinyin. Googling "pinyin chart" in your preferred search engine will yield many examples of the conventional Pinyin table, which is a 2-dimensional grid of syllables. My favorite software for associating these syllables with sounds is the downloadable Pinyin Chart from ChinesePod.com.
For pedagogical reasons, I have rearranged the Pinyin table and annotated it. Here's my cheat sheet as a PDF. And here it is as a JPG:
I'll refer to it a few times below. [Read more…]