Hokkien sounds edit

Syllables edit

There are far fewer syllables in the Hokkien language than English. The syllables are also easily described with the concepts of initials and finals. A syllable begins with a single consonant. This is called the initial. The rest of the syllable is called the final. A final can have a single vowel or a diphthong (two vowels that glide from one to the other) and an optional final consonant (p, t, k, h, m, n, or ng). Additionally, finals in Hokkien can be nasalized.

The pronunciation guide below is based on American English except where otherwise noted. Not all sounds can be described with English words and some are just approximations at best. Be sure to listen to actual speakers to ensure that your pronunciation is correct.

Initials edit

Tai5-lo5 Pronunciation IPA
b b in "ball" b
p p as in "spat" p
ph p as in "pat"
m m as in "mom" m
t t in "stop" t
th t as in "top"
n n as in "not" n
l l as in "lap" l
g g in "good" g
k k as in "skit" k
kh k as in "kite"
ng ng as in "singer" ŋ
h h as in "hot" h
j Blend of the ds in "beds" and the j in "jam" dz
ts ts in "cats" ts
tsh Blend of the ts in "cats" and the ch in "church" tsʰ
s s as in "sun" s

Tips on initials edit

  • The consonant j has merged with l in many speakers, especially in Chuan-chiu, since the early 20th century. It is still frequently written out in the romanization scheme though.
  • The triplets g, k, kh and b, p, ph, as well as j, ch, chh (voiced unaspirated, unvoiced unaspirated, unvoiced aspirated) are rare among languages and need some practice to correctly distiguish.
  • When followed by i, i.e. ji, chi, chhi, si, the consonants j, ch, chh, s, take on the IPA values: [dʑ], [tɕ], [tɕʰ], [ɕ]. No true equivalents in English exist, but [tɕ], [tɕʰ] correspond to Mandarin j, q.
  • b and g are slightly nasalized, reflecting their development from Old/Middle Chinese m and ng

Finals edit

Tai-lo Pronunciation IPA
a a as in "spa" a
ap op as in "top" ap
at ot as in "pot" at̚
ak ock as in "sock" ak̚
ah First a as in "aha"
ann a as in "spa" ã
am am as in "Vietnam" am
an on as in "con" an
ang ong as in "tongs"
ai igh as in "sigh" ai
e e as in "bet"
ei ay as in "say"
em em as in "temple"
eng ang as in "angry"
ek eck as in "peck"
i ee as in "tee"
iu ew as in "few"
im eem as in "seem"
in een as in "seen"
ing ing as in "sing"
ip eep as in "sleep"
it eet as in "meet"
ik ick as in "sick"
o or as in "or" (British English)
oi oy as in "boy"
ou o as in "no"
on on as in "con" (British English)
ong ong as in "song"
ot ot as in "hot" (British English)
ok ock as in "sock
u oo as in "too"
ui ooey as in "gooey"
un oon as in "soon"
ung combination of ou and ng
ut oot as in "boot"
uk ook as in "took"
eu er as in "her" (British English, with rounded lips)
eung combination of eu and ng
euk ork as in "work" (British English)
eui eui as in "deuil" (French)
eun ine as in "engine"
eut ut as in "put"
yu u as in "tu" (French)
yun un as in "union"
yut Ut as in "Utah"
m mm as in "hmm"
ng ng as in "sing"

Tips on finals edit

  • The final consonants p, t, and k are unreleased. This means that they are virtually silent and you hear no "puff of air" at the end of the syllable. To give a concrete example, say the word "cup" and do not open your lips at the end of the word. Note how there is no "puff of air" at the end. The k sound will also shift from being what is termed a velar stop to a glottal stop when it is used to add liveliness to final modal particles. The final consonant k will sometimes disappear in rapid speech as in the expression m4 sai2 haa[k]3 hei3.
  • The aa sounds are a low back vowel which is slightly longer in length and different in quality from the a sounds. Be sure to note the difference in these sounds since confusing the two will change the meaning of words.
  • The vowel quality in ing, it, and ik is not the same as in in,im, or i. It's the same difference between the English words "sin" and "seen" (or in grammar school terms a "short" vowel versus a "long" vowel). While this difference is not as important as the one above since it does not contrast word meanings, you will have a much more obvious "foreign accent" if you do not master these two sounds.
  • The yu sound does not exist in English but it is not hard to produce. Start by saying a long i as in "see" and--without changing anything else!--round your lips. It's a common sound in French so "think French" if you have to.
  • The eu sound does not exist in English either but like the yu it's just a case of rounding the lips. Start by saying the e sound in "bet" and--without changing anything else!--round your lips.
  • The eui sound is simply a fusion of eu and i ("eu-ee") into a single syllable.
  • The o sound does not exist in American English, but it is in British English. It is the back rounded vowel that you hear when British people say "more" or "scorn". If you listen carefully to a British speaker, you'll notice they do not pronounce the "r" in these words. It is the quality of the "o" vowel that makes them unique to American speakers' ears.
  • The final eung has a faint, British r sound riding on the vowel, so the number two would be pronounced somewhat like "leurng". Be careful -- pronouncing this sound with an American r is a common mistake that sounds extremely foreign.
  • Only the finals m and ng can be used as standalone nasal syllables.
  • Vowels preceding nasal final consonants are not nasalized, yet vowels following nasal consonants are. You can hold your nose while pronouncing some syllables such as sin1 or ngo5 to test your pronunciation. It's not critical to get this right, but doing so will reduce any apparent foreign accent.