12. Final Practice with the “Fake” i

As you may recall from previous modules, the letter i represents different sounds in the Pinyin system. In this module, we will practice more on recognizing the sounds that i represents.  Let’s start by listening to these exemplars:

Character and PinyinEnglish Equivalent
chicken
lucky
self
mark
capital
vegetation
son
letter
to know
straight
only
to devote

Did you hear any differences in the sound that i represents among the exemplars? In the syllables that start with j the i represents a sound similar to the the long “ee” sound in English words like sea, see, he, and she.  But in the syllables that start with z and zh the sound is markedly different.

Following the consonants z and zh (as well as c, s, ch, sh and r) the position of the tongue for the i is not as far forward as it is when pronounced after j.  It is in the middle of the mouth but the tongue is positioned high, creating what is called a high central unrounded vowel. In these syllables, the vowel is a natural continuation of the preceding consonant. Go back and listen to the exemplars and see if you can focus on this sound difference.

To non-linguists, the sound i makes after z and zh may not be recognized as a vowel at all, and there is no symbol in the Latin alphabet for the sound that i makes in this context.  In fact, the developers of Pinyin actually added a vowel letter to these syllables because they wanted to conform to a rule that dictated that tone marks had to be placed above vowels. The developers reasoned that since the vowel usually represented by the letter i (the long “ee” sound) does not occur after z, c ,s, zh, ch, sh, and r, it would be possible to use the letter i to represent the (fake) vowel in those syllables.

Now listen to more exemplars using a variety of initials:

Character and PinyinEnglish Equivalent
pen
leather
rice
low
lift
you
to stand
seven
to like
play
blemish
word
this
sting
silk
die
four
eat
late
ruler
red
poem
stone
to make
yes
sun

Listening Quiz 1

Dictation Quiz

Listening Quiz 2

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