Saturday, October 4, 2008


Pinyin, more formally Hanyu pinyin, is the most common Standard Mandarin romanization system in use. ''Hanyu'' means the Chinese language, and ''pinyin'' means "spell sound", or the spelling of the sound.. The International Organization for Standardization adopted pinyin as the international standard in 1979, and since then it has been adopted by many organizations worldwide. It will also be the official romanization system in the Republic of China starting in 2009 . It is used to teach Chinese schoolchildren and foreign learners the standard pronunciation of , to spell Chinese names in foreign publications and to enter Chinese characters on computers.


In 1954, the Ministry of Education of the People's Republic of China created a Committee for the Reform of the Chinese Written Language. This committee developed ''Hanyu pinyin'' based upon existing systems of that time ''''. The main force behind pinyin was Zhou Youguang. Zhou was working in a New York bank when he decided to return to China to help rebuild the country after the war. He became an economics professor in Shanghai. The government assigned him to help the development of a new romanization system. The switch to language and writing largely saved him from the wrath of the Cultural Revolution of Mao Zedong.

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 Mandarin pronunciation and used to improve the literacy rate among adults. In 2001, the Chinese Government issued the ''National Common Language Law'', providing a legal basis for applying pinyin.


Pinyin superseded older romanization systems such as Wade-Giles and Chinese Postal Map Romanization, and replaced zhuyin as the method of Chinese phonetic instruction in mainland China. The International Organization for Standardization adopted pinyin as the standard romanization for modern Chinese in 1982 . The United Nations adopted it as an official and standardized Mandarin romanization system in 1986. It has also been accepted by the government of Singapore, the Library of Congress, the American Library Association, and many other international institutions.

The spelling of Chinese geographical or personal names in pinyin has become a standard or most common way to transcribe them in English. It has also become a useful tool for .

Chinese speaking Standard Mandarin at home use pinyin to help children associate characters with spoken words which they already know; however, for the many Chinese who do not use Standard Mandarin at home, pinyin is used to teach them the Standard Mandarin pronunciation of words when they learn them in elementary school.

Pinyin has become a tool for many foreigners to learn the Mandarin pronunciation, it is used to explain the grammar and spoken Mandarin together with . Like zhuyin, it is used as a phonetic guide in books for children but also dialect speakers and foreign learners. Books containing both Chinese characters and pinyin are popular with foreign learners of Chinese, pinyin's role in teaching pronunciation to foreigners and children is similar to furigana-based books in or fully texts in but as mentioned above, pinyin is also the main romanisation method.


The correspondence between letter and sound does not follow any single other language, but does not depart any more from the norms of the Latin alphabet than many European languages. For example, the aspiration distinction between ''b, d, g'' and ''p, t, k'' is similar to that of English, but not to that of French. ''Z'' and ''c'' also have that distinction; however, they are pronounced as , as in languages such as German, Italian, and Polish, which do not have that distinction. 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 represents the fact that many Chinese pronounce ''sh, zh, ch'' as ''s, z, c.'' In the ''x, j, q'' series, ''x'' rather resembles its pronunciation in Catalan, though ''q'' is more novel and its pronunciation is similar to the ''ch'' in ''China''. Pinyin vowels are pronounced similarly to vowels in Romance languages. More information on the pronunciation of all pinyin letters in terms of English approximations is given further below.

The pronunciation of Chinese is generally given in terms of and , which represent the ''segmental phonemic'' portion of the language. Initials are initial consonants, while finals are all possible combinations of , the vowel, and .

Initials and Finals

Unlike in European languages, initials and finals - and not consonants and vowels - are the fundamental elements in pinyin . Nearly each Chinese syllable can be spelled with exactly one initial followed by one final, except in the special syllable 'er' and when a trailing 'r' is considered part of a syllable . The latter case, though a common practice in some sub-dialects, is rarely used in official publications.

Even though most initials contain a consonant, finals are not simple vowels, especially in compound finals , i.e., when one "final" is placed in front of another one. For example, and are pronounced with such tight openings that some native Chinese speakers pronounce yī as , wéi as or . The concepts of consonants and vowels are not incorporated in pinyin or its predecessors, despite the fact that the Roman alphabets are used in pinyin. In the entire pinyin system, there is not a list of consonants, nor a list of vowels.


