A Strange Variation in Alphabet Pronunciation

There are ups and downs to being a teacher. The downs? Grading papers and skulking the students to pay attention and listen in class. The ups? I can tell and laugh about the student’s mistakes afterwards.

editing_red_penAside from that argument with the grammatical error, I have had some good times over the past two years. One of the things that brought me equal parts pain and laughter is how my students pronounce the letters “m, n, and z“.

Normal people pronounce the letter “m” like “am“, “n” like “an“, and the letter “z” like “zzz” but for some reason, if you’re from Northern China, you pronounce the letter “m“, “am moo“, “n“, “un“, and the letter “z” sort of like “tsay“. Weird, right? I mean, who is teaching these people to say it this way?

That first day I heard it, I tried to correct them over and over. I say “am” but they somehow felt the need to add the “moo” at the end every time like a cow. In the end, it turned out I was the I was the idiot who tried to correct something that CANNOT be corrected.

Apparently, that’s how they use to differentiate between those two letters, by pronouncing it totally wrong. So I gave up and laughed eventually every time I hear the letters pronounced that way. It’s become like when someone tickles your funny bone, you have no choice but laugh.

My former boss is even crazy, he pronounces the letter “g” like “j” and the letter “j” like “jed“. So whenever I spell something to him, if I say “g“, he would write down the letter “j” instead unless I tell him it’s the one with the hook. Well, it turned out that Northern China has a different alphabet pronunciation than the south and I just never knew it.

5 thoughts on “A Strange Variation in Alphabet Pronunciation

  1. Pingback: Daily Prompt: Uncanned Laughter – Smitty Boats | tnkerr-Writing Prompts and Practice

  2. That was interesting. So, the people from the North can’t change the way they pronounce the letters? Is it hard-wired in their brains? The scientist in me wants to know. I believe it all comes down to the question about language and humans’ ability for language based on their ability for visualization, imagination, and reason.and most importantly, space and time. There’s a lot that goes into language besides having the anatomical structure for it. Perhaps there are certain aspects of pronunciation that are actually hard-wired like the above list of requirements. Yes, your post is very interesting very enlightening. Great job. Lucy.


    • Hmm, that’s a good question. I am not sure. I somewhat remember I was taught the same pronunciation in elementary school but still I don’t pronounce it like the north. Perhaps it’s hard-wired in their brains like you said. Believe me, I’ve been asking the similar questions ever since I heard the pronunciation the first time.


  3. “How much is this carpet?” “Low price, low price.” “Good! How much!” “LOW PRICE!” I switch to Mandarin. “Jige hen piao liang! Duo xiao tien?” “Mai yo.” Oh yeah! In Guangzhou “N” is often pronounced with “L.” NO price!! “Teacher, may I borrow your life?” I hand my student my Swiss army knife so she can peel her apple.


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