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There are about 1200 or so unique (includes all tones) Mandarin Chinese syllables, according to some source I read a while back based off the Unihan database.

For my applications I'm limited to using only 1/3 of those 1200 syllables, but I do realize that there are a fair amount of obscure syllables that are hardly used in normal conversations. The problem is, how much of that 1200 is obscure and not so useful? How would being limited to using only 1/3 of it limit my speech? Would I be conversational? Or brought to the level of a grade schooler? Or even worse, unable to hold any sort of conversation?

  • What sort of application do you have that can only handle 400 syllables? – Alek Storm Sep 20 '11 at 19:10
  • its a hardware related issue that limits the amount of files I can use. I plan to make individual audio files for each syllables so that my program can speak chinese syllable by syllable. – mugetsu Sep 20 '11 at 19:24
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    I only asked one question essentially, what level of speech would 1/3 of the syllables provide me? – mugetsu Sep 20 '11 at 19:45
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    @JonPurdy, I assume you mean "onsets" and "codas," in which case your approach will sound less than natural, since segments are co-articulated to some degree and tone is suprasegmental (I'm not sure how much perceived degradation this will cause, though). mugetsu, you will have to deal with tone sandhi (which see on Wikipedia) to achieve best results. Luckily, Mandarin has relatively simple rules for this. – Aaron Sep 21 '11 at 7:00
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    @mugetsu: Not all characters are single-syllable. (eg: 圕) – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Sep 21 '11 at 12:53
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On this site I found the 413 most commonly used syllables in Chinese. They are 13 over your limit.

With these you can create thousands of characters, so the level will be pretty high, I think.

When visiting that site, you'll find 2 columns:

  • the first one is the syllables list written in pinyin;
  • the second column is the rough pronunciation according to the English rules.

Below I organized them for ease of reference (it's an image, I'm not sure you wanted just a list for reference or a txt file):

enter image description here

| improve this answer | |
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    @mugetsu: This chart doesn't account for tone, so you actually have potentially 5x the number of entries here if you need to represent the tones. – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Nov 22 '11 at 14:09
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    @Mr.ShinyandNew安宇 that's fine, I was able to go through the list and think of all the tones that are commonly used for each syllable. I managed to meet my limit to some degree, though there were a few significant sacrifices. But it's decent enough for common speech. – mugetsu Nov 26 '11 at 4:48

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