In each cell below, the first line indicates the , the second indicates pinyin.

1 may phonetically be . This pronunciation varies among different speakers, and is not two different phonemes.

2 the letter "w" may be considered as an initial or a final, and may be pronounced as or

3 the letter "y" may be considered as an initial or a final, and may be pronounced as or

Note: Letters "y" and "w" are not included in table of initials in the official pinyin system. They are used as spelling aids in place of "i", "u" and "ü" when there are no other initials, and carry the pronunciations of the corresponding finals. Consonants and are not officially used for these letters; they are absent from standard Chinese.

Conventional order , derived from the zhuyin system, is:


In each cell below, the first line indicates IPA, the second indicates pinyin for a standalone 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 Mandarin are -n and -ng, and -r which is attached as a grammatical suffix. Chinese syllables ending with any other consonant is either from a non-Mandarin language , or it indicates the use of a non-pinyin Romanization system .

1 /?r/ is written as ''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 Standard Mandarin.

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 It is pronounced when it follows an initial, and pinyin reflects this difference.

In addition, ''ê'' is used to represent certain interjections.

Rules given in terms of English pronunciation

All rules given here in terms of English pronunciation are approximate, as several of these sounds do not correspond directly to sounds in English.

Pronunciation of initials

Pronunciation of finals

The following is an exhaustive list of all finals in Standard Mandarin. Those ending with a final -r are listed at the end.

To find a given final:
#Remove the initial consonant. For zh-, ch-, sh-, both letters should be removed, they are single consonants spelt with two letters.
#Although y- and w- are consonants nevertheless they may be considered as part of finals and do not remove those.
##Syllables beginning with y- and w- may be considered as standalone forms of finals "i, u, ü" and finals beginning with "i-, u-, ü-".
#If a syllable begins with j-, q-, x-, or y-, and the final is -u or starts with -u-, then change -u or -u- to -ü or -ü-.



Pinyin differs from other romanizations in several aspects, such as the following:

* Syllables starting with ''u'' are written as ''w'' in place of ''u'' . Standalone ''u'' is written as ''wu''.
* Syllables starting with ''i'' are written as ''y'' in place of ''i'' . Standalone ''i'' is written as ''yi''.
* Syllables starting with ''ü'' are written as ''yu'' in place of ''ü'' .
* ''ü'' is written as ''u'' when there is no ambiguity , but written as ''ü'' when there are corresponding ''u'' syllables . 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'' .
* 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 often used before ''a'', ''o'', and ''e'' to separate syllables in a word where ambiguity could arise, especially when omitting tone marks, e.g., ''pi'ao'' , despite a conscious effort to distribute letters more evenly than in Western languages.

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 .

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 '' and the National Language Commission .''

