|Scheme of the Chinese Phonetic Alphabet|
|Min — Min Nan|
|Min — Min Dong|
Pinyin, or Hanyu Pinyin, is the official phonetic system for transcribing the Mandarin pronunciations of Chinese characters into the Latin alphabet in the People's Republic of China, Republic of China (Taiwan), and Singapore. It is often used to teach Standard Chinese and a pinyin without diacritic markers is often used in foreign publications to create Chinese names familiar to non-Chinese and may be used as an input method to enter Chinese characters into computers.
The Hanyu Pinyin system was developed in the 1950s based on earlier forms of romanization. It was published by the Chinese government in 1958 and revised several times. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) adopted pinyin as the international standard in 1982. The system was adopted as the official standard in Taiwan in 2009, where it is used for romanization alone rather than for educational and computer input purposes.
- 1 History before 1949
- 2 History after 1949
- 3 Usage
- 4 Overview
- 5 Initials and finals
- 6 Rules given in terms of English pronunciation
- 7 Orthography
- 8 Tones
- 9 The ü sound
- 10 Pinyin in Taiwan
- 11 Comparison with other orthographies
- 12 Other languages
- 13 See also
- 14 References
- 15 Further reading
- 16 External links
History before 1949
In 1605, the Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci published Xizi Qiji (《西字奇蹟》; Xīzì Qíjī; Hsi-tzu Ch'i-chi; "Miracle of Western Letters") in Beijing. This was the first book to use the Roman alphabet to write the Chinese language. Twenty years later, another Jesuit in China, Nicolas Trigault, issued his Xi Ru Ermu Zi (《西儒耳目資》; Hsi Ju Erh-mu Tzu; "Aid to the Eyes and Ears of Western Literati") at Hangzhou. Neither book had much immediate impact on the way in which Chinese thought about their writing system, and the romanizations they described were intended more for Westerners than for the Chinese.
One of the earliest Chinese thinkers to relate Western alphabets to Chinese was late Ming to early Qing Dynasty scholar-official, Fang Yizhi (方以智; Fāng Yǐzhì; Fang I-chih; 1611–1671).
The first late Qing reformer to propose that China adopt a system of spelling was Song Shu (1862–1910). A student of the great scholars, Yu Yue and Zhang Taiyan, Song had been to Japan and observed the stunning effect of the kana syllabaries and Western learning there. This galvanized him into activity on a number of fronts, one of the most important being reform of the script. While Song did not himself actually create a system for spelling Sinitic languages, his discussion proved fertile and led to a proliferation of schemes for phonetic scripts.
In the early 1930s, Communist Party of China leaders trained in Moscow introduced a phonetic alphabet using Roman letters which had been developed in the Soviet Oriental Institute of Leningrad and originally intended to improve literacy in the Russian Far East. This Sin Wenz or "New Writing" was much more linguistically sophisticated than earlier alphabets, with the major exception that it did not indicate tones.
In 1940, several thousand members attended a Border Region Sin Wenz Society convention. Mao Zedong and Zhu De, head of the army, both contributed their calligraphy (in characters) for the masthead of the Sin Wenz Society's new journal. Outside the CCP, other prominent supporters included Sun Yat-sen's son, Sun Fo; Cai Yuanpei, the country's most prestigious educator; Tao Xingzhi, a leading educational reformer; and Lu Xun. Over thirty journals soon appeared written in Sin Wenz, plus large numbers of translations, biographies (including Lincoln, Franklin, Edison, Ford, and Charlie Chaplin), some contemporary Chinese literature, and a spectrum of textbooks. In 1940, the movement reached an apex when Mao's Border Region Government declared that the Sin Wenz had the same legal status as traditional characters in government and public documents. Many educators and political leaders looked forward to the day when they would be universally accepted and completely replace characters. Opposition arose, however, because the system was less well adapted to writing regional languages, and therefore would require learning Mandarin. Sin Wenzi fell into relative disuse during the following years.
History after 1949
Pinyin was developed as part of a Chinese government project in the 1950s. One of the prominent figures was Zhou Youguang, who is often called "the father of pinyin", as he led a government committee in developing the romanization system. Zhou was working in a New York bank when he decided to return to China to help rebuild the country after the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949. Zhou became an economics professor in Shanghai, and in 1954, when China's Ministry of Education created a Committee for the Reform of the Chinese Written Language, Zhou was assigned the task of helping to develop a new romanization system.
Hanyu Pinyin was based on several preexisting systems: (Gwoyeu Romatzyh of 1928, Latinxua Sin Wenz of 1931, and the diacritic markings from zhuyin). "I’m not the father of pinyin," Zhou said years later, "I’m the son of pinyin. It’s [the result of] a long tradition from the later years of the Qing dynasty down to today. But we restudied the problem and revisited it and made it more perfect."
A first draft was published on February 12, 1956. The first edition of Hanyu Pinyin was approved and adopted at the Fifth Session of the 1st National People's Congress on February 11, 1958. It was then introduced to primary schools as a way to teach Standard Chinese pronunciation and used to improve the literacy rate among adults.
Beginning in the early 1980s, Western publications addressing Mainland China began using the Hanyu Pinyin romanization system instead of earlier romanization systems; this change followed the normalization of diplomatic relations between the United States and the PRC in 1979. In 2001, the PRC Government issued the National Common Language Law, providing a legal basis for applying pinyin. The current specification of the orthographic rules is laid down in the National Standard GB/T 16159-2012.
Pinyin superseded older romanization systems such as Wade-Giles (1859; modified 1892) and Chinese postal map romanization, and replaced zhuyin as the method of Chinese phonetic instruction in mainland China. The ISO adopted pinyin as the standard romanization for modern Chinese in 1982 (ISO 7098:1982, superseded by ISO 7098:1991); the United Nations followed suit in 1986. It has also been accepted by the government of Singapore, the United States' Library of Congress, the American Library Association, and many other international institutions.
The spelling of Chinese geographical or personal names in pinyin has become the most common way to transcribe them in English. Pinyin has also become the dominant method for entering Chinese text into computers in Mainland China, in contrast to Taiwan where Bopomofo is most commonly used.
