Pronunciation of the Chinese word Yuan  Yuan

May 4, 2006

This is a pet peeve of mine.

Recently there's been a lot of coverage of the pressure on China to devalue its currency, the Renminbi (RMB), or Yuan. Many professional reporters, some that specialize in Chinese affairs, continue to mispronounce the word Yuan as two syllables - "You-An". This is incorrect, sounds bad, and furthermore discredits the speaker. The correct pronunciation is just one syllable. The "Yu" is the consonant and the "an" is the vowel. It sound similar to the Japanese Yen but with an r sound between the Y and en.

To make things worst, a Google search of "Yuan pronunciation" yields many sites that also proclaim Yuan as "You-An". Guess that shows you that the Internet isn't always right.

Yuan's literal translation is dollar. The official term for the People's Republic of China dollar is the Renminbi, which translates to "the people's money". In Mandarin Chinese, each character is one syllable. Renminbi is actually three characters - ren, min and bi. The Pinyin Romanization calls for no spaces between characters of a word. So Ren-Min-Bi gets concatenated to Renminbi. This is confusing and unfortunate, I would much rather see capitalization of the first letter of each character, such as RenMinBi. This makes it explicit that there are three syllables.

We must also not forget about the other China, Taiwan, with its own government and currency. Their language also includes Mandarin Chinese, and Yuan also means dollar. Fortunately, the Western community refers to its current as the New Taiwan dollar, or NT.

So to summarize, the currency of Mainland China is the RMB, or Yuan. Yuan (sounds like yren) is one syllable. If that's too difficult to pronounce, then use RMB, which is equally valid. Just don't go around shouting "You-An".

RMB$1 - Mainland China
NT$50 - Taiwan

Links (most with incorrect pronunciation): 1 2 3 4 5 7 8

Copyright © 2006 Steve Kuo. All rights reserved.