##Single meaning: Words with a single meaning, which are usually set up of two characters , are written together and not capitalized: rén ; péngyou , qiǎokèlì
##Combined meaning : Same goes for words combined of two words to one meaning: hǎifēng ; wèndá , quánguó
##Combined meaning : Words with four or more characters having one meaning are split up with their original meaning if possible: wúfèng gāngguǎn ; huánjìng bǎohù guīhuà
#Duplicated words
##AA: Duplicated characters are written together: rénrén , kànkàn , niánnián
##ABAB: two characters duplicated are written separated: yánjiū yánjiū , xuěbái xuěbái
##AABB: A hyphen is used with the schema AABB: láilái-wǎngwǎng , qiānqiān-wànwàn
#Nouns and names : Nouns are written in one: zhuōzi , mùtou
##Even if accompanied by a prefix and suffix: fùbùzhǎng , chéngwùyuán , háizimen
##Words of position are separated: mén wài , hé li , huǒchē shàngmian , Huáng Hé yǐnán
###Exceptions are words traditionally connected: tiānshang , dìxia , kōngzhōng , hǎiwài
##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 , Lǐ xiānsheng , Tián zhǔrèn , Zhào tóngzhì .
##The forms of addressing people with ''Lǎo'', ''Xiǎo'', ''Dà'' and ''A'' are capitalized: Xiǎo Liú , Dà Lǐ , A Sān , Lǎo Qián , Lǎo Wú
###Exceptions are: Kǒngzǐ , Bāogōng , Xīshī , Mèngchángjūn
##Geographical names of China: Běijīng Shì , Héběi Shěng , Yālù Jiāng , Tài Shān , Dòngtíng Hú , Táiwān Hǎixiá
##Non-Chinese names translated back from Chinese will be written by their original writing: Marx, Einstein, London, Tokyo
#Verbs : Verbs and their suffixes are written as one: kànzhe/kànle/kànguo , jìngxíngzhe . ''Le'' as it appears in the end of a sentence is separated though: Huǒchē dào le .
##Verbs and their objects are separated: kàn xìn , chī yú , kāi wánxiào .
##If verbs and their complements are each monosyllabic, they are written together, if not, separated: gǎohuài , dǎsǐ , huàwéi , zhěnglǐ hǎo , gǎixiě wéi
#Adjectives : A monosyllabic adjective and its reduplication are written as one: mēngmēngliàng , liàngtāngtāng
##Complements of size or degree are written separated: dà xiē , kuài yīdiānr
##The plural suffix ''-men'' directly follows up: wǒmen , tāmen
##The demonstrative pronoun zhè , nà and the question pronoun nǎ are separated: zhè rén , nà cì huìyì , nǎ zhāng bàozhǐ
###Exceptions are: nàli , zhèbian , zhège , zhème , zhèmeyàng ... and similar ones.
#Numerals and measure words
##Words like ''gè''/''měi'' , ''mǒu'' , ''běn'' , ''gāi'' , ''wǒ'' , are separated from the measure words following them: gè guó , gè gè , měi nián , mǒu gōngchǎng , wǒ xiào .


The pinyin system also uses diacritics for the four , usually above a non-medial vowel. Many books printed in China mix fonts, with vowels and tone marks rendered in a different font than 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 rather than the standard style of the letter found in most fonts. The official rules of ''Hanyu Pinyin,'' however, specify no such practice. Note that tone marks can also appear on consonants in certain vowelless exclamations.

# The first tone is represented by a macron added to the pinyin vowel:

# The second tone is denoted by an acute accent :

# The third tone is marked by a caron/há?ek . It is not the rounded breve , though a breve is sometimes substituted due to font limitations.

# The fourth tone is represented by a grave accent :

# The fifth or neutral tone is represented by a normal vowel without any accent mark:


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

Since before the advent of computers, many fonts did not contain vowels with macron or caron diacritics, a common convention for tone is to add 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 numbered zero, as in ''ma0'' 吗/嗎 .

Rules for placing the tone mark

The rules for determining on which vowel the tone mark appears when there are multiple vowels are as follows:

# First, look for an "a" or an "e". If either vowel appears, it takes the tone mark. There are no possible pinyin syllables that contain both an "a" and an "e".
# If there is no "a" or "e", look for an "ou". If "ou" appears, then the "o" takes the tone mark.
# If none of the above cases hold, then the last vowel in the syllable takes the tone mark.

The reasoning behind these rules is in the case of diphthongs and triphthongs, ''i'', ''u'', and ''ü'' are considered glides rather than part of the syllable nucleus in Chinese phonology. The rules ensure that the tone mark always appears on the nucleus of a syllable.

The character "ü"

An is placed over the letter ''u'' when it occurs after the initials ''l'' and ''n'' in order to represent the sound . This is necessary in order to distinguish the front high rounded vowel in ''lü'' from the back high rounded vowel in ''lu'' . Tonal markers are added on top of the umlaut, as in ''lǘ''.

However, the ''ü'' is ''not'' used in other contexts where it represents a front high rounded vowel, namely after the letters ''j'', ''q'', ''x'' and ''y''. For example, the sound of the word 鱼/魚 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 umlaut to distinguish between ''chü'' and ''chu'' , 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 an umlaut diacritic.

Many fonts or output methods do not support an umlaut 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. Occasionally, ''uu'' , ''u:'' or ''U'' is used in its place.

