‘Beijinghua’: What’s With All the Random ‘R’s’ in Chinese?
Post by Eva

So, speaking/using/studying Chinese you must’ve noted the constant (and seemingly random) intrusion of rough sounding r’s. If you’ve ever wandered why this is so, please read on.

First of all, when I say Chinese, what I mean is a standard Chinese called Mandarin, which is a variant based on Beijing pronunciation. In Beijing, apparently, they have a thing for R’s, and the ‘Beijing Talk’ or Pekinese Speech (北京话 BěiJīng Huà) sounds tough and badass. Some blame the influence of neighboring Russia, others the (too) liberal drinking of Baijiu (the infamous White Spirits); the fact remains: the Beijing variation is populated with these sometimes sneaky, sometimes evident R’s.

This R, is actually 儿 Ér and is a character by itself, for example 儿子 ÉrZi means “son”. It can also combine with other characters to form something called a retroflex ending. In Pinyin, retroflex is written by the extra letter -r at the end of the syllable. In Chinese there are many words that have a final ending -r (mostly nouns), many of them used frequently by virtually everyone.

I’m sure you’ve all heard of some, for example:

wait a moment: 等一会儿 Děng Yī Huìr (instead of 等一会 Děng Yī Huì)

where are you going? 你去哪儿? Nǐ Qù Nǎr? (instead of Nǐ Qù NǎLi?)

a bit; a little: 一点 Yī Diǎnr (instead of 一点 Yī Diǎn)

This is alright and dandy, but I refuse to utter variances such as 北门儿 Běi Ménr (North Gate), or 一下儿 YīXiàr (in short time); it sounds awful and somewhat pirate-y.

Beijing Hua - Beijing Dialect

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

All of the above belong to the realm of standard Chinese and and general (ab)use even in the Chinese South. Interestingly, Southerners, with their ‘soft’ pronunciation (don’t let me even start with Shanghainese), sometimes have problems pronouncing this -r; just the other day I was complimented (out of nowhere), that my Chinese is awesome (even badass), simply because I was able to utters these -r’s. So yeah, my (Mandarin) Chinese sometimes is actually better than that of native speakers (or so do the cabbie drivers keep telling me).


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