Thursday, May 5, 2011

The proper Chinese pronunciation of Chen (陳)

Note that the proper spelling of pronunciation has no o before the u; pronounciation is incorrect. Pro - (nèn in Pinyin) - ci - a - tion...

陳 (Pinyin: Chén)is a common Chinese last name, often spelled in English as Chen. The way that spelling is typically pronounced in English led me to pronounce 陳 incorrectly in Chinese for quite some time. In English, the "en" portion of Chen, is pronounced like "en" in ten, but that's not the way it's pronounced in Chinese, despite the English spelling being the same as the Pinyin spelling, save for the addition of the 2nd tone.

The "en" portion of 陳 is pronounced more like "un" in sun, as I tested with CED. That "un"-like English sound is the sound of most occurrences of "en" at the end of a Pinyin syllable, e.g., in 分 (fēn; to separate),門 (mén; door), 很 (hěn; very), and 笨(bèn; foolish).

The only exception is when r precedes "en" in the Pinyin, as in 人 (rén, person). There the "en" portion is pronounced like "en" in ten. That R in Pinyin can be quite a tricky letter, another case of which I wrote about here.

I stumbled upon this 陳 pronunciation issue when a native Chinese speaker asked me if I was saying 陳 or 錢 (qián; money, but also a last name), making me aware of my having improperly carried over an English sound into Chinese.

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