Comparison chart

Pinyin in Taiwan

Taiwan adopted ''Tongyong pinyin,'' a modification of ''Hanyu pinyin,'' on the national level in October 2002. This has resulted in political controversy, much of it centered on issues of national identity, with proponents of Chinese reunification favoring ''Hanyu pinyin,'' used in the People's Republic of China, and proponents of Taiwanese independence favoring the use of ''Tongyong pinyin.''

Localities with governments controlled by the Kuomintang, most notably Taipei City, have overridden the 2002 administrative order and converted to ''Hanyu pinyin,'' though with a slightly different capitalization convention than the Mainland. As a result, the use of romanization on signage in Taiwan is inconsistent, with many places using ''Tongyong pinyin'' but some using ''Hanyu pinyin,'' and still others not yet having had the resources to replace older Wade-Giles or MPS2 signage. This has resulted in the odd situation in Taipei in which inconsistent romanizations are shown in freeway directions, with freeway signs, under the control of the national government, using one system, but surface street signs, under the control of the city government, using the other.

Primary education in Taiwan continues to teach pronunciation using ''zhuyin'' annotation. Although the ROC government has stated the desire to use romanization rather than ''zhuyin'' in education, the lack of agreement on which form of pinyin to use and the huge logistical challenge of teacher training has stalled these efforts.

In 2008, the government announced plans to convert to ''Hanyu pinyin'' as the official romanization for Taiwan, effective January 1, 2009.

Other languages

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 , , , and . 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'' promulgated in 1976, place names in non-Chinese languages like , , and are also officially transcribed using pinyin. The pinyin letters are used to approximate the non-Chinese 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:

:''See also: Tibetan pinyin

Comparison with other orthographies

Pinyin is now used by foreign students learning Chinese as a second language.

Pinyin assigns some values which are quite different from that of most languages.

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.

Simple computer systems, able only to display only 7-bit ASCII text , long provided the most convincing argument in favor of pinyin over hanzi. 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 , and digitizing tablets allow users to input characters directly by writing with a stylus.

Entering toned pinyin on a computer

Mac OS X

Activate the "US Extended" keyboard and then do:
* Option-a and then to create the first tones: ā, ē, ī, ō, ū
* Option-e and then to create the second tones: á, é, í, ó, ú
* Option-v and then to create the third tone: ǎ, ě, ǐ, ǒ, ǔ
* Option-` and then to create the fourth tone: à, è, ì, ò, ù
* u and then Shift-Option-u and then Shift-Option- gives ǖ, ǘ, ǚ or ǜ.
* v may be entered as a to produce a ü. For instance, Option-e v produces ǘ. Option-u u produces a ü without tone marks.


Many Chinese allow a pinyin toggle in addition to the simplified–traditional character toggle. The user can then type using pinyin with tone marks using the alphanumeric keys on a standard keyboard; the popular is one such example. is a Windows-based IME that allows you to type toned pinyin with ease. Because it works at the system level, it will allow you to type pinyin with tones in any Windows program just as easily as you would type Chinese . Activate the IME then start typing pinyin. Type a number from 1-4 after a pinyin syllable, and the corresponding tone will automatically be placed on the correct vowel of that syllable.

Pinyin courses



*: Chinese Input Method Editor
*: Translates simplified or traditional Chinese to pinyin and English.
*: Adds inline or pop-up pinyin annotations for snippets of Traditional or Simplified Chinese text or web sites.
* Displays pinyin below any simplified Chinese text. Offers choice of annotating all characters or only less common characters, depending on skill level.
* Displays pinyin above any Chinese text or next to individual words . Mouse over any word to see English translation. Save output to format. Prints nicely. Also adds pinyin to any Chinese web page.
* Converts pinyin with tone numbers into pinyin with tone marks above the ''correct'' vowels. Doesn't require page re-loads.
*: Displays pinyin with tone marks for traditional or simplified Chinese text. Pinyin is displayed after each Chinese word.
* Supports Simplified and Traditional Chinese; target pinyin systems include ''Hanyu pinyin, Tongyong pinyin,'' Wade-Giles, MPS2, Yale, and ''Gwoyeu Romatzyh;'' supports multiple pronunciations of a single character; supports customized output, such as ü or tone marks.
* An IME that outputs pinyin with tone marks and greatly simplifies the process of entering pinyin with tone marks on Windows.


* - Useful resource for identifying Chinese characters

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