The un-phonetic alphabet
February 10, 2006 4:48 AM   Subscribe

Help me construct an "un-phonetic alphabet".

Can you think of at least one word for every letter in the alphabet, where the sound it starts with does not match the letter it starts with?

For example, "Knight" for K, or "Pneumatic" for P.
posted by Mwongozi to Writing & Language (94 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
I think there are some letters that will be quite troublesome... O, for example, and Q.

However, having said that:
T - Tsar
X - Xylophone (Z sound instead of X)
posted by antifuse at 4:52 AM on February 10, 2006


My husband has a funny one that he often recites, which starts with: "A for 'orses, B for mutton, C for yourself..." It's an old comedy routine, he thinks.
posted by web-goddess at 4:56 AM on February 10, 2006


Mnemonic, for M. Write for W.
posted by misteraitch at 4:57 AM on February 10, 2006


gnat
heir
mneumatic
posted by iconomy at 4:58 AM on February 10, 2006


Ooops..cutting and pasting! Not mneumatic, obviously. I was going for pneumonia.
posted by iconomy at 5:00 AM on February 10, 2006


czar with a c, too.
oedipal
psychology
posted by leapingsheep at 5:03 AM on February 10, 2006


dzho (or dzo) for d
posted by box at 5:08 AM on February 10, 2006


"Ouija" for O.
posted by Gator at 5:09 AM on February 10, 2006


A - Aisle
Q - Quay
T - Tsunami
posted by misteraitch at 5:16 AM on February 10, 2006


If I remember right, "chi" — as in "Tai Chi" — can also be spelled "qi." So that could be your Q.
posted by nebulawindphone at 5:18 AM on February 10, 2006


So far:

Aisle
Czar
Gnat
Heir
Knight
Mnemonic
Oedipal
Pneumatic (or pteranodon, or psychology)
Quay
Tsunami or tsar
Xylophone
leaving BDEFIJLNRSUVWYZ.

I'm thinking there should be some English words stolen hurriedly enough from German to still pronounce an initial W resp. V as V resp. F...
posted by Aknaton at 5:28 AM on February 10, 2006


euphonious
ghoti (=fish, to Shaw, if you're feeling silly)
lots of h's, e.g. hour
junta and other spanish words for j
posted by gleuschk at 5:38 AM on February 10, 2006


eight
posted by leapingsheep at 5:42 AM on February 10, 2006


djellaba
posted by nowonmai at 5:47 AM on February 10, 2006


wrangle
posted by nowonmai at 5:52 AM on February 10, 2006


Aeolian
Ukulele
posted by justkevin at 6:03 AM on February 10, 2006


You're likely to have trouble in English with B. One option is to use the Gaelic aspirated "bh" as in bhrog, which is pronounced like "vrok".
posted by fochsenhirt at 6:10 AM on February 10, 2006


The closest thing I could come to for Y was "Yves"... technically a name, not a word though. Or Ytterbite, but I have no idea how that is pronounced (and I fear it would start out "yitter", but it could be "itter").
posted by antifuse at 6:11 AM on February 10, 2006


Yttrium (it's a kind of metal)
posted by justkevin at 6:15 AM on February 10, 2006


This is kind of a weak one: My dictionary lists the primary pronunciation of "zeitgeist" as starting with "ts" and the secondary as "z," although I've only heard the latter.
posted by justkevin at 6:20 AM on February 10, 2006


Clearly the word for F should be Fnord, though I have always pronounced it "fuh-nord". G should be Gnu, not Gnat. :)

Nguyen (pronounced "win", not really english but a common enough name in the U.S., Ng is also common.)

Wikipedia has some discussion of silent letters.
posted by jellicle at 6:23 AM on February 10, 2006


Bdellium for b.
posted by gubo at 7:10 AM on February 10, 2006


I would reject "quay." That Q is pronounced in a perfectly acceptable fashion. See qat, qanat, qawwal, and other words of Middle Eastern origin.

For N, perhaps Noh Tae Woo, a president of S. Korea. "Noh" is pronounced "Roh."
posted by Mo Nickels at 7:10 AM on February 10, 2006


Damn, got that backwards. His name is spelled "Roh Tae Woo" and pronounced "Noh Tae Woo."
posted by Mo Nickels at 7:12 AM on February 10, 2006


I remember a car salesman reciting a license plate on the phone and saying "Q for Cucumber" :)
posted by wackybrit at 7:20 AM on February 10, 2006


J for Jalapeno!
posted by jozxyqk at 7:39 AM on February 10, 2006


oenophile
posted by Zed_Lopez at 7:42 AM on February 10, 2006


Quran, Koran, Qu'ran?

