Erhua (simplified Chinese: 儿化; traditional Chinese: 兒化; pinyin: érhuà); also called erhuayin (simplified Chinese: 儿化音; traditional Chinese: 兒化音; pinyin: érhuàyīn) or erization, refers to a phonological process that adds r-coloring or the "ér" (儿) sound (transcribed in IPA as [ɻ]) to syllables in spoken Mandarin Chinese. It is most common in the speech varieties of North China, especially in the Beijing dialect, as a diminutive suffix for nouns, though some dialects also use it for other grammatical purposes. The Standard Chinese spoken in government-produced educational and examination recordings features erhua to some extent, as in 哪儿 nǎr ("where"), 一点儿 yìdiǎnr ("a little"), and 好玩儿 hǎowánr ("fun"). Colloquial speech in many northern dialects has more extensive erhua than the standardized language. Southwestern Mandarin dialects such as those of Chongqing and Chengdu also have erhua. By contrast, many Southern Chinese who speak non-Mandarin dialects may have difficulty pronouncing the sound or may simply prefer not to pronounce it, and usually avoid words with erhua when speaking Standard Chinese; for example, the three examples listed above may be replaced with the synonyms 哪里 nǎlǐ, 一点 yìdiǎn, 好玩 hǎowán.
Only a small number of words in standardized Mandarin, such as 二 èr "two" and 耳 ěr "ear", have r-colored vowels that do not result from the erhua process. All of the non-erhua r-colored syllables are pronounced [ɑɻ] (or [əɻ], depending on dialect) with no initial consonant (but with the appropriate tone added). All other instances of r-colored vowels are a result of erhua being applied to originally non-r-colored syllables.
Rules in Standard Mandarin
The basic rules controlling the surface pronunciation of erhua are as follows:
- Coda [i] and [n] are deleted.
- Coda [u] and [ŋ] are deleted, but the syllable becomes labialized and nasalized respectively.
- Main vowels [i] and [y] become glides and have a [ə] added.
- Certain vowels are changed: [a] becomes [ɑ]; [e], [o], [ɤ] and [ɨ] become [ə]; [u] becomes [ʊ]; [ɛ] in the finals [jɛn] and [ɥɛn] becomes [ɑ] (but remains [ɛ] in the final [jɛ]).
Following the rules that coda [i] and [n] are deleted, noted above, the finals in the syllables 把儿 (bàr), 伴儿 (bànr) 盖儿 (gàir) are all the same; they are all [ɑɻ]. The final in 趟儿 (tàngr) is similar but nasalized, because of the rule that the [ŋ] is deleted and the syllable is nasalized.
Because of the third rule, that [i] and [y] become glides and have a [ə] added, the finals of 气儿 (qìr) and 劲儿 (jìnr) are both [jəɻ], and 裙儿 (qúnr) and 驴儿 (lǘr) are both [ɥəɻ].
Since the final [ɨ] changes to [əɻ], the finals in 事儿 (shìr) and 字儿 (zìr) are the same as 妹儿 (mèir) and 份儿 (fènr), which are both also [əɻ].
Because of the rule that the [ɛ] in the finals [jɛn] changes to [ɑ], and the coda [n] is deleted, 家儿 (jiār) sounds the same as 尖儿 (jiānr), and 下儿 (xiàr) sounds the same as 馅儿 (xiànr). Similarly, the [ɛ] in [ɥɛn] also becomes [ɑ], so the final of 圈儿 (quānr) changes to [ɥɑɻ].
The following chart shows how the finals from the above chart are affected by the addition of this suffix:
The behavior of retroflexed finals provides some evidence for the phonemic analysis of main vowels. The fact that [jɛn] and [ɥɛn] become [jɑɻ] and [ɥɑɻ] confirms their analysis as /ian/ and /yan/ (rather than /iən/ and /yən/), and the differing behavior of [ɨ] and [i] suggests that these should not be merged (contrary to Pinyin). The behavior of [ə] and [ɯ̯ʌ], however, is problematic, since it suggests that they should not be merged, contrary to most analyses. (An alternative, consistent with retroflex behavior, would be to merge [ə] and [ɨ] as a single /ə/ phoneme, and maintain [ɯ̯ʌ] (together with medial variants [i̯ɛ], [u̯ɔ] and [y̯œ]) as a separate diphthong phoneme.)
- 一瓶 (yìpíng) (one bottle) → 一瓶儿 (yìpíngr), pronounced [i˥˩pʰjə̃ɻ˧˥]
- 公园 (gōngyuán) (public garden) → 公园儿 (gōngyuánr), pronounced [kʊŋ˥ɥɑɻ˧˥]
- 小孩 (xiǎohái) (small child) → 小孩儿 (xiǎoháir), pronounced [ɕjɑʊ̯˨˩xɑɻ˧˥]
- 事 (shì) (thing) → 事儿 (shìr), pronounced [ʂəɻ˥˩]
Aside from its use as a diminutive, erhua in the Beijing dialect also serves to differentiate words; for example, 白面 (báimiàn "flour") and 白面儿 (báimiànr "heroin", literally "white powder"). Additionally, some words may sound unnatural without rhotacization, as is the case with 花/花儿 (huā/huār "flower"). In these cases, the erhua serves to label the word as a noun (and sometimes a specific noun among a group of homophones). Since in modern Mandarin many single-syllable words (in which there are both nouns and adjectives) share the same pronunciation, adding such a label on nouns can reduce the complication. An example is the syllable "wǎn" which can mean both "bowl" (碗), "gently" (婉) and "late" (晚), but only the "碗儿" （wǎnr, bowl, or the little bowl） can have the erhua form.
