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Erhua (simplified Chinese: ; traditional Chinese: ; pinyin: érhuà [xwä]); also called erization or rhotacization of syllable finals[1]) refers to a phonological process that adds r-coloring or the "er" (:?, common words: ?????[2]) sound (transcribed in IPA as [?]) to syllables in spoken Mandarin Chinese. Erhuayin (simplified Chinese: ; traditional Chinese: ; pinyin: érhuày?n) is the pronunciation of "er" after rhotacization of syllable finals.

It is most common in the speech varieties of North China, especially in the Beijing dialect, as a diminutive suffix for nouns, though some dialects also use it for other grammatical purposes. The Standard Chinese spoken in government-produced educational and examination recordings features erhua to some extent, as in n?r ("where"), yìdi?nr ("a little"), and h?owánr ("fun"). Colloquial speech in many northern dialects has more extensive erhua than the standardized language. Southwestern Mandarin dialects such as those of Chongqing and Chengdu also have erhua. By contrast, many Southern Chinese who speak non-Mandarin dialects may have difficulty pronouncing the sound or may simply prefer not to pronounce it, and usually avoid words with erhua when speaking Standard Chinese; for example, the three examples listed above may be replaced with the synonyms n?l?, yìdi?n, h?owán. Furthermore, Erhua's presence in Guoyu () in Taiwan is diminishing and it often not used at all.[3][4]

Only a small number of words in standardized Mandarin, such as ? èr "two" and ? ?r "ear", have r-colored vowels that do not result from the erhua process. All of the non-erhua r-colored syllables have no initial consonant, and are traditionally pronounced [?] in Beijing dialect and in conservative/old Standard Mandarin varieties. In the recent decades, the vowel in the toned syllable "er" has been lowered in many accents, making the syllable come to approach or acquire a quality like "ar" (i.e. [ä?] with the appropriate tone).

Rules in Standard Mandarin

The basic rules controlling the surface pronunciation of erhua are as follows:

  • Coda
    • /i/ and /n/ are deleted.
    • /?/ is deleted and the syllable becomes nasalized.
    • /u/ becomes rhotacized.
  • Nucleus
    • [?] becomes [?] if it is an underlying /a/.
    • /?/ and /u/ become rhotacized.
    • /i/ and /y/ become glides ([j] and [?]).
    • [~] is deleted.

Following the rules that coda [i] and [n] are deleted, noted above, the finals in the syllables (bàr), (bànr) (gàir) are all []; similarly, the finals in the syllables (mèir) and (fènr) are both also [?]. The final in (tàngr) is similar but nasalized, because of the rule that the [?] is deleted and the syllable is nasalized.

Because of the rule that [i] and [y] become glides, the finals of (qìr) and (jìnr) are both [j?], and (qúnr) and (l?r) are both [].

The following chart shows how the finals are affected by the addition of this suffix:[5][6]

IPA and pinyin counterparts of Zhuyin finals
Medial [?]
(?)? 1





























[w], []








  • (yìpíng, one bottle) -> (yìpíngr), pronounced [ip?j]
  • (g?ngyuán, public garden) -> (g?ngyuánr), pronounced [k]
  • (xi?ohái, small child) -> (xi?oháir), pronounced [?jaux?]
  • ? (shì) (thing) -> (shìr), pronounced [?]

Beijing dialect

Aside from its use as a diminutive, erhua in the Beijing dialect also serves to differentiate words; for example, (báimiàn "flour") and (báimiànr "heroin", literally "little white powder").[7] Additionally, some words may sound unnatural without rhotacization, as is the case with ?/ (hu?/hu?r "flower").[7] In these cases, the erhua serves to label the word as a noun (and sometimes a specific noun among a group of homophones). Since in modern Mandarin many single-syllable words (in which there are both nouns and adjectives) share the same pronunciation, adding such a label on nouns can reduce the complication.

As an example, the syllable w?n may mean one of "bowl" (?), "gentleness" (?), "to take (hand) with hand; to roll (sleeve)" (?), a short form of "Anhui" (?), a place name and surname (?), and "late; night" (?). However, of these words, only "" (w?nr, bowl, or the little bowl) can generally have erhua. Further, many people erhua ?, but only when it means "night" and not "late". The rest never has erhua, and erhua attempts will cause incomprehension.

Erhua does not always occur at the end of a word in Beijing dialect. Although it must occur at the end of the syllable, it can be added to the middle of many words, and there is not a rule to explain when it should be added to the middle. For example, (b?nrzhu?n, "brick", especially the brick used as a weapon) should not be (b?nzhu?nr).

The composition of the erhua system varies within Beijing, with the following variations reported. Apart from sub dialects, many sociological factors are involved, such as gender, age, ethnicity, inner/outer city, South/North.[8]

  • Some differentiate -ar (nucleus a with no coda) from -anr/-air (nucleus a with coda -i/-n). The typical distinction is [ä?] vs [].
  • Some merge -er (single e with erhua) with -enr/-eir. This may depend on phonological environments, such as the tone and the preceding consonant.
  • Some merge -ier and -üer from -ir/-inr and -ür/-ünr.[5]
  • Some merge -uor with -uir/-unr.
  • Some lose the nasalization of -ngr, thus potentially merging pairs like -ir/-ingr, -enr/-engr and -angr/-anr.