/ I hope you will post a followup with your completed alphabet.
posted by pithy comment at 7:53 AM on February 10, 2006


I still need words (or better words ;) for B,D,F,I,L,N,R,S,U,V, and Z.

And yes, I will of course give you the complete list - if a complete list is possible!
posted by Mwongozi at 8:08 AM on February 10, 2006


Lodz — a city in Poland, pronounced "wodge" — is good for L, but maybe it doesn't count as an English word.
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:09 AM on February 10, 2006


use
posted by leapingsheep at 8:16 AM on February 10, 2006


mnemonic
opposum
posted by the jam at 8:17 AM on February 10, 2006


djimbe?
posted by jessamyn at 8:20 AM on February 10, 2006


Those j's aren't a different sound. They're soft j's.
posted by klangklangston at 8:35 AM on February 10, 2006


And djimbe does start with a d sound. It's dʒ.
posted by klangklangston at 8:40 AM on February 10, 2006


Djinn?
posted by empath at 9:20 AM on February 10, 2006


Definitely Bdellium. Also, this spelling alphabet is similar in intent, but uses some homophones (C = "cue", which sounds like Q, and S = "sea", which sounds like C) and roman numberals (L = "fifty", V = "five").
posted by Plutor at 9:24 AM on February 10, 2006


opossum
posted by striker at 9:25 AM on February 10, 2006


Inspired by Aknaton's suggestion to look for words borrowed from German for V, I found volkslied.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:32 AM on February 10, 2006


Here's the archaic iwis (ee-WIS, although eye-WIS is given as an alternate pronunciation) for I.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:53 AM on February 10, 2006


Possibilities for U: uilleann [pipes]; Uitlander (two pronunciations given, neither of which sounds like u!)
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:08 AM on February 10, 2006


D for Djinni
posted by tkolar at 10:17 AM on February 10, 2006


Except that, again, Djinn and Djinni start with dʒ.
posted by klangklangston at 10:33 AM on February 10, 2006


D as in Dneiper.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:39 AM on February 10, 2006


l for llama, except that the pronunciation in English is just lama.

L for Llano Estacado, I suppose (godawful flat country in W TX / E NM).
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:42 AM on February 10, 2006


D as in dzho, or dzo. It's a cross between a goat and a yak, if memory serves, and much cherished by OSW and SOWPODS Scrabble players.

And, since ROU mentioned llama, what about words with double letters that aren't pronounced separately? Stuff, all, djinn, skivvies--I could go on like this.
posted by box at 10:51 AM on February 10, 2006


klangklangston:

I have a Websters II New Riverside Dictionary in front of me that shows the pronounciation of Djinni as the same of that as "Jinni".

Same with dictionary.reference.com.

Unfortunately I don't have access to the OED online.

What's your source?
posted by tkolar at 10:53 AM on February 10, 2006


Extremely weak, but....


U for urushiol (oo-roo-she-ol) -- the stuff in poison oak
posted by tkolar at 10:55 AM on February 10, 2006


box: re-read the original question. "...the sound it starts with does not match the letter it starts with." So a) double letters anywhere other than the start of the word are irrelevant; b) even if a double letter is at the start of the word and is only pronounced once, it doesn't count unless it's pronounced differently than how that letter is usually pronounced.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:56 AM on February 10, 2006


My source? The English Simplified Phonetic Alphabet.
All hard J sounds have a d in English in front of them. For example, [dʒʌdʒ] is the phonetic transcription for "judge." The dg construction in English is a better example, but that's the same sound as what begins Djinni.
(More on English phonetics here.
posted by klangklangston at 11:04 AM on February 10, 2006


klangklangston:

I was wondering if that was where you were going with it. I would say that while you are correct in a strict phonetic sense, a word pronounced "Jinni" but spelled "Djinni" meets the requirements laid out in the original question.

Mwongozi can decide...
posted by tkolar at 11:19 AM on February 10, 2006


"Nth" for "n" perhaps? It begins with a e-breve sound (nth).
posted by youarenothere at 11:29 AM on February 10, 2006


Not quite what you wanted, but singularly unhelpful: "B" as in "Bee"
posted by jewzilla at 12:21 PM on February 10, 2006


Having been unable to come up with anything better for some of these, I offer the following in half-jest:

F as in Fe (pronounced "iron")
N as in Na (pronounced "sodium")
S as in Sb (pronounced "antimony"), or...
S as in Sn (pronounced "tin")

(Although there are other chemical elements that follow this pattern as well, all the others begin with letters for which far better options have already been suggested above.)
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 12:24 PM on February 10, 2006


Shit?

