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Accent

Also known as: 口音 (kǒuyīn).

Even if a Chinese speaker is speaking standard Chinese, certain pronunciation habits and/or word use choices will result in some kind of identifiable accent.

Accent Features

Examples of accent features include:

  • presence or absence of erhua
  • prominence or lack of the final "-ng" consonant sound
  • word choice (e.g. 哪里 (nǎli) vs. 哪儿 (nǎr), 普通话 (Pǔtōnghuà) vs. 国语 (guóyǔ), etc.)
  • use of modal particles (啊 (a), 呗 (bei), 啦 (la), 哦 (o), etc.)
  • Sentence intonation patterns

Having an accent does not necessarily mean a speaker's Mandarin is not "standard"; it means that the speaker's Mandarin has been influenced by the region where the speaker comes from (which is true of pretty much everyone's Mandarin).

Strong Accents

That said, there is such thing as a "strong accent" in Mandarin, which typically means "non-standard." Some features of strong accents include:

  • weird tones
  • sound substitutions (e.g. "-n" for "-ng," etc.)
  • difficult to understand word choice (because the speaker doesn't realize that a word or expression he is using is not widely understood outside of his region)
  • strange grammar

Certain accents have well-known features, and advanced learners of Mandarin Chinese can learn these features to improve communication with speakers of non-standard Mandarin.

Northern Mandarin

  • Extensive use of erhua
  • Pronounced syllable-final "-ng"

Dongbei Mandarin

  • Moderate use of erhua
  • Pronounced syllable-final "-ng"
  • Non-standard tones

Southern Mandarin

Fujian Mandarin

  • Syllable-final "-ng" sounds often pronounced as "-n"
  • Initials zh-, ch-, sh- pronounced as z-, c-, s-
  • Initial n- pronounced as l-
  • Initial h- pronounced as f-
  • Relative lack of erhua

Taiwanese Mandarin

Accent Chart

This is the same information given above, presented in tabular form. The "+" indicates abundance of a feature, whereas "-" indicates a relative lack of a feature.

Region erhua -ng zh-/ch-/sh- n- vs. l- h- vs. f- neutral tone
Northern + + +
Dongbei + +
Southern - - -
Fujian - - - - -
Taiwan - - - -

Sources and further reading