If you are learning Chinese, when you pass through South Shaanxi Road, you will be surprised to find its pinyin spelling is like this:
There are two “a” instead of “Shanxi”.
What is it?
Is this correct?
What’s going on here?
It turns out that this is because the street sign is not convenient for marking four tones of Chinese pronunciation. “山西南路“ and ”陕西南路“ have exactly the same pinyin if the tone is not marked. So how to distinguish?
As both of these two streets exist in Shanghai, we add a letter “a” to the pinyin of “陕西南路” in order to make a distinction.
So nowadays, when you see “Shanxi Rd”, it refers to “山西南路“. Because “山” is the first tone and it has priority in using this pinyin. While “Shaanxi Rd” refers to “陕西南路”.
This different marking method is a way to differentiate two pinyins with the same spelling when we have not their tones. This spelling, more than any other, is for practical reasons.
If it is a standard pinyin, “山西南路” should be spelled like “shānxī nán lù”, and “shǎnxī nán lù” for “陕西南路”.
By the way, the “South Shaanxi Road” in Shanghai is a street full of charm and suitable for taking a little walk, especially in autumn. The Moller Villa on this road is so beautiful that they say that it has been built from a little girl’s dream.