In other Mandarin varieties

Note: Tones in this part are marked by the tone diacritics of the corresponding tone in Standard Mandarin, and do not necessarily represent the actual realization of tones.

The realization and behavior of erhua are very different among Mandarin dialects. Some rules mentioned before are still generally applied, such as the deletion of coda [i] and [n] and the nasalization with the coda [?]. Certain vowels' qualities may also change. However, depending on the exact dialect, the actual behavior, rules and realization can differ greatly.

Chongqing and Chengdu dialects

Erhua in Chengdu and Chongqing is collapsed to only one set: [?] [j?] [w?] [],[9] Many words become homophonous as a result, for example b?nr "board" and b?nr "booklet", both pronounced [p?] with the appropriate tone. It is technically feasible to write all erhua in Pinyin simply as -er.

Besides its diminutive and differentiating functions, erhua in these two dialects can also make the language more vivid.[9] In Chongqing, erhua can also be derogative.[10]

Different from Beijing, erhua can be applied to people's names and kinship words, such as cáoy?r (diminutive of the name Cao Ying ) and xi?omèr "little sister" ().[9]

Erhua occurs in more names of places, vegetables and little animals compared to Beijing.[9]

Erhua causes sandhi for the reduplication of monosyllabic words. In both dialects, the application of erhua to a monosyllabic noun usually results in its reduplication, e.g. ? "dish" becomes pánpánr "little dish". The second syllable invariably has yángpíng (Chinese: ) or the second tone.[9]

In Chongqing, erhua causes sandhi in some bisyllabic reduplicative adverbs, where second syllable acquires y?npíng (Chinese: ) or the first tone.[9]

Northeast and Shandong dialects

Northeastern Mandarin, Jilu Mandarin, and Jiaoliao Mandarin generally differentiate more pairs of erhua than in Beijing.

The resultant erhua rhymes of those of nucleus /a/ with coda /i/, /n/ and with zero coda are widely distinguished. For example, (ji?r), the count word for individual households, companies, and shops, is different from (ji?nr), the count word for buildings and functional units within buildings; (pár) "harrow" is different from (pánr) "dish", the latter undistinguished from (páir) "card". Some further distinguish pairs like -ir/-inr and -ür/-ünr, making (j?r) "little chicken" and (j?nr) "today" different.

The difference is usually exhibited in the erhua coda and/or the quality of the nucleus.

Non-rhotic erhua

A handful of words exhibit a fossilized lexical form of nasal-coda erhua. An example is bíting /pi2.t?i?/ "nasal mucus", cf. the etymon bíti /pi2.t?i/.

Nanjing dialect

Erhua causes the medial /i/ to be dropped and the sh?ng (third) tone to assimilate to the yángpíng (second) tone, the original tone of the morpheme ?.

The Nanking dialect preserves the checked syllable (pinyin: rùsh?ng) and thus possesses a coda . Erhua checked syllables are realized with /-/.

Other Chinese languages than Mandarin

Some dialects of Taihu Wu Chinese exhibit a similar phenomenon with the morpheme ? [?]. Wu erhua generally uses a nasal coda instead of a rhotic one, such as [n] ~ [?] ~ [?]. Rarely, erhua causes vowel umlaut.

For example, "Mahjong" is etymologically "little sparrow", from /mo.t?si/ "sparrow". The syllable ? /t?si/ tsiah undergoes erhua with the morpheme ? // ng, resulting in the syllable /t?si?a?/ tsiang, which is then represented by the homophonous but etymologically unrelated word ? /t?si?a?/ tsiang. Further examples include (tones not represented):

  • /mo.t?si/ "sparrow" -> / / /mo.t?si?a?/ "Mahjong"
  • ? /noe/ "girl" -> / /noe./ "little girl; daughter"
  • ?/? /ho/ "shrimp" -> / /hoe/ "little shrimp"


  1. ^ Penelope Eckert. Meaning and Linguistic Variation: The Third Wave in Sociolinguistics. 2018
  2. ^ . . (?). 19873?. pp. 58-60
  3. ^ " | ?". twtcsl.org. Retrieved .
  4. ^ Shin, Woosun. "". Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  5. ^ a b Duanmu, San (2007). The Phonology of Standard Chinese (2nd ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 218-223.
  6. ^ Lin, Yen-Hwei (2007). The Sounds of Chinese. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 182-188.
  7. ^ a b Chen, Ping (1999). Modern Chinese: History and Sociolinguistics. Cambridge University Press. p. 39.
  8. ^ (1995)?
  9. ^ a b c d e f  
  10. ^ ? (unknown author)

External links

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