Families outside of Taiwan who speak Mandarin as a mother tongue use pinyin to help children associate characters with spoken words which they already know. Chinese families outside of Taiwan who speak some other language as their mother tongue use the system to teach children Mandarin pronunciation when they learn vocabulary in elementary school.
Since 1958, pinyin has been actively used in adult education as well, making it easier for formerly illiterate people to continue with self-study after a short period of pinyin literacy instruction.
Pinyin has become a tool for many foreigners to learn the Mandarin pronunciation, and is used to explain both the grammar and spoken Mandarin coupled with Chinese characters (汉字; 漢字; Hanzi). Books containing both Chinese characters and pinyin are often used by foreign learners of Chinese; pinyin's role in teaching pronunciation to foreigners and children is similar in some respects to furigana-based books (with hiragana letters written above or next to kanji) in Japanese or fully vocalised texts in Arabic ("vocalised Arabic").
The tone-marking diacritics are commonly omitted in popular news stories and even in scholarly works. This results in some degree of ambiguity as to which words are being represented.
When a foreign writing system with one set of sounds and coding/decoding system is taken to write a language, certain compromises may have to be made. The result is that the decoding systems used in some foreign languages will enable non-native speakers to produce sounds more closely resembling the target language than will the coding/decoding system used by other foreign languages. Native speakers of English will decode pinyin spellings to fairly close approximations of Mandarin except in the case of certain speech sounds that are not ordinarily produced by most native speakers of English: j, q, x, z, c, s, zh, ch, sh, and r exhibiting the greatest discrepancies. (When Chinese speakers call out these letters, they read them as: ji, qi, xi, zi, ci, si, zhi, chi, shi, and ri. The i in the last four sounds more like r and the use of i is purely a matter of convention.)
In this system, the correspondence between the Roman letter and the sound is sometimes idiosyncratic, though not necessarily more so than the way the Latin script is employed in other languages. For example, the aspiration distinction between b, d, g and p, t, k is similar to that of English (in which the two sets are however also differentiated by voicing), but not to that of French. Z and c also have that distinction, pronounced as [ts] and [tsʰ]. From s, z, c come the digraphs sh, zh, ch by analogy with English sh, ch. Although this introduces the novel combination zh, it is internally consistent in how the two series are related, and reminds the trained reader that many Chinese pronounce sh, zh, ch as s, z, c (and English-speakers use zh to represent /ʒ/ in foreign languages such as Russian anyway). In the x, j, q series, the pinyin use of x is similar to its use in Portuguese, Galician, Catalan, Basque and Maltese; and the pinyin q is akin to its value in Albanian; both pinyin and Albanian pronunciations may sound similar to the ch to the untrained ear. Pinyin vowels are pronounced in a similar way to vowels in Romance languages.
The pronunciation and spelling of Chinese words are generally given in terms of initials and finals, which represent the segmental phonemic portion of the language, rather than letter by letter. Initials are initial consonants, while finals are all possible combinations of medials (semivowels coming before the vowel), the nucleus vowel, and coda (final vowel or consonant).
Initials and finals
Unlike European languages, clusters of letters – initials (声母; 聲母; shēngmǔ) and finals (韵母; 韻母; yùnmǔ) – and not consonant and vowel letters, form the fundamental elements in pinyin (and most other phonetic systems used to describe the Han language). Every Mandarin syllable can be spelled with exactly one initial followed by one final, except for the special syllable er or when a trailing -r is considered part of a syllable (see below). The latter case, though a common practice in some sub-dialects, is rarely used in official publications. One exception is the city Harbin (哈尔滨; 哈爾濱), whose name comes from the Manchu language.
Even though most initials contain a consonant, finals are not always simple vowels, especially in compound finals (复韵母; 複韻母; fùyùnmǔ), i.e., when a "medial" is placed in front of the final. For example, the medials [i] and [u] are pronounced with such tight openings at the beginning of a final that some native Chinese speakers (especially when singing) pronounce yī (衣, clothes, officially pronounced /í/) as /jí/ and wéi (围; 圍, to enclose, officially pronounced /uěi/) as /wěi/ or /wuěi/. Often these medials are treated as separate from the finals rather than as part of them; this convention is followed in the chart of finals below.
In each cell below, the bold letters indicate pinyin and the brackets enclose the symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet.
1 r may phonetically be [ʐ] (a voiced retroflex fricative) or [ɻ] (a retroflex approximant). This pronunciation varies among different speakers, and is not two different phonemes.
2 y is pronounced [ɥ] (a labial-palatal approximant) before u.
3 the letters w and y are not included in the table of initials in the official pinyin system. They are an orthographic convention for the medials i, u and ü when no initial is present. When i, u or ü are finals and no initial is present, they are spelled yi, wu, and yu, respectively. The conventional order (excluding w and y), derived from the zhuyin system, is:
b p m f d t n l g k h j q x zh ch sh r z c s
The following chart gives the combinations of medials and finals based on an analysis that assumes just two vowel nuclei, /a/ and /ə/; various allophones result depending on phonetic context.
In each cell below, the first line indicates IPA, the second indicates pinyin for a standalone (no-initial) form, and the third indicates pinyin for a combination with an initial. Other than finals modified by an -r, which are omitted, the following is an exhaustive table of all possible finals.1
The only syllable-final consonants in Standard Chinese are -n and -ng, and -r, which is attached as a grammatical suffix. A Chinese syllable ending with any other consonant either is from a non-Mandarin language (a southern Chinese language such as Cantonese, or a minority language of China), or indicates the use of a non-pinyin romanization system (where final consonants may be used to indicate tones).
|[u̯ɤŋ], [ʊŋ] 4
1 [ɑɻ] is written er. For other finals formed by the suffix -r, pinyin does not use special orthography; one simply appends r to the final that it is added to, without regard for any sound changes that may take place along the way. For information on sound changes related to final r, please see Erhua#Rules.
2 ü is written as u after j, q, x, or y.
3 uo is written as o after b, p, m, or f.
4 weng is pronounced [ʊŋ] (written as ong) when it follows an initial.
