So sorry: pronouncing phái*-sè


A couple of people have asked me about the name of this blog and how to pronounce it. I was looking around for a suitable site to explain the POJ romanisation for Taiwanese but (of course, silly me) there isn’t one. If I were to give a rough approximation of the pronunciation of phái*-sè, the nearest equivalent in English would be pie-say. For those of you who know some Mandarin, the closest pinyin would be pai-sei (I know ‘sei’ is not a legitimate sound in Mandarin, but you get the picture).

And what’s going on with the asterisk? This denotes nasalisation of the preceding sound and is more often written with a superscript ‘n’: pháiⁿ-sè. However, there seems to be a display problem with this character on the Mac (which I use at home) so until that’s resolved, I’ll stick with the asterisk. As for what impact this has on the sound, imagine pronouncing the vowels as if you had a cold and you’ll get close. It helps if you screw up your nose at the same time. The accent marks over the vowels represent tones, but Taiwanese tones are such a nastily complex subject that I think I’ll leave that for another time.

As for the reason I chose to call this blog phái*-sè, it has to be one of the most useful words I have learned here – in fact it was the first word I learned in any Chinese language. It means ‘sorry’ (the Mandarin would be 不好意思; bùhăo yìsī) and it seems that many confrontations can be resolved by one party bowing their head briefly and saying “phái*-sè, phái*-sè!” Very handy indeed.