pronunciation of 谁

May 17, 2010, 05:30 PM posted in General Discussion

When I started taking Chinese years ago, my teachers and textbooks all told me to pronounce the character 谁 "shei." This spring, I was speaking to a visiting Chinese professor from Dalian who was teaching elementary Chinese, and she and her textbook teach the pronunciation of the same character as "shui." When I asked her about this, she said that "shui" was more standard, and "shei" was a local variation used mostly around Beijing. But I notice that ChinesePod materials have the Pinyin for 谁 written "shei," the way I'd always learned it.

So what's the story with the pronunciation of this character? Among native speakers, who uses "shei," and who uses "shui"?

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May 17, 2010, 06:00 PM

Hi dubyruby, per my understanding, both are correct.  Nciku gives both pronunciations but, interestingly, one is shei2 and the other is shui1.  However, MDGB gives shui2, which is the pronunciation that I seem to remember.

Re: your question regarding specific regions that might prefer one over the other, I'll defer to other users.  However, I frequently hear shei2 used outside of Beijing.

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Nciku says shui2, not shui1.

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gomanly, you're right. I misread the bracket around the alternate pronunciation; at least I heard right.

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May 18, 2010, 12:30 AM

Hi dubyruby7

The sound "shei" is a colloguial reading of 谁, and "shui" is the standard (or authentic) one. It seems to me that "shei" is actually easier to pronounce than "shui" is. Interestingly, 谁 (shei) is listed as a main entry in 《现代汉语词典》, one of the most authentic dictionaries published in the PRC.

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May 18, 2010, 05:30 PM

Thanks! I also posed this question to my former teacher Victor Mair, and he consulted *his* colleagues former teachers and got answers that basically correspond to what you've said here. Here's one, in case you're interested:

From Haitao Tang:

Just saw your e-mail.  The visiting professor is right. According to the
( 反切:蜀帷切 ) spelling, it should be pronounced "shui". you can
compare it
with other words having the "zhui 隹" as the phonetic element, such as:
維、惟、唯、雖、催、摧、崔、睢 etc., these words are all pronounced with lip
rounding vowels "ui," not "ei".  Traditionally this is a case of Hekou
vs kaikou.

As for how it came to be pronounced "shei" in Beijing and many other
dialects, my interpretation is that "shei" is easier to pronounce, so it
is due to
articulatory laziness.  If you listen to Peking opera, it is still
pronounced "shui."

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Hi dubyruby

Actually this topic is very intriguing. I also agree that the northern sound "shei" is mainly due to laziness (or energy-saving, hehe), that said, this theory raises a new question, i.e. "why southern people are not lazy?" because the character “谁” is still pronounced as "sui" (or something like that), the vowel of which is similar to that of the middle Chinese sound of “谁”, in some southern dialects such as 闽南语 and 客话. I guess that besides "laziness" there were perhaps other factors that have caused the sound change from shui to shei, although I don't know what they are.