Technically, i, u, ü without a following vowel are finals, not medials, and therefore take the tone marks, but they are more concisely displayed as above. In addition, ê [ɛ] (欸; 誒) and syllabic nasals m (呒, 呣), n (嗯, 唔), ng (嗯, 𠮾) are used as interjections.
Rules given in terms of English pronunciation
All rules given here in terms of English pronunciation are approximations, as several of these sounds do not correspond directly to sounds in English.
Pronunciation of initials
|b||[p]||spit||unaspirated p, as in spit|
|p||[pʰ]||pay||strongly aspirated p, as in pit|
|m||[m]||may||as in English mummy|
|f||[f]||fair||as in English fun|
|d||[t]||stop||unaspirated t, as in stop|
|t||[tʰ]||take||strongly aspirated t, as in top|
|n||[n]||nay||as in English nit|
|l||[l]||lay||as in English love|
|g||[k]||skill||unaspirated k, as in skill|
|k||[kʰ]||kay||strongly aspirated k, as in kill|
|h||[x]||loch||roughly like the Scots ch. English h as in hay or, more closely in some American dialects, hero is an acceptable approximation. The best way to produce this sound is by very slowly making a "k" sound, pausing at the point where there is just restricted air flowing over the back of your tongue (after the release at the beginning of a "k")|
|j||[tɕ]||churchyard||No equivalent in English, but similar to an unaspirated "-chy-" sound when said quickly. Like q, but unaspirated. Not the s in Asia, despite the common English pronunciation of "Beijing". The sequence "ji" word-initially is the same as the Japanese pronunciation of じ(ジ) ji.|
|q||[tɕʰ]||punch yourself||No equivalent in English. Like punch yourself, with the lips spread wide with ee. Curl the tip of the tongue downwards to stick it at the back of the teeth and strongly aspirate. The sequence "qi" word-initially is the same as the Japanese pronunciation of ち(チ) chi.|
|x||[ɕ]||push yourself||No equivalent in English. Like -sh y-, with the lips spread and the tip of your tongue curled downwards and stuck to the back of teeth when you say ee. The sequence "xi" is the same as the Japanese pronunciation of し(シ) shi.|
|zh||[tʂ]||junk||Rather like ch (a sound between choke, joke, true, and drew, tongue tip curled more upwards). Voiced in a toneless syllable.|
|ch||[tʂʰ]||church||as in chin, but with the tongue curled upwards; very similar to nurture in American English, but strongly aspirated.|
|sh||[ʂ]||shirt||as in shoe, but with the tongue curled upwards; very similar to marsh in American English|
|r||[ʐ], [ɻ]||ray||Similar to the English z in azure and r in reduce, but with the tongue curled upwards, like a cross between English "r" and French "j". In Cyrillised Chinese the sound is rendered with the letter "ж".|
|z||[ts]||reads||unaspirated c, similar to something between suds and cats; as in suds in a toneless syllable|
|c||[tsʰ]||hats||like the English ts in cats, but strongly aspirated, very similar to the Czech, Polish and Slovak c.|
|s||[s]||say||as in sun|
|w||[w]||way||as in water.*|
|y||[j], [ɥ]||yea||as in yes. Before a u, pronounce it with rounded lips.*|
- * Note on y and w
Y and w are equivalent to the semivowel medials i, u, and ü (see below). They are spelled differently when there is no initial consonant in order to mark a new syllable: fanguan is fan-guan, while fangwan is fang-wan (and equivalent to *fang-uan). With this convention, an apostrophe only needs to be used to mark an initial a, e, or o: Xi'an (two syllables: [ɕi.an]) vs. xian (one syllable: [ɕi̯ɛn]). In addition, y and w are added to fully vocalic i, u, and ü when these occur without an initial consonant, so that they are written yi, wu, and yu. Some Mandarin speakers do pronounce a [j] or [w] sound at the beginning of such words—that is, yi [i] or [ji], wu [u] or [wu], yu [y] or [ɥy],—so this is an intuitive convention. See below for a few finals which are abbreviated after a consonant plus w/u or y/i medial: wen → C+un, wei → C+ui, weng → C+ong, and you → C+iu.
- ** Note on the apostrophe
The apostrophe (') is used before a syllable starting with a vowel (a, o, or e) in a multiple-syllable word when the syllable does not start the word (which is most commonly realized as [ɰ]), unless the syllable immediately follows a hyphen or other dash. This is done to remove ambiguity that could arise, as in Xi'an, which consists of the two syllables xi ("西") an ("安"), compared to such words as xian ("先"). (This ambiguity does not occur when tone marks are used: The two tone marks in Xīān unambiguously show that the word consists of two syllables. However, even with tone marks, the city is usually spelled with an apostrophe as Xī'ān.)
Pronunciation of finals
The following is a list of finals in Standard Chinese, excepting most of those ending with r.
To find a given final:
- Remove the initial consonant. Zh, ch, and sh count as initial consonants.
- Change initial w to u and initial y to i. For weng, wen, wei, you, look under ong, un, ui, iu.
- For u after j, q, x, or y, look under ü.
|Pinyin||IPA||Form with zero initial||Explanation|
|-i||[ɨ], [ɯ]||(n/a)||-i is a buzzed continuation of the consonant following z-, c-, s-, zh-, ch-, sh- or r-.
