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Chinese pronunciation



To: dinosaur@usc.edu
From: Ben Creisler bh480@scn.org
Subject: Chinese pronunciation

Just to set the record straight, I never indicated to 
anybody that qilong should be pronounced chee-lyoong--the 
syllable "lyoong" does not occur in Mandarin Chinese to my 
knowledge. I checked my copies of the email I sent to 
Jaime and don't see a "y" inserted into "loong." Weird 
linguistic gremlins have been having fun somewhere in 
cyberspace I guess.  The combination "qilong" in pinyin 
comes out approximately chee-loong in English 
pronunciation, as confirmed in ES's email. (Actually 
the "ch" sound in this case is pronounced with the tongue 
further forward in the mouth and raised more toward the 
palate than in English, followed by a stronger puff of 
breath than in English.) To get technical, the "oo" sound 
in pinyin "long" should be short as in English "look" or 
German "jung."  My pronunciation guide posted at 
Dinosauria On-line is a bit inconsistent on this point. I 
originally wanted "u" by itself to stand for the sound 
in "put" or "look," contrasting with long "oo" in "boot" 
and "uh" for the short u-sound in "putt," "cut." However, 
using "ung" to indicated the pronunciation of "ong" in 
Chinese names is too easily confused with the sound in 
English "lung"--I've now started using "oong" as the 
better way to indicate the approximate sound in Chinese.

Since names derived from Chinese are a major item for new 
birds and dinosaurs, a few comments about pronunciation 
might be in order. Recent names are almost always based on 
the pinyin transcription of place names, Chinese words, or 
personal names. The trickiest items include the letters x 
(pronounced like "sh"), q (pronounced like "ch"), c 
(pronounced like "ts" with a puff of breath), z 
(pronounced like "dz"), zh (pronounced like "j" 
in "jump"). To add to the complexity, the vowel "e" has 
two sounds: like "uh" except after the letters "i" or "y," 
when it's pronounced like "eh." The combination "ou" is 
like English "oh" (so Hou is pronounced "hoh") while 
pinyin "o" by itself is like "aw." The letter "i" can have 
four sounds: like "ee" after x, q, j, y, l, m, n, b, p, d, 
t; like American English "uhr" after sh, r, zh, ch; 
like "uh" (or better yet, a buzzing sound like  "zzz") 
after c, z, s; and like "y" before other vowels.  
Potentially confusing are the combinations eng 
(pronounced "uhng" as in English "young"), ang 
(pronounced "ahng" as in English "song"), ong 
(pronounced "oong" as in German "jung")--so Dong is 
pronounced "doong" (NOT like English "dong"), gang is 
pronounced "gahng" (like English "gong," NOT like 
English  "gang) and leng is pronounced "luhng" (like 
English "lung," NOT like in English "length). Chinese 
combinations of vowels are usually pronounced as 
diphthongs or triphthongs: "iao" (pronounced "yow" all in 
one syllable); "ian" pronounced "yen" all in one syllable. 
An apostrophe is used to show vowels that should be 
separate, thus the distinction between xian 
(pronounced "shyen" in one syllable) and xi'an 
(pronounced "shee-ahn" in two syllables). A really careful 
speaker might observe some other differences (including 
the distinction between "u" pronounced "oo" and "u" 
pronounced like in French), but the above items are the 
ones most likely to lead English speakers astray. 

This survey of pinyin does not apply to pronouncing names 
romanized in the Wade-Giles or Postal Atlas system.  
Shantungosaurus is Wade-Giles and should be pronounced 
shahn-doong-o-SAWR-us (NOT shan-tuhng-o-SAWR-us); 
Tsintaosaurus seems to be some Russianized version of  the 
Postal Atlas system, so I go with the etymology (named for 
Qingdao) and recommend ching-dow-SAWR-us, which a Chinese 
speaker would recognize (it's called Qingdaolong "Qingdao 
dragon" in Chinese).

Just to show how sticky trying to follow the Chinese 
pronunciation can get, the bird Boluochia should be 
pronounced bwaw-lwaw-CHUHR-uh--it's named for Boluochi 
(pronounced bwaw-lwaw-chuhr). Since speakers of American 
English can approximate the "r"-like sound of "i" in 
pinyin "chi," I think it's best to keep it.