'sh' is technically a different phoneme from 's', right?
posted by ChasFile at 12:24 PM on February 10, 2006


Along DevilsAdvocate's lines theres:

iii - pronounced "three"
v - pronounced "five"
posted by ChasFile at 12:36 PM on February 10, 2006


If you want to allow english appropriations (along the lines of Jalapeno), I and V can quickly be taken down by latin:

Iesvs - "Jesus", as in "Iesvs Nazarenvs Rex Ivdaeorvm," pronounced "yay - zues"
posted by ChasFile at 12:40 PM on February 10, 2006


I think "challa" (pronounced as in "Holla back youngin") is better for C, so you can free up "Tzar" for T, since "tsunami" still has a hint of 't' at the front.
posted by ChasFile at 12:44 PM on February 10, 2006


Isn't 'zh' in chinese pronounched like 'ch'? As in the "zhou dynasty," or as its more commonly known the "chow dynasty"? kk, done for now.
posted by ChasFile at 12:51 PM on February 10, 2006


Tzar has the [t] in it too.
And "shit" is a good example of a big way that this is flawed: there really isn't a direct representation between phonetics and spelling.
posted by klangklangston at 12:51 PM on February 10, 2006


ChasFile, if you're going to allow Pinyin, you've got at least c, q, t, x, and z covered, but I don't think that's what the poster wants.
posted by Espy Gillespie at 1:03 PM on February 10, 2006


The problem here is what exactly you consider a word -- is it a collection of random letters I just make up on the spot to represent an idea, or is it found in a dictionary "somewhere" ?

It's rather impossible to say one collection of letters or another does not exist in any dictionary or is improperly pronounced this way or that, considering that dictionaries (a) do not contain all words of any given language, (b) do not declare spellings but merely report trends in spelling and definition (as a newspaper does not declare what news will happen, but what has happened), and (c) do not account for words made up on the spot, which technically still count as words according to the dictionaries definition of "word" ;-P

A Whiner's Finetuning:

Are you going for actual correct pronunciations, or just what is often misspoken or misheard? The picky lip/mouth readers can tell the difference.

You do pronounce the T in Tsar (think less spittle, as if saying only the last half of the T that merges with the S). Form the mouth like the T, with the tip of the tongue just behind the top front teeth, but say the S instead so it is blended into so close to one sound it's barely detectable.

If you really think about it, you can hear the distinct differences in the S and H of SH-, the T and H in TH-, etc., using the corresponding letters.

You do pronounce the N in Ngyuen, even though it sounds like "Win". Form your mouth like the "ng" part of any word ending with "-ing" where the back of your tongue presses into the throat opening, and say "win" or "wen".

Same goes for the K in Knight and the P in Pneumonia. There is a distinct difference (but widely/easily misheard) in the accurate pronunciation of "Knight" v. "Night" and "Pneu" of Pneumonia v. "New".

You do pronounce the B in Bdellum, you form your mouth like you're staying B but say D instead. It's not wholly silent, but it's a definately a different sound than Dellum.

J-words probably won't count, because that is the correct pronunciation for that letter in that specific word, just like apple and aural have different pronuniciations of the initial A but different ways.

You do pronounce the W in wr-words like Wrangle and Write. You form the mouth in the shape as if you were going to "wuh" the sound, but "ruh" it instead. "wruh" and "ruh" are definately different (both being correct) sounds.

Zhou for "chow" is merely zh pronounced so quickly, but still the same zh sound. To the untrained ear it would sound like chow.

You'd probably be better off making a list of utterances that don't match the letter, such as "w" not being correct to represent "sh-" (just guessing) in any language, because it is absolutely relative as to whether any given word is one language or another (or perhaps even whether one letter represents any given sound, such as the ghoti remark) -- it only takes one person to say it isn't to make it one person's say against another.

Sorry to ruin your question ;-)
posted by vanoakenfold at 1:47 PM on February 10, 2006


Check out the anti-phonetic alphabet.

Also, I'm amused that "Eau, Are, Sea, Eh" spells EASE or ORCA depending on how you look at it. :)
posted by mbrubeck at 1:48 PM on February 10, 2006 [1 favorite]


Word in an English dictionary is really what I was after, bonus points if they're at least semi-well-known. There wasn't any point to this however, it was just for fun, but it does seem to be fairly impossible, sadly!
posted by Mwongozi at 2:08 PM on February 10, 2006


If you really think about it, you can hear the distinct differences in the S and H of SH-, the T and H in TH-, etc., using the corresponding letters.