(In all other cases, -i has the sound of bee; this is listed below.)
|a||[ä]||a||like English "father", but a bit more fronted|
|e||[ɯ̯ʌ], [ə]||e||a diphthong consisting first of a back, unrounded semivowel (which can be formed by first pronouncing "w" and then spreading the lips without changing the position of the tongue) followed by a vowel similar to English "duh". Many unstressed syllables in Chinese use the schwa [ə] (idea), and this is also written as e.|
|ai||[aɪ̯]||ai||like English "eye", but a bit lighter|
|ei||[eɪ̯]||ei||as in "hey"|
|ao||[ɑʊ̯]||ao||approximately as in "cow"; the a is much more audible than the o|
|ou||[oʊ̯]||ou||as in "so"|
|an||[än]||an||like British English "ban", but more central|
|en||[ən]||en||as in "taken"|
|ang||[ɑŋ]||ang||as in German Angst (starts with the vowel sound in father and ends in the velar nasal; like song in some dialects of American English)|
|eng||[ɤŋ]||eng||like e in en above but with ng added to it at the back|
|er||[ɑɻ]||er||similar to the sound in "bar" in American English|
|Finals beginning with i- (y-)|
|i||[i]||yi||like English bee.|
|ia||[i̯ä]||ya||as i + a; like English "yard"|
|ie||[i̯ɛ]||ye||as i + ê; but is very short; e (pronounced like ê) is pronounced longer and carries the main stress (similar to the initial sound ye in yet)|
|iao||[i̯ɑʊ̯]||yao||as i + ao|
|iu||[i̯oʊ̯]||you||as i + ou|
|ian||[i̯ɛn]||yan||as i + ê + n; like English yen|
|in||[in]||yin||as i + n|
|iang||[i̯ɑŋ]||yang||as i + ang|
|ing||[iŋ]||ying||as i + ng|
|Finals beginning with u- (w-)|
|u||[u]||wu||like English "oo"|
|ua||[u̯ä]||wa||as u + a|
|uo, o||[u̯ɔ]||wo||as u + o where the o (compare with the o interjection) is pronounced shorter and lighter (spelled as o after b, p, m or f).|
|uai||[u̯aɪ̯]||wai||as u + ai like as in why|
|ui||[u̯eɪ̯]||wei||as u + ei;|
|uan||[u̯än]||wan||as u + an;|
|un||[u̯ən]||wen||as u + en; like the on in the English won;|
|uang||[u̯ɑŋ]||wang||as u + ang;|
|ong||[ʊŋ], [u̯ɤŋ]||weng||starts with the vowel sound in book and ends with the velar nasal sound in sing; as u + eng in zero initial.|
|Finals beginning with ü- (yu-)|
|u, ü||[y] ( )||yu||as in German "über" or French "lune" (To pronounce this sound, say "ee" with rounded lips)|
|ue, üe||[y̯œ]||yue||as ü + ê; the ü is short and light|
|uan||[y̯ɛn]||yuan||as ü + ê + n;|
|un||[yn]||yun||as ü + n;|
|iong||[i̯ʊŋ]||yong||as i + ong|
|ê||[ɛ]||(n/a)||as in "bet".|
|o||[ɔ]||(n/a)||Approximately as in "office" in British accent; the lips are much more rounded.|
|io||[i̯ɔ]||yo||as i + plain continental[clarification needed] "o".|
Pinyin differs from other romanizations in several aspects, such as the following:
- Syllables starting with u are written as w in place of u (e.g., uan is written as wan). Standalone u is written as wu.
- Syllables starting with i are written as y in place of i (e.g., ian is written as yan). Standalone i is written as yi.
- Syllables starting with ü are written as yu in place of ü (e.g., üe is written as yue).
- ü is written as u when there is no ambiguity (such as ju, qu, and xu), but written as ü when there are corresponding u syllables (such as lü and nü). In such situations where there are corresponding u syllables, it is often replaced with v on a computer, making it easier to type on a standard keyboard.
- When preceded by a consonant, iou, uei, and uen are simplified as iu, ui, and un (which do not represent the actual pronunciation).
- As in zhuyin, what are actually pronounced as buo, puo, muo, and fuo are given a separate representation: bo, po, mo, and fo.
- The apostrophe (') is used before a syllable starting with a vowel (a, o, or e) in a multiple-syllable word when the syllable does not start the word (which is most commonly realized as [ɰ]), unless the syllable immediately follows a hyphen or other dash. This is done to remove ambiguity that could arise, as in Xi'an, which consists of the two syllables xi ("西") an ("安"), compared to such words as xian ("先"). (This ambiguity does not occur when tone marks are used: The two tone marks in "Xīān" unambiguously show that the word consists of two syllables. However, even with tone marks, the city is usually spelled with an apostrophe as "Xī'ān".)
- Eh alone is written as ê; elsewhere as e. Schwa is always written as e.
- zh, ch, and sh can be abbreviated as ẑ, ĉ, and ŝ (z, c, s with a circumflex). However, the shorthands are rarely used due to difficulty of entering them on computers, and are confined mainly to Esperanto keyboard layouts.
- ng has the uncommon shorthand of ŋ.
- The letter v is unused (except in spelling foreign languages, languages of minority nationalities, and some dialects), despite a conscious effort to distribute letters more evenly than in Western languages. However, sometimes, for ease of typing into a computer, the v is used to replace a ü.
Most of the above are used to avoid ambiguity when writing words of more than one syllable in pinyin. For example uenian is written as wenyan because it is not clear which syllables make up uenian; uen-ian, uen-i-an and u-en-i-an are all possible combinations whereas wenyan is unambiguous because we, nya, etc. do not exist in pinyin. See the pinyin table article for a summary of possible pinyin syllables (not including tones).
Capitalization and word formation
Although Chinese characters represent single syllables, Mandarin Chinese is a polysyllabic language. Spacing in pinyin is based on whole words, not single syllables. However, there are often ambiguities in partitioning a word. Orthographic rules were put into effect in 1988 by the National Educational Commission (国家教育委员会; 國家教育委員會; Guójiā Jiàoyù Wěiyuánhuì) and the National Language Commission (国家语言文字工作委员会; 國家語言文字工作委員會; Guójiā Yǔyán Wénzì Gōngzuò Wěiyuánhuìlabels=no).
