shuí yě bù zhīdào
Victor Mair received this message from a former student of his, and sent it in to us:
I just remembered one other question I’d been meaning to ask you. It’s about the character 谁. When I started taking Chinese years ago, my teachers and textbooks all told me to pronounce it “shei.” This spring, I was speaking to a visiting Chinese professor from Dalian who was teaching elementary Chinese, and she and her textbook teach the pronunciation of the same character as “shui.” When I asked her about this, she said that “shui” was more standard, and “shei” was a local variation used mostly around Beijing. Is that right? Among native speakers, who uses “shei,” and who uses “shui”?
This is a very interesting question.
I’ve only heard shuí twice in spoken communication in my almost 8 years of living in northeast China. I don’t have much idea of what newsreporters say because I only watch or listen to the news accidentally — if someone else has it on, but I’m pretty sure I’ve never heard it on TV or radio during those secondary-exposure moments. However, early on, I noticed that kids will read 谁 in isolation as shuí (for example if you point to the character and ask how to say it). When teaching English to elementary school level students, showing them a flashcard of “who” and asking them to translate, they almost invariably say “shuí”.
谁 is an extremely common word, and in the places I’ve been, I’ve never heard it pronounced shuí. Does anyone know of a place that usually pronounces it that way? Or even a certain kind of situation where it is normally used?
If anyone has experiences that are different from mine, please chime in.