Uh, no. Linguistics student here, and 'sh' and 's' and 'h' are three completely different sounds. 'Sh' (ʃ) is an post-alveolar voiceless fricative, 's' is an alveolar voiceless fricative, and 'h' is a glottal voiceless fricative. 'Th' (θ) is a dental voiceless fricative, 't' is an alveolar voiceless stop.

Same goes for the K in Knight and the P in Pneumonia. There is a distinct difference (but widely/easily misheard) in the accurate pronunciation of "Knight" v. "Night" and "Pneu" of Pneumonia v. "New".

'Knight' used to have the 'k' sound in front, but English has changed since then and it's gone. 'Pneumonia' was borrowed from a language that has 'pn' syllable onsets, but English doesn't, so we spell it that way and only pronounce the 'n'. There is no distinct difference.

You do pronounce the W in wr-words like Wrangle and Write. You form the mouth in the shape as if you were going to "wuh" the sound, but "ruh" it instead. "wruh" and "ruh" are definately different (both being correct) sounds.

I don't pronounce them any differently. Write=rite. Accents might vary, but in my English (rural Ontario Canadian), those sounds are exactly the same. I don't do any lip-rounding at the start of "wrangle" like I would at the start of "wood".

Mwongozi, I think that you're going to run into some impossible letters if you limit it to what words start with. Some of our 'silent' letters are due to changes in pronounciation over time (as in 'knight'), others are due to borrowing words that allow different sounds at the start of words (as in 'psychology' -- we can say 'ps' at the end of words, like 'lapse', but not the start). You could find a B at the end of 'lamb', but I'm not sure that you'll find a silent B at the start of an English word. Too bad, it would be fun to have a whole set. :)
posted by heatherann at 2:24 PM on February 10, 2006


I don't know about much of that "Anti-Phonetic Alphabet" list - for example, the n in numble isn't phonetic? And is numble even a word?
posted by youarenothere at 3:02 PM on February 10, 2006


Some of the words in the anti-phonetic alphabet are more confusing than actually unphonetic (like "rubricate," "vizard," and "filly").

I don't know where "numble" came from. The notes on that page used to say something about not having a good "N" word. (That was before "Nguyen" was added.)
posted by mbrubeck at 3:26 PM on February 10, 2006


Heather: You're totally on point about everything except for the "w" sounds, which are aspirated in a good portion of American and British speech. However, I'm gonna bet dollars to doughnuts that you've got the Northern Midwest accent (just like I do), and we don't do that here.
(By the way, since I'm taking a linguistics course now, do you have any good place to get the IPA symbols as a font or anything? It's a pain in the ass to have to hunt for 'em and cut and paste...)
posted by klangklangston at 4:15 PM on February 10, 2006


For what it's worth, I do pronounce "Write" and "Rite" slightly different. And words like Djinn and Djibouti start with a "j" sound. Influenced slightly by the D, maybe. But it's not a "D" sound at all, so I think it fits the rules just fine.
posted by CrayDrygu at 5:00 PM on February 10, 2006


fwiw, I don't think 'heir' really qualifies. Locally (Canada), I hear it pronounced with a slight soft h. Certainly isn't pronounced just like "air."
posted by Count Ziggurat at 5:58 PM on February 10, 2006


Klangklangston: Gentium. Attractive, free, has all the IPA symbols (and a bunch of other things) as long as you've got a Unicode-aware editor.
posted by wanderingmind at 8:48 PM on February 10, 2006


Klangklangston: International Phonetic Association's fonts page. If you ever get confused on what each of the symbols sound like, here's a clickable IPA chart.
posted by heatherann at 6:54 AM on February 11, 2006


OK, I don't get it.

"A is for...

aisle
aye
are "

which one of those supposedly does not begin with an "a" sound? I assure you they all do for me.

How about

A is for "aural" instead?
posted by thparkth at 12:18 PM on February 12, 2006


Aisle starts with an I sound (said like Isle)
Are is said like R
Aye is said like eye, so starts with an I sound
posted by ZippityBuddha at 12:50 PM on February 12, 2006


Zippity, when I say what you call an "I" sound, I say "ah-ee".

Aisle is ah-yih-l.

Are is ah-r.

Aye is ah-ee.