- Single meaning: Words with a single meaning, which are usually set up of two characters (sometimes one, seldom three), are written together and not capitalized: rén (人, person); péngyou (朋友, friend), qiǎokèlì (巧克力, chocolate)
- Combined meaning (2 characters): Same goes for words combined of two words to one meaning: hǎifēng (海风; 海風, sea breeze); wèndá (问答; 問答, Q&A), quánguó (全国; 全國, 'pan-national')
- Combined meaning (4 or more characters): Words with four or more characters having one meaning are split up with their original meaning if possible: wúfèng gāngguǎn (无缝钢管; 無縫鋼管, seamless steel-tube); huánjìng bǎohù guīhuà (环境保护规划; 環境保護規劃, environmental protection planning)
- Duplicated words
- AA: Duplicated characters (AA) are written together: rénrén (人人, everybody), kànkàn (看看, to have a look), niánnián (年年, every year)
- ABAB: two characters duplicated (ABAB) are written separated: yánjiū yánjiū (研究研究, to study, to research), xuěbái xuěbái (雪白雪白, snow-white)
- AABB: A hyphen is used with the schema AABB: láilái-wǎngwǎng (来来往往; 來來往往, go by), qiānqiān-wànwàn (千千万万; 千千萬萬, numerous)
- Nouns and names (míngcí): Nouns are written in one: zhuōzi (桌子, table), mùtou (木头; 木頭, wood)
- Even if accompanied by a prefix and suffix: fùbùzhǎng (副部长; 副部長, vice minister), chéngwùyuán (乘务员; 乘務員, conductor), háizimen (孩子们; 孩子們, children)
- Words of position are separated: mén wài (门外; 門外, outdoor), hé li (河里; 河裏, under the river), huǒchē shàngmian (火车上面; 火車上面, on the train), Huáng Hé yǐnán (黄河以南; 黃河以南, south of the Yellow River)
- Exceptions are words traditionally connected: tiānshang (天上, in the sky or outerspace), dìxia (地下, on the ground), kōngzhōng (空中, in the air), hǎiwài (海外, overseas)
- Surnames are separated from the given name: Lǐ Huá, Zhāng Sān. If the given name consists of two syllables, it should be written as one: Wáng Jiàngguó.
- Titles following the name are separated and are not capitalized: Wáng bùzhǎng (minister Wang), Lǐ xiānsheng (Mr. Li), Tián zhǔrèn (director Tian), Zhào tóngzhì (comrade Zhao).
- The forms of addressing people with Lǎo, Xiǎo, Dà and A are capitalized: Xiǎo Liú ([young] Ms./Mr. Liu), Dà Lǐ ([great;elder] Mr. Li), A Sān (Ah San), Lǎo Qián ([senior] Mr. Qian), Lǎo Wú ([senior] Mr. Wu)
- Geographical names of China: Běijīng Shì (City of Beijing), Héběi Shěng (Province of Hebei), Yālù Jiāng (Yalu River), Tài Shān (Mt. Tai), Dòngtíng Hú (Dongting Lake), Táiwān Hǎixiá (Taiwan strait)
- Verbs (dòngcí): Verbs and their suffixes (-zhe, -le and -guo) are written as one: kànzhe/kànle/kànguo (to see/saw/seen), jìngxíngzhe (to implement). Le as it appears in the end of a sentence is separated though: Huǒchē dào le (The train [has] arrived).
- Verbs and their objects are separated: kàn xìn (read a letter), chī yú (eat fish), kāi wánxiào (to be kidding).
- If verbs and their complements are each monosyllabic, they are written together, if not, separated: gǎohuài (to make broken), dǎsǐ (hit to death), huàwéi (to become damp), zhěnglǐ hǎo (to straighten out), gǎixiě wéi (rewrite a screenplay)
- Adjectives (xíngróngcí): A monosyllabic adjective and its reduplication are written as one: mēngmēngliàng (dim), liàngtāngtāng (shining bright)
- Complements of size or degree (as xiē, yīxiē, diǎnr, yīdiǎnr) are written separated: dà xiē (a little bigger), kuài yīdiānr (a bit faster)
- Pronouns (dàicí)
- The plural suffix -men directly follows up: wǒmen (we), tāmen (they)
- The demonstrative pronoun zhè (this), nà (that) and the question pronoun nǎ (which) are separated: zhè rén (this person), nà cì huìyì (that meeting), nǎ zhāng bàozhǐ (which newspaper)
- Exceptions are: nàli (there), zhèbian (over here), zhège (this piece), zhème (so), zhèmeyàng (that way)... and similar ones.
- Numerals and measure words (shùcí hé liàngcí)
- Words like gè/měi (every, each), mǒu (any), běn (that), gāi (that), wǒ (mine, our), are separated from the measure words following them: gè guó (every nation), gè gè (everyone), měi nián (every year), mǒu gōngchǎng (a certain factory), wǒ xiào (our school), liǎng ge rén (two people).
- Numbers up to 100 are written as single words: sānshísān (thirty-three). Above that, the hundreds, thousands, etc. are written as separate words: jiǔyì qīwàn èrqiān sānbǎi wǔshíliù (900,072,356).
- The dì of ordinal numerals is hyphenated: dì-yī (first), dì-356 (356th).
- Other function words (xūcí) are separated from their objects, including:
- Adverbs: hěn hǎo (very good), zuì kuài (fastest), fēicháng dà (extremely big)
- Prepositions: zài qiánmiàn (at the front)
- Conjunctions: nǐ hé wǒ (you and I/me), Nǐ lái háishi bù lái? (Are you coming or not?)
- "Constructive auxiliaries" (jiégòu zhùcí), the enclitics such as de (的) and zhi (之).: mànmàn de zou (go slowly)
- Modal auxiliaries at the end of a sentence: Zhīdào ma? (Y'know?), Kuài qù ba! (Git!)
- Exclamations and interjections: A, zhēn měi! (Oh, that's so beautiful!), Pā! (Bang!)
- Hyphenation In addition to the ordinals mentioned above, there are three situations where words are hyphenated.
- Coordinate and disjunctive compound words, where the two elements are conjoined or opposed, but retain their individual meaning: gōng-jiàn (bow and arrow), kuài-màn (speed: "fast-slow"), shíqī-bā suì (17–18 years old), dǎ-mà (beat and scold), Yīng-Hàn (English-Chinese [dictionary]), Jīng-Jīn (Beijing-Tianjin), lù-hǎi-kōngjūn (army-navy-airforce).
- Abbreviated compounds (luèyǔ): gōnggòng guānxì (public relations) → gōng-guān, chángtú diànhuà (long-distance telephone call) → cháng-huà.
