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 [ɚ]) 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 have no initial consonant, and are traditionally pronounced [ɚ] in Beijing dialect and in conservative/old Standard Mandarin varieties. In the recent decades, the vowel in the toned syllable "er" has been lowered in many accents, making the syllable come to approach or acquire a quality like "ar" (i.e. [aɚ̯] with the appropriate tone). In some new accents and some different accents than Beijing, all the non-erhua r-colored syllables (may) use "ar"-like qualities regardless of tones. 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:
- /i/ and /n/ are deleted.
- /ŋ/ is deleted and the syllable becomes nasalized.
- /u/ becomes rhotacized.
- [ɛ] and [e] become centralized ([ɐ] and [ə]).
- /ə/ and /u/ become rhotacized.
- High vowels /ɨ/, /i/ and /y/ become glides ([ɨ̯], [j] and [ɥ]).
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 [aɚ̯]; similarly, the finals in the syllables 妹儿 (mèir) and 份儿 (fènr) are both also [ɚ]. 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 rule that [i] and [y] become glides, the finals of 气儿 (qìr) and 劲儿 (jìnr) are both [jɚ], and 裙儿 (qúnr) and 驴儿 (lǘr) are both [ɥɚ].
- 一瓶 (yìpíng, one bottle) → 一瓶儿 (yìpíngr), pronounced [i˥˩pʰjɚ̃˧˥]
- 公园 (gōngyuán, public garden) → 公园儿 (gōngyuánr), pronounced [kʊŋ˥ɥɐɚ̯˧˥]
- 小孩 (xiǎohái, small child) → 小孩儿 (xiǎoháir), pronounced [ɕjau̯˨˩xaɚ̯˧˥]
- 事 (shì) (thing) → 事儿 (shìr), pronounced [ʂɻɚ˥˩]
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 "bowl" (碗), "gently" (婉) and "late" (晚), but only "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 (bǎnrzhuān, "brick", especially the brick used as a weapon) should not be 板砖儿 (bǎnzhuānr).
It is also reported that many people have different classification or realization of erhua:
- Some differentiate -ar (nucleus a with no coda) from -anr/-air (nucleus a with coda -i/-n).
- Some merge -er (single e with erhua) with -enr/-eir, and this may phonologically depend on certain conditions, such as the tone and the preceding consonant.
- Some differentiate -ier and -üer ([jeɚ̯] and [ɥeɚ̯]) from -ir/-inr and -ür/-ünr respectively in tones 1 and 2.
- 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
Note: Tones in this part are marked by the tone diacritics of the corresponding tone in Standard Mandarin, and do not necessarily represent the actual realization of tones.
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
Erhua in these dialects is reduced to only one set: [ɚ] [jɚ] [wɚ] [ɥɚ], Many words become homophonic as a result, for example 板儿 bǎnr "board" and 本儿 běnr "booklet", both pronounced [pɚ] with the appropriate tone. It is technically feasible to write all erhua in Pinyin simply as -er.
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. 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, it is usually reduplicated, 盘盘儿 pánpér. The tone of the second syllable is shifted to the yángpíng (Chinese: 陽平) tone.
Erhua can also be added to people's names and kinship words, such as cáuyēr (the name Cao Ying 曹英儿) and xiǎomèr "little sister" (小妹儿).
More names of places, vegetables and little animals have erhua, compared to Beijing erhua.
Northeast and Shandong dialects
In some dialects of the 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 (jiār) is different from 间儿 (jiānr), and 耙儿 (pár) is different from 盘儿 (pánr), the latter of which is merged with 牌儿 (páir). Some may even distinguish pairs like -ir/-inr and -ür/-ünr, making 鸡儿 (jīr) and 今儿 (jīnr) different.
These are usually realized by the difference of the erhua coda and/or the quality of the 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
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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,[nb 1] 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)
- 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.
- Lee, Wai-Sum (2005). "A Phonetic Study of the "er-hua" Rimes in Beijing Mandarin". INTERSPEECH-2005: 1093–1096.
- Duanmu, San (2007). The Phonology of Standard Chinese (2nd ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 218–223.
- Lin, Yen-Hwei (2007). The Sounds of Chinese. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 182–188.
- 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)
- Canepari, Luciano; Cerini, Marco (2011), Mandarin: the -r grammeme and the so-called érhuà phenomenon (PDF) (2nd ed.), Venice University, Italy, retrieved 2016-03-12
- 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