Chuan, Chuanr, Chuan'r, Chuan'er? How to Correctly Transliterate Beijing's Favorite Street Snack

Everybody eats it, and nobody seems to know how to spell it: The ubiquitous and delicious bits of lamb or other animal bits pressed on a stick and fired over a charcoal grill. You know it as 串儿 or, possibly, chuan’er, or chuanr, or chuan’r … 

A few weeks back, I received a terse message from an old friend, former long-time Beijing resident and literary translation stalwart Brendan O’Kane. Currently in Philadelphia serving time as a doctoral student at the University of Pennsylvania, Brendan took umbrage with my transliteration in a recent blogpost of the Beijing meat-based delicacy as “chuan’r." One 'r'. One apostrophe.

“Seriously, what the f*%k is with people writing “chuan’r” when the 兒 is nonsyllabic? There are RULES, you know! People at The Beijinger having been doing this for years – is it some kind of contagious brain parasite?”

In the interest of getting this right, we asked several experts from the field of Chinese language and linguistics – including Brendan – to help us settle the debate.