Exceptions are made when the abbreviated term has become established as a word in its own right, as in chūzhōng for chūjí zhōngxué (junior high school). Abbreviations of proper-name compounds, however, should always be hyphenated: Běijīng Dàxué (Beijing University) → Běi-Dà.
- Four-syllable idioms: fēngpíng-làngjìng (calm and tranquil: "wind calm, waves down"), huījīn-rútǔ (spend money like water: "throw gold like dirt"), zhǐ-bǐ-mò-yàn (paper-brush-ink-inkstone [four coordinate words]). (The AA-BB reduplication above is an instance of this.)
The pinyin system also uses diacritics to mark the four tones of Mandarin. The diacritic is placed over the letter that represents the syllable nucleus, unless that letter is missing (see below). Many books printed in China use a mix of fonts, with vowels and tone marks rendered in a different font from the surrounding text, tending to give such pinyin texts a typographically ungainly appearance. This style, most likely rooted in early technical limitations, has led many to believe that pinyin's rules call for this practice and also for the use of a Latin alpha (ɑ) rather than the standard style of the letter (a) found in most fonts. The official rules of Hanyu Pinyin, however, specify no such practice.
- The first tone (Flat or High Level Tone) is represented by a macron (ˉ) added to the pinyin vowel:
ā (ɑ̄) ē ī ō ū ǖ Ā Ē Ī Ō Ū Ǖ
- The second tone (Rising or High-Rising Tone) is denoted by an acute accent (ˊ):
á (ɑ́) é í ó ú ǘ Á É Í Ó Ú Ǘ
- The third tone (Falling-Rising or Low Tone) is marked by a caron/háček (ˇ). It is not the rounded breve (˘), though a breve is sometimes substituted due to font limitations.
ǎ (ɑ̌) ě ǐ ǒ ǔ ǚ Ǎ Ě Ǐ Ǒ Ǔ Ǚ
- The fourth tone (Falling or High-Falling Tone) is represented by a grave accent (ˋ):
à (ɑ̀) è ì ò ù ǜ À È Ì Ò Ù Ǜ
- The fifth tone (Neutral Tone) is represented by a normal vowel without any accent mark:
a (ɑ) e i o u ü A E I O U Ü
- (In some cases, this is also written with a dot before the syllable; for example, ·ma.)
These tone marks normally are only used in Mandarin textbooks or in foreign learning texts, but they are essential for correct pronunciation of Mandarin syllables, as exemplified by the following classic example of five characters whose pronunciations differ only in their tones:
The words are "mother", "hemp", "horse", "scold" and a question particle, respectively.
Numerals in place of tone marks
Before the advent of computers, many typewriter fonts did not contain vowels with macron or caron diacritics. Tones were thus represented by placing a tone number at the end of individual syllables. For example, tóng is written tong2. The number used for each tone is as the order listed above, except the neutral tone, which is either not numbered, or given the number 0 or 5, e.g. ma5 for 吗/嗎, an interrogative marker.
|Tone||Tone Mark||Number added to end of syllable
in place of tone mark
|First||macron ( ¯ )||1||mā||ma1||mɑ˥|
|Second||acute accent ( ´ )||2||má||ma2||mɑ˧˥|
|Third||caron ( ˇ )||3||mǎ||ma3||mɑ˨˩˦|
|Fourth||grave accent ( ` )||4||mà||ma4||mɑ˥˩|
or dot before syllable (·)
Rules for placing the tone mark
Briefly, the tone mark should always be placed by the order—a, o, e, i, u, ü, with the only exception being iu, where the tone mark is placed on the u instead. Pinyin tone marks appear primarily above the nucleus of the syllable, for example as in kuài, where k is the initial, u the medial, a the nucleus, and i the coda. The exception is syllabic nasals like /m/, where the nucleus of the syllable is a consonant, the diacritic will be carried by a written dummy vowel.
When the nucleus is /ə/ (written e or o), and there is both a medial and a coda, the nucleus may be dropped from writing. In this case, when the coda is a consonant n or ng, the only vowel left is the medial i, u, or ü, and so this takes the diacritic. However, when the coda is a vowel, it is the coda rather than the medial which takes the diacritic in the absence of a written nucleus. This occurs with syllables ending in -ui (from wei: (wèi → -uì) and in -iu (from you: yòu → -iù.) That is, in the absence of a written nucleus the finals have priority for receiving the tone marker, as long as they are vowels: if not, the medial takes the diacritic.
An algorithm to find the correct vowel letter (when there is more than one) is as follows:
- If there is an a or an e, it will take the tone mark.
- If there is an ou, then the o takes the tone mark.
- Otherwise, the second vowel takes the tone mark.
- If there is an a, e, or o, it will take the tone mark; in the case of ao, the mark goes on the a.
- Otherwise, the vowels are -iu or -ui, in which case the second vowel takes the tone mark.
If the tone is written over an i, the tittle above the i is omitted, as in yī.
The placement of the tone marker, when more than one of the written letters a, e, i, o, and u appears, can also be inferred from the nature of the vowel sound in the medial and final. The rule is that the tone marker goes on the spelled vowel that is not a (near-)semi-vowel. The exception is that, for triphthongs that are spelled with only two vowel letters, both of which are the semi-vowels, the tone marker goes on the second spelled vowel.
Specifically, if the spelling of a diphthong begins with i (as in ia) or u (as in ua), which here serves as a near-semi-vowel, this letter does not take the tone marker. Likewise, if the spelling of a diphthong ends with o or u representing a near-semi-vowel (as in ao or ou), this letter does not receive a tone marker. In a triphthong spelled with three of a, e, i, o, and u (with i or u replaced by y or w at the start of a syllable), the first and third letters coincide with near-semi-vowels and hence do not receive the tone marker (as in iao or uai or iou). But if no letter is written to represent a triphthong's middle (non-semi-vowel) sound (as in ui or iu), then the tone marker goes on the final (second) vowel letter.
Using tone colors
In addition to tone number and mark, tone color has been suggested as a visual aid for learning. Although there are no formal standards, there are a number of different color schemes in use.
