10 November 2007


Edited, September 14, 2008: This site is now at pronunciationguide.info.

pronunciationguide.org: A Guide for Classical Radio Announcers (and whoever else is interested), by Chris Wendl, whose day job is as a mathematician. The purpose of the guide was originally to inform classical radio announcers how to pronounce the names they run across, but the information therein is general enough that it should be useful to anyone who needs to pronounce foreign names. That includes a lot of mathematicians, though -- mathematics, like music, is practiced by people all over the world. (In particular, welcome to my many Spanish-speaking readers! I'd welcome you in your own language, but I can only read Spanish, not write it.)

Unfortunately it's focused only on European languages, since classical music is for the most part a European art form; the language I'd really like to have a decent guide for pronouncing is Mandarin, because there are so many Chinese mathematicians. I suspect it's out there if I take the time to look.


.mau. said...

I actually hate the American (and British too, I suppose) way to show pronunciation by means of careful concocted syllables. IPA is much better, at least for Western words... and I fear that Chinese, with its tones, could not be expressed anyway in such a way.

Isabel said...


I think I would feel the same way if I knew IPA a little better.g

dimpase said...

modern Chinese has the transliteration standard called Pinyin: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pinyin

It's unfortunately not so easy to learn (I basically had do, as I teach in Singapore). One is in for few surprises, such as that "x" is pronounced roughly as "sh", and that "g" in "ng" is not (or seldom - but it also depends on the Chinese dialect, and there are plenty of them, with large deviations from the standard)) pronounced. Also, be warned that non-mainland China Chinese might have used in the past other ways to write their names in Latin alphabet.

Aaron said...

Agreed: Chinese romanization is a mess! It looks, unfortunately, as though we're stuck with pinyin. I'd rather have pinyin than Wade-Giles, of course, and pinyin is probably convenient for people typing Chinese text on English keyboards... but personally, I'd rather do everything in IPA! Maybe it's just my European-language bias talking, but IPA seems very powerful, and because it's based on the physical motions used to produce sound, rather than the sounds themselves, it makes much more sense to me than other transcription systems. IPA also has some notation for tones, although it doesn't look nearly extensive enough—I can't find, for example, anything that looks like the tones you normally hear in Chinese.

Isabel—I tried learning IPA a few times in the past, but I always gave up pretty quickly; there were just too many symbols to memorize! It was only recently, when my Spanish teacher hooked me up with a talking IPA chart, that I realized that there's actually a very simple pattern to the sounds. The symbols are still a mystery to me, but in my free time I've been working on a set of alternative symbols that capture the pattern better, and my life has become much easier as a result. :)

Mike Cassidy said...

Try Chinesepod.com; you can find it on iTunes stores. I know people who use it, they are Chinese but do not speak Mandarin, and say it is very good.

I've been using Japanesepod101.com, which is modeled on/inspired by Chinesepod.com and it is very very good.

Chris Wendl said...

Hi Isabel; I just happened upon this post through google. Thanks for the plug!

I agree that in the best of all possible worlds, IPA would be the right choice... but every choice other than actually learning the languages has disadvantages, and for IPA I felt that the overhead involved in learning it makes it impractical for the general public. It's great for linguistics and language enthusiasts of course, but that's not most people. The dumbed down American spelling is a compromise.

As for Chinese: I'd love to include a page on Pinyin if I had the time... in theory I'd love to include Gaelic and Basque and Armenian as well... trouble is I don't know where that list would end, and as you know, math is hard.

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to add a quick note that the address of the site mentioned above has moved: it is now


not ".org".