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I'm not a native English speaker. I sometimes pronounce some English words by following the way I pronounce things in Mandarin. While Mandarin does have a fixed way to pronounce every word, I was wondering if the same is true in English. Does each word have a fixed pronunciation?

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    This is a question for ELL.SE. – user132181 Jun 13 '14 at 19:33
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    There isn't one, fixed way to pronounce English. How to pronounce it depends on which English you speak. See this en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_dialects_of_the_English_language – Tristan r Jun 13 '14 at 20:33
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    There is no single right way to pronounce English words, given dialects, accents, etc. but there are certainly wrong ways to pronounce them- the important point is to be able to pronounce them in such a way as to make it clear to your listener what word you are saying. If you don't want to be teased about your pronunciation, pronounce words exactly as your friends do; and get better friends! – Jim Jun 13 '14 at 21:24
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    English isn't Mandarin. English does have a fixed way to pronounce words, but just not in the same way as Mandarin. Watch a movie with Chinese and English subtitles with sound in English. Notice how different the English way of speaking is from Mandarin. – Mitch Jun 13 '14 at 21:38
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    Unlike Mandarin, English is a natural language. There is no standardised form of English where everything is fixed; only dialects and idiolects. Mandarin is an artificially created language that corresponds largely (but not entirely) to some particular dialects. Hardly anyone speaks true Standard Mandarin naturally, and there is just as much variation in how words are pronounced in natural speech in Chinese as in English. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jun 13 '14 at 23:31
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Maybe what you are getting at is the fact that Chinese associates tones with different basic meanings (~words), whereas English uses tones to add additional meaning (including emotion) to either individual words or groups of words.

The same English word can often be pronounced with a high, low, rising, falling, or whatever tone. The basic meaning of the word typically remains the same when the tone changes. It is just "colored" differently. Tone can change the occurrence of a given word's connotation slightly or change the meaning of its surrounding words (context), but the basic meaning of the word typically stays the same.

English speakers don't tend to think of those different ways of saying the same word as different pronunciations, however.


Just for fun, try reading this sentence repeatedly, putting stress on a different word each time. The meaning changes fairly radically.

I didn't say you stole her money.

I didn't say you stole her money. (John said that.)

I didn't say you stole her money! (Emphatic denial.)

I didn't say you stole her money. (But maybe I insinuated it)

I didn't say you stole her money. (I said John did that.)

I didn't say you stole her money. (I said you borrowed it.)

I didn't say you stole her money. (I said you stole John's money.)

I didn't say you stole her money. (I said you stole her car.)

No change in the words or their pronunciation. Just a change in stress. Now think about how you would express those different meanings using Chinese.

  • +1 Nice to compare the role of intonation. [- Just a little niggle though. The words you and in particular, her will change their pronunciation when stressed ju→ju: and ə→hɜ:] – Araucaria Jun 15 '14 at 7:04

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