Friday, June 10, 2011

S like in sugar; 意義的意; C like in circus

Some years ago, I was talking with a (possibly overseas) telephone support representative, one who did not sound like a U.S. native English speaker. She gave me some sort of an identification code, like S777, and clarified the first character by saying, "S like in sugar". Since the s in sugar is actually pronounced like sh, sugar seemed an odd choice of word. Probably more common would have been to say, "S like in Sam".

Another time I was asking a native Chinese speaker for clarification of what the character was for the Chinese word which she had just spoken in some larger sentence context. The Pinyin sound had been .

I was rather surprised that she responded, "意義的意" (yìyì de yì; the character in 意義 whose sound is ). The sound of the first two characters is in fact the same (yì), but a more precise translation is likely "the first -sound character in 意義 (i.e., 意).

In English, if somebody ever said something sounded like the c in circus, it seems the most natural interpretation would be that they were referring to the first c (which has the s sound), not the second c (which has the k sound).

(意義 means "meaning".)

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