A panorama of Chinese dialects, painted by speakers through their stories
乡音苑 Phonemica · About Us

About Us

Phonemica is a crowd-sourced project to record spoken stories in every one of the thousands of varieties of Chinese. We believe that each language and dialect is a priceless cultural treasure embedding history, social customs -- the knowledge of a people. The Chinese language today contains thousands of language varieties, with differences as wide as Mandarin and Cantonese, as nuanced as the different words of neighboring villages.

But with more and more people speaking Standard Mandarin with family members, coworkers, friends and schoolmates, many of these languages will disappear.

We can’t stop this change, but we want to preserve the cultural heritage. And we need your help. We are collecting stories from grandparents, aunts, neighbours, parents, teachers, friends, and you. They will be transcribed and shared on our site for others to hear.

The recordings will provide a way for future generations to hear the stories of those parents, teachers and friends, told using the language they shared in common. At the same time the recordings will help linguists study the history and development of the Chinese language, allowing us to better understand the rich history of China, with its many periods of mass migration and the spread of cultural developments.

We all have a story to share. Help us share yours.

Our work

We begin by finding storytellers. We interview them – sometimes in the dialect of their home village, sometimes in a variety of standard Mandarin – then put the recording online, transcribe it into Chinese characters, into a Romanized (Latin alphabet) version, and into the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). Also, we translate each story into English.

All this work is done by Phonemica volunteers, both online and off. If you’re interested, please get involved!

Our history

Phonemica was launched by Kellen Parker and Steve Hansen in May 2012. Kellen had come up with an outline of Phonemica many years earlier, probably 2008, with the general idea of showcasing dialect differences. As he and Steve worked on it through 2009-10, the idea gradually developed into what you see today.

Our team

Phonemica is mostly about our volunteers, who make it possible. The site was started and is maintained by Kellen Parker and Steve Hansen. Feel free to contact us -- we're always happy to talk about what we're doing. More information is available about Kellen and Steve on Sinoglot.

Our pronunciation

Chinese: [ɕiɑŋ⁵⁵ in⁵⁵ ɥɛn⁵¹]
English: [fə 'niː mɪ kə]