Wednesday, October 10, 2007


A colleague recently asked about the pronunciation of Tan, the commonest Chinese surname in Singapore. Specifically, he wanted to know why some Singaporeans pronounce it with a long vowel (as in barn), whereas most non-Singaporean native speakers of English rhyme it with man (i.e. the way tan is pronounced in English, since it is an English word).

It is worth remembering that Tan is merely an approximate transliteration (as most transliterations tend to be) of the Teochew or Hokkien variant of the surname, the pronunciation of which is closer to ton/tonne with an unaspirated /t/. The other two pronunciations are spelling-pronunciations — that is, pronouncing a word or name according to how it is spelt.

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