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Why are transliterations from Chinese not spelled as they would be in English?

asked 2017-08-06 14:56:45 -0500

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For example, why is "Q" used to represent the "ch" and why is "X" used to represent the "sh" sound instead of just writing "ch" and "sh?" It's not as if the Chinese associate these sounds with specific letters from the Latin alphabet because they write in characters and these sounds are just part of lots of different characters. Let me know if my question is not clear, but I've been curious about this for a long time now and I'd love an answer. Thanks!

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answered 2017-08-12 19:43:08 -0500

The simplest answer is: because if they were written as "CH" and "SH" respectively, native speakers of English would think they are the same as English "ch" in "child" and "sh" in "shoe" (as you obviously do) –and they are not. The system of Romanization you are referring to is known as Pinyin (or Hanyu Pinyin–I leave out the tone marks). In Pinyin, the sound represented as X is [ɕ] –an alveolo-palatal fricative, which could be described as intermediate between English "sh" in "shoe" and [hj] in "huge" (the narrowing against the roof of the mouth is further back than for "sh" in "shoe"). The same can be said about Q – it is an affricate a bit like English "ch", but it is further back in the mouth than English "ch" in "child", and it is additionally apirated (see below). Pinyin has been devised with special attention to English speaking habits, e.g. many foreign speakers do not realize that B (as in Beijing) and P do not really stand for English "b" and "p", but "B" stands for "unaspirated p", as in "spike", and "P" for "aspirated p" as in "pike". The same can be said about "D" ("t" in "stake") and "T" ("t" in "take") as well as "G" ("k" in "skate") and "K" ("k" in "kite").

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Asked: 2017-08-06 14:55:12 -0500

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Last updated: Aug 12 '17