Erhua is not always at the end of a word in Beijing dialect. Although it must occur at the end of the syllable, it can be added to the middle of many words, and there is not a rule to explain when it should be added to the middle. For example, "板儿砖" (bǎnr-zhuān, "brick", especially the brick used as a weapon) should not be "板砖儿" （bǎn-zhuānr）.
It is also reported that many people have different classification or realization of erhua:
- Some differentiate -ar (nucleus a with no coda) and -anr/-air (nucleus a with coda -i/-n).
- Some merge e-r (single e with erhua) with enr/eir and ïr (ï representing [ɨ]), and this may phonologically depend on certain conditions, such as the tone and the preceding consonant.
- Some merge ir/inr and ür/ünr, respectively, with ier and üer. This may depend on the kind of the tone.
- Some merge uor with uir/unr.
- Some lose the nasalization in the case of -ng, and thus merge pairs like ir-ingr, enr-engr and angr-anr.
In other Mandarin varieties
For the reason of clarity, tones in this part are marked by numbers indicating the category of tones, using the order of Standard Mandarin.
The realization and behavior of erhua are very different among Mandarin dialects. Some rules mentioned before are still generally applied, such as the deletion of coda [i] and [n] and the nasalization with the coda [ŋ]. Certain vowels' qualities may also change. However, depending on the exact dialect, the actual behavior, rules and realization can differ greatly.
Chongqing and Chengdu dialects
Most famously, erhua there is reduced to only one set, namely [ɚ] [iɚ] [uɚ] [yɚ], and thus lot more words become homophonic. E.g. 板儿(ban3r) (board) and 本儿(ben3r) (booklet) are both pronounced as ber3/pɚ3/ (While 板 ban3 and 本 ben3 are still distinguishable). Therefore, it is technically feasible to write all erhua forms as -er.
Generally, in spite of the diminutive and differentiative function, erhua in these two dialects is also considered to have a force of making the language more vivid and humous. In the Chongqing dialect, erhua can also be derogative. The behavior and characteristics of erhua there are also distinctive and different from Beijing's. Between these two dialects, there are also many differences.
In the Chengdu dialect, there are lots of repetitive bisyllabic nouns (formed by repeating monosyllabic nouns) . In both dialects, when erhua is applied to a monosyllabic noun, its repetitive form is usually used. E.g. 盘盘儿pan2per2. The tone of the second syllable is shifted to the Yang Ping tone.
Erhua can also be added to people's names and kinship words, such as 曹英儿 (cau2yer1, a name, Ts'au Ying) and 小妹儿(xiau3mer4, lit. little sister).
More names of places, vegetables and little animals are added erhua, compared to Beijing's situation.
In the Chongqing dialect, some repetitive bisyllabic adverbs are added erhua, and the second syllable is shifted to the Yin Ping tone.
Northeast and Shandong dialects
In some dialects of northeast and Shandong, more pairs are differentiated in pronunciation.
Generally, those of nucleus a with coda -i/-n and with zero coda are also distinguishable. For example, 家儿(jia1r) is different form 间儿(jian1r), and 耙儿(pa2r) is different from 盘儿(pan2r), while 盘儿(pan2r) is merged with 牌儿(pai2r). Some may even have the ability to distinguish pairs like ir-inr and ür-ünr, making 鸡儿(ji1r) and 今儿(jin1r) different.
These are usually realized by the difference of erhua coda and/or the quality of nucleus.
In erhua, the medial i is dropped, and the Shang tone is assimilated to the Yang Ping tone, which is the tone of the character 儿.
The Nanking dialect preserves the "checked tone" (Ru Sheng) and thus has a coda [ʔ]. Corresponding erhua are formed differently, with the sequence /-rʔ/.
Non-Mandarin varieties of Chinese
For example, the word 麻将, Mahjong is actually 麻雀儿, in the form of erhua. The word 雀 [tsiaʔ] tsiah, with the word 儿 [ŋ] ng, becomes the word 将 [tsiaŋ] tsiang, in other words mu tsiah 麻雀 becomes mu tsiang 麻将, a shortened form of mu tsiah ng 麻雀儿.
- 麻雀 (mu tsiah) → 麻雀儿/麻将 麻雀兒/麻將 (mu tsiang)
- 囡 (noe) → 囡儿/囡兒 (noe ng)
- 虾/蝦 (ho) → 虾儿/蝦兒 (hoe)
- Chen, Ping (1999). Modern Chinese: History and Sociolinguistics. Cambridge University Press. p. 39.
- 林焘 沈炯 (1995): 北京话儿化韵的语音分歧
- 郑有仪 : 北京话和成都话、重庆话的儿化比较
- 重庆方言中的儿化现象 (unknown author)
- In fact, it is that tsiah and ng contracted and formed a syllable tsiang, which is then represented by a homophonic character 將 tsiang, according to the pronunciation. The character 將 itself has no relevance with the contracted word 麻雀兒 mutsiang.
- Erhua pronunciation MP3 on MIT OpenCourseWare The accompanying text is located on page 40 of the notes
- blog discussion of functions of Erhua in meaning, with sound samples