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I am working on an art project that I would like to collect the hundreds of different transliterations of 「中文」 zhōng wén in Mandarin Chinese. (Pronunciation available here: https://translate.google.com/#zh-CN/de/中文)

How can I transliterate zhōng wén in Spanish? (For example, "zhong wen" would be the closest pronunciation in English.)

  • Wonderful question! Living in Mexicali, where the largest Chinese community in Mexico resides, with a vibrant and very active Chinese​cultural society. They have published Mandarin and Cantonese Pinyin manuals focused on Spanish speakers, I'll pick up a copy and see if there's standardization in this area! – hlecuanda Apr 7 '17 at 0:10
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Wikipedia indicates that

There have been many systems of romanisation throughout history. However, Hanyu Pinyin has become the international standard since 1982. Other well-known systems include Wade-Giles and Yale.

So I would stick with pinyin.

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My guess is that there must be a standard somewhere that you should follow. Otherwise... you're in problems...

"zh" in Spanish has no meaning besides the sound of a "z" followed by the sound of an "h" (which has no sound at all. So "zhong" in Spanish would be read as "thong" in English.

The closest sound to "zh" that I can think of would be the English "sh". In "standard" Spanish "sh" has no particular meaning, so you end up with an "s" sound (s + h = s + 0 = s). In ríoplatense Spanish you could write "yong" or "llong" and both would be read "shong", but in other regions they would be read "yong" or "lyong" respectively.

So you are left with "chong" which would be pronounced quite close to the way it is in English, with an initial affricate consonant (like "chimney").

Your best bet there would be to just go with "shong" or "zhong" and trust the Spanish speakers to realize that you mean it in a different way than in Spanish spelling.

For "wen" you have "wen", "uen" and "huen". All three have the same pronunciation. "wen" looks a bit foreign because the W is extremely rare in Spanish, but it is clear. "uen" is OK, and perhaps the best one. "huen" respects the "traditional" way of writing that sound, present in words such as "hueso" (/weso/, bone) and "huevo" (/wevo/, egg). But the same people that could understand "sh" or "zh" would feel inclined to pronounce that "h" like in "he", "her" or "hen".

For the tone, we have no representation in Spanish. So you en up with:

zhong or shong

and

uen or wen

and then... well I would just follow English and go with "zhong wen".

But first, I would google for a standard...

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Following your link and pressing the speaker icon beneath the text to try to hear how it is pronounced, if I were to write what I hear in Spanish, I would probably go for:

Chongüen

Or maybe something like the following to try to use some other combination of consonants apart from the most typical in Spanish:

Schonwen

I understand that you are aware of the existing of an international romanisation system called Pinyin, and I also understand that you are asking what would any Spanish-speaking person write when hearing that (the average Spanish-speaking person does not know how to transliterate in Pinyin).

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    I suppose it is worth adding that the sequence zh is not really familiar to English speakers either so we learn how to pronounce it in Chinese names as a separate exercise rather like your Schonwen example. – mdewey Apr 3 '17 at 14:27
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    English speakers also tend to pronounce zh as sh’s analogue, /ʒ/. The problem with that is that they would have gotten closer to the actual pronunciation by simply pronouncing it as a j. It’s a form of hyperforeignism. I suppose in the minds of such speakers, using a more exotic sound makes it less English and more Chinese. – Kevin Li Apr 13 '17 at 11:37
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Going by similar questions you’ve asked regarding other languages, the string of letters you’re probably looking for is choñuen. Most varieties of Spanish should produce a similar sound.

The sounds written in IPA (sans tones) would clarify exactly what is different:

  • Standard Mandarin: /ʈ͡ʂʊŋu̯ən/
  • Standard Spanish: /t͡ʃoɲwen/

This should be fairly pronounceable to a Spanish speaker. (And if you’ve noticed, it’s also the same IPA for the Italian pronunciation.) Each part can be found in native Spanish words like:

  • chocolate
  • pequeñuelo
  • buen
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