When you say "are is said like R" do you really mean you say it "rrrr"? Don't you say it "ah-r" ?

I'm very puzzled.
posted by thparkth at 1:23 PM on February 12, 2006


I don't like that anti-phonetic dictionary either. I'd like to hear the producer of said list pronounce those words. W as in Why? I pronounce that with a pretty solid "wuh" at the front. But maybe they're being cheeky in that it's the letter Y. Also "f as in filly" - I don't get it.
posted by antifuse at 2:40 PM on February 12, 2006


Oh, and I meant to add in this comment as well: I'm Canadian, and I pronounce "heir" as "air". I don't know anyone that puts even a SLIGHT h sound in front of it.
posted by antifuse at 2:41 PM on February 12, 2006


Slighty off original topic, but speaking of unvoiced sounds that are actually voiced in some areas:

The "h" in "wh" combinations is actually pronounced by some Texans, but before the "w".

For example, I pronounce "when" like "wen", but some folks pronounce it as "huhwen".
posted by Bugbread at 1:27 AM on February 13, 2006


Look, something that I've noticed from my class is that if you pronounce a word over and over again, you can convince yourself that you pronounce it a different way.
In standard American (and British) pronunciation, "Aye" is not pronounced "ah-ee." Sorry. Uh-ee is some other word that you've made up. Same with "ah-yih-l." This is arguably a dialect of one, but more likely something that your friends roll their eyes about when you say it.
posted by klangklangston at 6:46 AM on February 13, 2006


I'm from western Canada and to me, heir = hair. The "h" is definately pronounced and heard.
posted by blue_beetle at 9:12 AM on February 13, 2006


heir = hair. The "h" is definately pronounced and heard.

Also found in some British pronunciations.
posted by normy at 2:02 PM on February 13, 2006


klangklang: There isn't a standard American (or British) pronunciation. For what it's worth, I'm from the West of Scotland, and I definitely say "ah-ee" and "ah-yih-l".
posted by thparkth at 2:24 PM on February 13, 2006


If we can substitute the words "commonly agreed-upon" for "standard," I'll disagree most vociferously. Not only that, but I'd relegate West Scottish to "dialect."
posted by klangklangston at 5:39 PM on February 13, 2006


klangklangston: sorry to keep badgering you, but I can't agree with that at all. There is no "commonly agreed-upon" way to pronounce most English-language words or even vowels.

have a look at this wikipedia page for far, far more on this than anyone could reasonably care about :)
posted by thparkth at 8:13 PM on February 13, 2006


I'm sorry that you can't agree with that at all. If you'd like a quick primer on the "commonly agreed-upon" pronunciations for most words, seek the OED. QED.
posted by klangklangston at 9:38 PM on February 13, 2006


klangklangson;

Is your thesis is that every English speaker should pronounce every word in the same way - which is precisely specified by the OED - and that any variation among English speakers must be as a result of failure to conform to this "commonly agreed-upon" standard?

If that were true, I wonder why phonology would exist as a discipline at all. Surely we could just remind those English speakers from the South-East of England that the "r" sound at the end of "car" is not optional, and they would skip merrily away, happy in their newly rhotic accent?

We might also advise certain of your contrymen that - according to the OED - "father" and "bother" do not in fact rhyme, so they'd better improve their compliance with the standard, or risk being thrown out of the English Language.

While we're at it we might note that virtually nobody in the whole of North America pronounces "dune" the way the OED would recommend. I'm sure they'll all be happy to change when the error of their ways is pointed out to them.

I could go on, but instead I'll point you to this wikipedia article which, should you take the time to read it, will explain to you that there is no international standard for the pronunciation of English words, and that every speaker of English is a dialect speaker. That includes you.

Finally, I would like to suggest that when you haven't heard someone speak, and don't know where they are from, it is not entirely appropriate to presume to tell them how they pronounce words, especially if you plan to do so in a condescending manner, and even more especially when you are more or less ignorant in the field of English phonology.
posted by thparkth at 6:51 AM on February 15, 2006


Ah, I see you got your Wikipedia degree while we were talking. Congratulations! And a beautiful attempt at retaliatory condescention.
Yes, everyone speaks in dialect. Even me. Sometimes, I'll even mix multiple dialects! Oh my goodness, what a trick! (As for your claim of bɔðə and fɔ:ðə not rhyming, I can only put that down to some sort of confused vision of rhymes).

