Erhua (simplified Chinese: 儿化; traditional Chinese: 兒化; pinyin: érhuà [ɚ˧˥xwä˥˩]); also called erization or rhotacization of syllable finals) refers to a phonological process that adds r-coloring or the "er" (注音：ㄦ, common words: 耳、尔、儿) sound (transcribed in IPA as [ɚ]) to syllables in spoken Mandarin Chinese. Erhuayin (simplified Chinese: 儿化音; traditional Chinese: 兒化音; pinyin: érhuàyīn) is the pronunciation of "er" after rhotacization of syllable finals.
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. Furthermore, Erhua's presence in Guoyu (國語) in Taiwan is diminishing and it is often not used at all.
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., [äʵ] with the appropriate tone).
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.
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 [ɐʵ]; 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˥˩pʰjɤ̃ʵ˧˥]
- 公园 (gōngyuán, public garden) → 公园儿 (gōngyuánr), pronounced [kʊŋ˥ɥɐʵ˧˥]
- 小孩 (xiǎohái, small child) → 小孩儿 (xiǎoháir), pronounced [ɕjau̯˨˩xɐʵ˧˥]
- 事 (shì) (thing) → 事儿 (shìr), pronounced [ʂɚ˥˩]
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 "little 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.
As an example, the syllable wǎn may mean one of "bowl" (碗), "gentleness" (婉), "to take (hand) with hand; to roll (sleeve)" (挽), a short form of "Anhui" (皖), a place name and surname (宛), and "late; night" (晚). However, of these words, only "碗儿" (wǎnr, bowl, or the little bowl) can generally have erhua. Further, many people erhua 晚, but only when it means "night" and not "late". The rest never has erhua, and erhua attempts will cause incomprehension.
Erhua does not always occur 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).
The composition of the erhua system varies within Beijing, with the following variations reported. Apart from sub dialects, many sociological factors are involved, such as gender, age, ethnicity, inner/outer city, South/North.
- Some differentiate -ar (nucleus a with no coda) from -anr/-air (nucleus a with coda -i/-n). The typical distinction is [äʵ] vs [ɐʵ].
- Some merge -er (single e with erhua) with -enr/-eir. This may depend on phonological environments, such as the tone and the preceding consonant.
- Some merge -ier and -üer from -ir/-inr and -ür/-ünr.
- Some merge -uor with -uir/-unr.
- Some lose the nasalization of -ngr, thus potentially merging 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 Chengdu and Chongqing is collapsed to only one set: [ɚ] [jɚ] [wɚ] [ɥɚ], Many words become homophonous 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.
Different from Beijing, erhua can be applied to people's names and kinship words, such as cáoyēr (diminutive of the name Cao Ying 曹英儿) and xiǎomèr "little sister" (小妹儿).
Erhua occurs in more names of places, vegetables and little animals compared to Beijing.
Erhua causes sandhi for the reduplication of monosyllabic words. In both dialects, the application of erhua to a monosyllabic noun usually results in its reduplication, e.g. 盘 "dish" becomes 盘盘儿 pánpánr "little dish". The second syllable invariably has yángpíng (Chinese: 陽平) or the second tone.
Northeast and Shandong dialects
The resultant erhua rhymes of those of nucleus /a/ with coda /i/, /n/ and with zero coda are widely distinguished. For example, 家儿 (jiār), the count word for individual households, companies, and shops, is different from 间儿 (jiānr), the count word for buildings and functional units within buildings; 耙儿 (pár) "harrow" is different from 盘儿 (pánr) "dish", the latter undistinguished from 牌儿 (páir) "card". Some further distinguish pairs like -ir/-inr and -ür/-ünr, making 鸡儿 (jīr) "little chicken" and 今儿 (jīnr) "today" different.
The difference is usually exhibited in the erhua coda and/or the quality of the nucleus.
A handful of words exhibit a fossilized lexical form of nasal-coda erhua. An example is 鼻涕儿 bíting /pi2.tʰiŋ/ "nasal mucus", cf. the etymon 鼻涕 bíti /pi2.tʰi/.
Erhua causes the medial /i/ to be dropped and the shǎng (third) tone to assimilate to the yángpíng (second) tone, the original tone of the morpheme 儿.
Other Chinese languages than Mandarin
Some dialects of Taihu Wu Chinese exhibit a similar phenomenon with the morpheme 儿 [ŋ]. Wu erhua generally uses a nasal coda instead of a rhotic one, such as [n] ~ [ɲ] ~ [ŋ]. Rarely, erhua causes vowel umlaut.
For example, 麻将 "Mahjong" is etymologically 麻雀儿 "little sparrow", from 麻雀 /mo.t͡si̯ɐʔ/ "sparrow". The syllable 雀 /t͡si̯ɐʔ/ tsiah undergoes erhua with the morpheme 儿 /ŋ̩/ ng, resulting in the syllable /t͡si̯aŋ/ tsiang, which is then represented by the homophonous but etymologically unrelated word 将 /t͡si̯aŋ/ tsiang. Further examples include (tones not represented):
- 麻雀 /mo.t͡si̯ɐʔ/ "sparrow" → 麻雀儿/麻将 麻雀兒/麻將 /mo.t͡si̯aŋ/ "Mahjong"
- 囡 /nœ/ "girl" → 囡儿/囡兒 /nœ.ŋ̩/ "little girl; daughter"
- 虾/蝦 /ho/ "shrimp" → 虾儿/蝦兒 /hœ/ "little shrimp"
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|Look up 兒化 in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
- Lee, Wai-Sum (2005), A phonetic study of the “er-hua” rimes in Beijing Mandarin (PDF).
- Canepari, Luciano; Cerini, Marco (2011), Mandarin: the -r grammeme and the so-called érhuà phenomenon (PDF) (2nd ed.), archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-03-05, 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.