- Dummitt's color scheme was one of the first to be used. It is tone 1 - red, tone 2 - orange, tone 3 - green, tone 4 - blue and neutral tone - black.
- The Unimelb color scheme is tone 1 - blue, tone 2 - green, tone 3 - purple, tone 4 - red, neutral tone - grey
- The Hanping color scheme is tone 1 - blue, tone 2 - green, tone 3 - orange, tone 4 - red, neutral tone - grey.
- The Pleco color scheme is tone 1 - red, tone 2 - green, tone 3 - blue, tone 4 - purple, neutral tone - grey
- The Thomas color scheme is tone 1 - green, tone 2 - blue, tone 3 - red, tone 4 - black, neutral tone - grey
Third tone exceptions
In spoken Chinese, the third tone is often pronounced as a "half third tone," in which the pitch does not rise. Additionally, when two third tones appear consecutively, such as in 你好 (nǐhǎo, hello), the first syllable is pronounced with the second tone. In pinyin, words like "hello" are still written with two third tones (nǐhǎo).
The ü sound
An umlaut is placed over the letter u when it occurs after the initials l and n in order to represent the sound [y]. This is necessary in order to distinguish the front high rounded vowel in lü (e.g. 驴; 驢; "donkey") from the back high rounded vowel in lu (e.g. 炉; 爐; "oven"). Tonal markers are added on top of the trema, as in lǘ.
However, the ü is not used in the other contexts where it could represent a front high rounded vowel, namely after the letters j, q, x and y. For example, the sound of the word 鱼/魚 (fish) is transcribed in pinyin simply as yú, not as yǘ. This practice is opposed to Wade-Giles, which always uses ü, and Tongyong Pinyin, which always uses yu. Whereas Wade-Giles needs to use the trema to distinguish between chü (pinyin ju) and chu (pinyin zhu), this ambiguity cannot arise with pinyin, so the more convenient form ju is used instead of jü. Genuine ambiguities only happen with nu/nü and lu/lü, which are then distinguished by a trema (diacritic).
Many fonts or output methods do not support a trema for ü or cannot place tone marks on top of ü. Likewise, using ü in input methods is difficult because it is not present as a simple key on many keyboard layouts. For these reasons v is sometimes used instead by convention. For example, it is common for cellphones to use v instead of ü. Additionally, some stores in China use v instead of ü in the transliteration of their names. The drawback is that there are no tone marks for the letter v.
This also presents a problem in transcribing names for use on passports, affecting people with names that consist of the sound lü or nü, particularly people with the surname 吕 (Lǚ), a fairly common surname, particularly compared to the surname 陆 (Lù), 鲁 (Lǔ), 卢 (Lú) and 路 (Lù). Previously, the practice varied among different passport issuing offices, with some transcribing as "LV" and "NV" while others used "LU" and "NU". On 10 July 2012, the Ministry of Public Security standardized the practice to use "LYU" and "NYU" in passports.
Although nüe written as nue, and lüe written as lue are not ambiguous, nue or lue are not correct according to the rules; nüe and lüe should be used instead. However, some Chinese input methods (e.g. Microsoft Pinyin IME) support both nve/lve (typing v for ü) and nue/lue.
Pinyin in Taiwan
Taiwan (Republic of China) adopted Tongyong Pinyin, a modification of Hanyu Pinyin, as the official romanization system on the national level between October 2002 and January 2009, when it switched to Hanyu Pinyin. Tongyong Pinyin ("official phonetic"), a variant of pinyin developed in Taiwan, was designed to romanize languages and dialects spoken on the island in addition to Mandarin Chinese. The Kuomintang (Chinese Nationalist Party) resisted its adoption, preferring the Hanyu Pinyin system used in Mainland China and in general use internationally. Romanization preferences quickly became associated with issues of national identity. Preferences split along party lines: the Kuomintang and its affiliated parties in the pan-blue coalition supported the use of Hanyu Pinyin while the Democratic Progressive Party and its affiliated parties in the pan-green coalition favored the use of Tongyong Pinyin.
Tongyong Pinyin was made the official system in an administrative order that allowed its adoption by local governments to be voluntary. A few localities with governments controlled by the Kuomintang (KMT), most notably Taipei, Hsinchu, and Kinmen County, overrode the order and converted to Hanyu Pinyin before the January 1, 2009 national-level switch, though with a slightly different capitalization convention than mainland China. Most areas of Taiwan adopted Tongyong Pinyin, consistent with the national policy. Many street signs in Taiwan today still display Tongyong Pinyin but some, especially in northern Taiwan, display Hanyu Pinyin. It is still not unusual to see spellings on street signs and buildings derived from the older Wade-Giles, MPS2 and other systems.
The adoption of Hanyu Pinyin as the official romanization system in Taiwan does not preclude the official retention of earlier spellings. International familiarity has led to the retention of the spelling Taipei ("Taibei" in pinyin systems) and even to its continuation in the name of New Taipei, a municipality created in 2010. Personal names on Taiwanese passports honor the choices of Taiwanese citizens, who often prefer the Wade-Giles romanization of their personal names. Transition to Hanyu Pinyin in official use is also necessarily gradual. Universities and other government entities retain earlier spellings in long-established names, budget restraints preclude widespread replacement of signage and stationery in every area, and questions remain about the ability of the national government to enforce the standard island-wide. Primary education in Taiwan continues to teach pronunciation using zhuyin (MPS or Mandarin Phonetic Symbols).
Comparison with other orthographies
Pinyin is now used by foreign students learning Chinese as a second language.
Pinyin assigns some Latin letters sound values which are quite different from that of most languages. This has drawn some criticism as it may lead to confusion when uninformed speakers apply either native or English assumed pronunciations to words. However this is not a specific problem of pinyin, since many languages that use the Latin alphabet natively assign different values to the same letters. A recent study on Chinese writing and literacy concluded, "By and large, pinyin represents the Chinese sounds better than the Wade-Giles system, and does so with fewer extra marks."
Pinyin is purely a representation of the sounds of Mandarin, therefore it lacks the semantic cues that Chinese characters can provide. It is also unsuitable for transcribing some Chinese spoken languages other than Mandarin.
