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Pronouncing Chinese Names

To serve as a helpful and quick aid to help non-Chinese speakers pronounce Chinese names, we have created a webpage that provides a simple guide to pronunciation. Chinese is distinct in that it is a tonal language. But the allomorphic feature of tones is not usually marked in alphabetic Romanization of Chinese (called pinyin). Since the user of this guide will likely encounter such unmarked Romanization, we will dismiss tones in transcribing the sounds in pinyin. The following begins with a simple introduction to Chinese names and the pronunciation system. It then provides clickable audio files for sounds that are more distant from those of English. Finally, this guide will provide Romanization and audio files for 1) common Chinese surnames and 2) the names of faculty members and some graduate students of the Chinese program at SILC as examples since there are no common given names in Chinese. 

Instructional Video

Chinese Names Pronunciation Introduction

Chinese Names

Most Chinese names consist of a surname (mostly single syllable) and followed by a given name (this could be one or two syllables). Many Chinese abroad nowadays choose to introduce themselves with given name first as in the western custom (for example, Yoyo Ma rather than Ma Yoyo). 

Chinese Pronunciation/Spelling System

 Pinyin or Hanyu pinyin, invented in the 1950s and officially adopted in China in 1958, is a system that uses letters from the Latin alphabet to transcribe Mandarin Chinese sounds. It is now widely used as an alphabetical replacement for Chinese characters outside of Chinese speaking regions, and is a common computer input system for typing Chinese. The fundamental Chinese morpheme (word) is a combination of initials, finals, and tones. The following is a list of initials and finals. Audio (all sounds are pronounced in flat tone) is provided for sounds that are less familiar to English speakers.

Initials

 

Chinese pinyin 

Similar to the underlined sound in English

 

book

*It’s voiceless in Chinese

p

park

 

m

mother

 

f

food

 

d

dog

*It’s voiceless in Chinese

t

terrific

 

n

nurse, nice

 

l

lay

 

g

egg. garden

*It’s voiceless in Chinese

k

knock, cake

 

h

hot

 

 

*It’s pronounced similar to the “j” in “joy” but it’s a hard j. Place the tip of your tongue behind your top front teeth.

 

* Try to add a “t” sound to the front of the “x” sound in Chinese (see below).

 

*It’s pronounced similar to the “sh” in “she” but the tongue is low and flat. Place the tip of your tongue behind your lower teeth and raise the middle of your tongue to the roof of your mouth.   

zh 

jerk

*Pronounce “jerk” in English but stop before “rk.”

ch  

chirp

*Pronounce “chirp” in English but stop before “r.”

sh   

shirt

*Pronounce “shirt” in English but stop before “r.”

 

leisure, pleasure

* It’s closer to the “j” sound in French.

 

goods

* It’s an initial sound in Chinese.

    

bits, pizza

* It’s an initial sound in Chinese.

s

sand

 

 

 

 

wood

 

yes

 

Simple and compound Finals:

 

Chinese pinyin 

Similar to the underlined sound in English

 

i

meet, meat

 

u

oops, flute

 

ü

 

*Pronounce the “ee” as in meet, and then round up lips. It is like the German umlaut.

 

 

 

a

father, bar

*”ah”

o

or

 

e

but, the

 

ai

I, die, aisle, Thai

 

ei

may, eight

 

ao

cow, Daoism/Taoism

 

ou

boat

 

an

 

*It sounds between “on” and the “an” of “can” in English.

en

 

* “e” in Chinese + the nasalized “~n” ending in English

ang

 

* “a” in Chinese + the nasalized “~ng” ending in English

eng

 

* “e” in Chinese + the nasalized “~ng” ending in English

ong

 

* “o” or “u” in Chinese + “eng” in Chinese

 

 

 

ie

yet

 

iu

mayo

 

ue

 

“ü” in Chinese + the “e” in “egg” in English

ui

way

 

uo

 

“oo” in “look” + “au” in “auto”

 

 

 

n

thin

 

ng

thing

 

List of Names of Chinese SILC Faculty & Staff

Bo Yi  Stephen Bokenkamp
Cao Zhongyu  Joanne Tsao
Chen Huaiyu  Huaiyu Chen
Gao Deyao  Robert Joe Cutter
Liao Jianling  Jianling Liao
Ling Xiaoqiao  Xiaoqiao Ling
Tian Hao  Hoyt Tillman
Wu Yingjun  Young Kyun Oh
Xi Rugu  Stephen H. West
Zhang Xia  Xia Zhang
Zhou Anqi  Angie Chau

Common Chinese Surnames

Bai  Cai 
Chen  Gao 
Guo  Huang 
Jiang  Li 
Liao  Lin 
Liu  Lü 
Ma  Song 
Sun  Tian 
Wang  Wen 
Wu  Yang 
Ye  Zhang 
Zhao  Zhu 

Some Names of Graduate SILC Students

Chang Wenbo  Li Jiangnan  Liang Shuo 
Liu Lidan  Liu Xuewen  Lu Le 
Wang Xuan  Wen Zuoting  Wu Yang 
Wu Yue  Xin Zhaokun  Zhang Jianhua 
Zhang Jin  Zhang Junlei  Zhang Shuran 
Zhang Xiaomeng  Zhao Luying 

Outside Resources

For more information on pronunciation of pinyin, see:

For more information on pronunciation of Chinese names, see: 

 

* Audio recorded by Xuan Wang-Wolf.