The purpose of language is to communicate. If there is no generally agreed-upon pronunciation of words, verbal communication does not exist. While there is certainly variation, and for many words there is more than one acceptable pronunciation, there are definitely more common precepts of pronunciation and mob rule carries the day. That's why, say, British people abroad when communicating in English are advised to speak closer to the Recieved Pronunciation (or "educated dialect of Southeast England). In America, the accent is the Central Midwest, one that newscasters use no matter where they're from. Dropping the [r] to make [kɒ] is understood to be a regional variation (and widely mocked, so I believe New Englanders get enough normative reinforcement). Even the Scotts I know will attempt to speak closer to BBC English when they wish to be understood by people outside of Scottland. Certainly, if you prounounced aye as [ai], I wouldn't understand it at first blush, and neither would many English speakers the world over. Why? It's not a standard pronunciation anywhere outside of Scottland.
I'm sure it feels condescending to be told that you speak a minority dialect, and that your pronunciation is not a standard one, but that's too bad. If it makes you feel better, Irish accents aren't necessarily broadly understood either (The Commitments had to have subtitles in its original theatrical release, even though they're arguably unnecessary). In America, Southern English, especially rural black Southern English is a minority dialect that can be nigh impenetrable to outsiders. But I'm willing to bet that you, and your neighbors, would have no trouble understanding someone who spoke BBC English.

And finally, it's you who seem to have missed the point of phonology. Phonology is inherently a descriptive disapline, not a prescriptive one. It makes no claims of normative function by its very nature. Does that mean that there are no standard pronunciations? No. Does the fact that anthropology does not exist to make value judgements mean that there are no barbaric practices? No. To claim otherwise, based on wikipedia links quickly assembled to refute a comment, is silly.
posted by klangklangston at 7:58 AM on February 15, 2006


klangklangston, you remind me of an introductory linguistics student- familiar with the philosophy and jargon, but sticking too closely too the text book. One thing that any legitimate linguist strives to be is descriptive, rather than prescriptive. So in reality, there is no proper way to pronounce a given word, because people mispronounce/pronounce words differently all the time. Problems occurr when the meaning/intent is lost through the sound. It's great to go around diagnosing people's dialects off of a few utterances, but lots of people have their own idiosyncracies and slight alterations from the considered standard around them. If you ever get into phonetics, this becomes abundtly clear.

The Anti-Phonetic alphabet is really cool.
posted by kendrak at 8:13 PM on February 23, 2006


B,D,F,I,L,N,R,S,U,V, and Z.

aerie
Ewan
Sean
cygnet
knaw
ptolemy
wren or wrested
Oui
Utah
Ndebele
in order to pronounce the welsh "ll", you have to try to pronounce a "h" and a "l" simultaneously. So it rather sounds like a scottish "ch"..i.e. Llywelyn
posted by nickyskye at 5:13 PM on March 3, 2006


whore
aikido
phthisic
pterodactyl
gnocchi
jnana (Sanskrit for wisdom, pronounced gyana)
R2D2
etalier
utility
posted by nickyskye at 9:07 PM on March 3, 2006


The "zh" in the Mandarin Chinese Zhou is not pronounced the same as "ch", at least if you mean the standard value for "ch" in English (check, chest, china, etc.). The Mandarin Chinese "zh" sounds a bit like the French "j" as in "Je t'aime".

Why was the dynasty spelled Chou or Chow, then? "Chou" is a different system of romanization -- probably Wade-Giles or the mish-mash that pre-dated it. But the "Chou" dynasty and the Zhou Dynasty are the same thing, and the name is pronounced the same way, if you know what you're doing.

Tai Ji Quan ("Fist of the Great Ultimate") is spelled that way in Pinyin romanization, and "Tai Chi Ch'uan" (note the apostrophe) in Wade-Giles romanization. Again, though, they're both pronounced the same way if you know what you're doing.

The problem is, Mandarin has sounds that don't really exist in English. How do you represent those sounds then? You use letters for values that they don't have in English, or you invent letters, or you give up. It's impossible to both keep the correct sound values and stick with the original values they have in English.
posted by jiawen at 3:19 AM on March 4, 2006


One thing that any legitimate linguist strives to be is descriptive, rather than prescriptive.

Is the battle over, then? When did we win?
posted by Squid Voltaire at 10:08 AM on March 7, 2006


w - wry, wriggle, wrangler
nice exercise btw. Waiting for the full list.
posted by forwebsites at 8:02 PM on March 7, 2006


mbrubeck posted the
The Anti-Phonetic Alphabet.
posted by nickyskye at 5:57 AM on March 9, 2006


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