Chart of comparison with other romanizations
Computer input systems
Simple computer systems, able to display only 7-bit ASCII text (essentially the 26 Latin letters, 10 digits and punctuation marks), long provided a convincing argument in favor of pinyin over Chinese characters. Today, however, most computer systems are able to display characters from Chinese and many other writing systems as well, and have them entered with a Latin keyboard using an input method editor. Alternatively, some PDAs, tablet computers and digitizing tablets allow users to input characters directly by writing with a stylus.
Pinyin-like systems have been devised for other variants of Chinese. Guangdong Romanization is a set of romanizations devised by the government of Guangdong province for Cantonese, Teochew, Hakka (Moiyen dialect), and Hainanese. All of these are designed to use Latin letters in a similar way to pinyin.
In addition, in accordance to the Regulation of Phonetic Transcription in Hanyu Pinyin Letters of Place Names in Minority Nationality Languages (少数民族语地名汉语拼音字母音译转写法; 少數民族語地名漢語拼音字母音譯寫法) promulgated in 1976, place names in non-Han languages like Mongolian, Uyghur, and Tibetan are also officially transcribed using pinyin in a system adopted by the State Administration of Surveying and Mapping and Geographical Names Committee known as SASM/GNC romanization. The pinyin letters (26 Roman letters, ü, ê) are used to approximate the non-Han language in question as closely as possible. This results in spellings that are different from both the customary spelling of the place name, and the pinyin spelling of the name in Chinese:
|Customary||Official (pinyin for local name)||Traditional Chinese name||Simplified Chinese name||Pinyin for Chinese name|
- Transcription into Chinese characters
- Chinese postal map romanization
- Combining character
- Erhua (儿化)
- Jyutping (most similar to IPA)
- Legge romanization
- List of ISO romanizations
- Pinyin input method
- Pinyin table
- Romanization of Japanese
- Simplified Wade
- Tibetan pinyin
- Tone number
- Tongyong Pinyin
- Snowling, Margaret J.; Hulme, Charles (2005). The science of reading: a handbook. Blackwell handbooks of developmental psychology) 17. Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 320–22. ISBN 1-4051-1488-6.
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- Rohsenow, John S. 1989. Fifty years of script and written language reform in the PRC: the genesis of the language law of 2001. In Zhou Minglang and Sun Hongkai, eds. Language Policy In The People's Republic Of China: Theory And Practice Since 1949, p. 23
- Branigan, Tania (2008-02-21). "Sound principles". The Guardian (London).
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- Terry, Edith. How Asia Got Rich: Japan, China and the Asian Miracle. M.E. Sharpe, 2002. 632. Retrieved from Google Books on August 7, 2011. ISBN 0-7656-0356-X, 9780765603562.
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- Price (2005), pp. 206–208
- Hashimoto, Mantaro (1970). "Notes on Mandarin Phonology". In Jakobson, Roman; Kawamoto, Shigeo. Studies in General and Oriental Linguistics. Tokyo: TEC. pp. 207–220
- You can hear recordings of the Finals here
- "Apostrophes in Hanyu Pinyin: when and where to use them".
- "Use of the Hyphen; Abbreviations and Short Forms". Pinyin.info. Retrieved 2012-04-06.
- Swofford, Mark. "Where do the tone marks go?". Pinyin.info. Retrieved 2008-09-20.
- Nathan Dummitt, Chinese Through Tone & Color (2008)
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- Li, Zhiyan. ""吕"拼音到怎么写？ 公安部称应拼写成"LYU"". Retrieved 23 August 2012.
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- Yin Binyong/尹斌庸 and Mary Felley (1990). Chinese Romanization. Pronunciation and Orthography (Hanyu Pinyin he zhengcifa 汉语拼音和正词法). Beijing: Sinolingua. ISBN 7-80052-148-6 / ISBN 0-8351-1930-0.
- Gao, J. K. (2005). Pinyin shorthand: a bilingual handbook = [Pinyin su ji fa]. Dallas, TX: Jack Sun. ISBN 1-59971-251-2
- Kimball, R. L. (1988). Quick reference Chinese: a practical guide to Mandarin for beginners and travelers in English, Pinyin romanization, and Chinese characters. San Francisco, CA: China Books & Periodicals. ISBN 0-8351-2036-8
- Uy, Dr. Tim and Jim Hsia (ed.) (2009). Webster's Digital Chinese Dictionary: Advanced Reference Edition. Mountain View, CA: Loqu8 Press.
- Wu, C.-j. (1979). The Pinyin Chinese–English dictionary. Hong Kong: Commercial Press. ISBN 0-471-27557-3
- (Proper sound of pinyin from zdic.net with sounds, require java script turned on)
- Pinyin-Hanzi-English Chinese-English dictionary
- Pinyin-English news summary for learners of Chinese language
- Free Pinyin Tutorial (Chinese & Beyond)
- Basic Rules of Hanyu Pinyin Orthography by Zhou Youguang (Pinyin.info. Now superseded by GB/T 16159-2012 below.)
- Basic Rules for Hanyu Pinyin Orthography (National Standard of the People's Republic of China (ICS 01.140.10), 1996. Now superseded by GB/T 16159-2012 below.)
- Basic rules of the Chinese phonetic alphabet orthography (The official standard GB/T 16159-2012 in Chinese. PDF version from the Linguistic Society of Hong Kong.) (Internet Archive)
- The Chinese phonetic alphabet spelling rules for Chinese names (The official standard GB/T 28039-2011 in Chinese. PDF version from the Chinese Ministry of Education.)
- Interactive Pinyin Table
- Mandarin Chinese Pinyin Table
- Table of Combinations of Initials and Finals (Pinyin.info)
- Free Chinese Pronunciation Online
- Pinyin Listening Test for 4 Tones
- Pinyin Tone Recognition Test
- Refresh how to pronounce a word in Pinyin
|Official romanization adopted
by the People's Republic of China
|de facto used romanization
by the People's Republic of China
|Official romanization adopted
by the Republic of China (Taiwan)