Saturday, October 4, 2008

Romanization of Chinese

The romanization of Chinese is the use of the Latin alphabet to write Chinese. Chinese has been written in Chinese characters since about 1500 B.C. Chinese characters do not represent phonemes directly.

There are many uses for Chinese romanization systems. They serve as a useful tool for foreign learners of Chinese by indicating the pronunciation of unfamiliar characters. It can also be helpful for clarifying pronunciation—Mandarin pronunciation is an issue for some speakers of other mutually unintelligible Chinese languages who do not speak Mandarin fluently. Standard keyboards such as QWERTY are designed for the Latin alphabet, often making the difficult. Chinese dictionaries have complex sorting rules for characters, and romanization systems can simplify the problem by listing the characters by their Latin form alphabetically.

Well known systems are Hanyu Pinyin, Wade-Giles, and Yale Romanization. Hanyu Pinyin has since become the international standard since 1982.


The Indian Sanskrit grammarians who came to China two thousand years ago to work on the and the transcription of Buddhist terms into Chinese, discovered the "initial sound", "final sound", and "suprasegmental tone” structure of spoken Chinese syllables. This understanding is reflected in the precise Fanqie system, and it is the core principle of all modern systems. While the Fanqie system was ideal for indicating the conventional pronunciation of single, isolated characters in written Classical Chinese literature, it was unworkable for the pronunciation of essentially polysyllabic, colloquial spoken Chinese languages, such as Mandarin.

Aside from syllable structure, it is also necessary to indicate in Chinese romanization. Tones distinguish the definition of all morphemes in Chinese, and the definition of a word is often ambiguous in the absence of tones. Certain systems such as Wade-Giles indicate tone with a number following the syllable, i.e. ''ma1'', ''ma2'', ''ma3'', etc. Others, like Pinyin, indicate the tone with diacritics, such as ''mā'', ''má'', ''mǎ'', and the like. Still, the system of Gwoyeu Romatzyh bypasses the issue of introducing non-letter symbols by changing the letters within the syllable, as in ''mha, ma, maa, mah'', each of which contains the same vowel, but a different tone.



* Making the actual pronunciation conventions of spoken Chinese intelligible to non-Chinese-speaking students, especially those with no experience of a tonal language.
* Making the structure of a Chinese language intelligible to those only familiar with Latin grammar.
* Transcribing the citation pronunciation of specific s according to the pronunciation conventions of a specific European language, to allow the insertion of that Chinese pronunciation into a Western text.
* Allowing instant communication in "colloquial Chinese" between Chinese and non-Chinese speakers via a phrase-book.


* Identifying the specific pronunciation of a character within a specific context . Such a system has to work vertically down the page, right-to-left, and left-to-right.
* Reciting a Chinese text in Mandarin for some literate speakers of another mutually unintelligible Chinese language, such as Cantonese, who do not speak Mandarin fluently.
* Learning Classical or Modern Chinese by native Mandarin speakers.
* Use with a standard QWERTY keyboard.
* Replacing Chinese characters to bring functional literacy to illiterate native Mandarin speakers.
* Book indexing, dictionary entry sorting, and cataloguing in general.
* Teaching spoken and written Chinese to foreigners.

Non-Chinese systems

The Wade, Wade-Giles, and Postal systems still appear in the European literature, but generally only within a passage cited from an earlier work. European language texts now use the Chinese Hanyu Pinyin system as adopted by the People's Republic of China in 1979.

Missionary systems

Early Roman Catholic missionaries from Europe used Latin as their international language, and the Latinized names of some famous early Chinese thinkers are used today. For instance, "Confucius" can be analyzed into four parts, "con" , "fu" , "ci" , and "us" which was added to give the name the proper Latin form for the name of a male human. The "fuci" part of the name means "grand master," so the whole thing represents the appellation "Grand Master Kong." Similarly, the second most important Confucian is named "Mencius" in the English of today. It consists of "meng" , "ci" , and the male ending. So his Latin name means "Master Meng."

The first consistent system for transcribing Chinese words in Latin alphabet is thought to have been designed in 1583-88 by Matteo Ricci and Michele Ruggieri for their Portuguese-Chinese dictionary - the first ever European-Chinese dictionary. Unfortunately, the manuscript was misplaced in the Jesuit Archives in Rome, and not re-discovered until 1934. The dictionary was finally published in 2001. During the winter of 1598, Ricci, with the help of his Jesuit colleague Lazzaro Cattaneo, compiled a Chinese-Portuguese dictionary as well, in which tones of the romanized Chinese syllables were indicated with diacritical marks. Even more unfortunately, this work has been lost as well and not rediscovered. revised and improved by Herbert Giles into the Wade-Giles system. Apart from the correction of a number of ambiguities and inconsistencies within the Wade system, the innovation of the Wade-Giles system was that it also indicated tones.

A major drawback of the Wade-Giles system was that it demanded the use of apostrophes, diacritical marks, and superscript digits , all of which, despite their crucial significance, were often omitted in texts; therefore, without matched character, the "Chinese" syllable delivered no meaning at all.

This system is still used today but was largely relegated to scholarly writing after the Nixon mission to China.

EFEO system

: ''Main article: EFEO Chinese transcription''

The system devised in 1902 by Séraphin Couvreur of the ?cole fran?aise d'Extrême-Orient was used in most of the French-speaking world to transliterate Chinese until the middle of the 20th century, after what it was gradually replaced by hanyu pinyin.

Postal System

The Chinese Postal Map Romanization, standardized in 1906, was based on French styles of romanization, and was exclusively used for place names.

Yale system

The Yale Romanization system was created at Yale University during World War II to facilitate communication between American military personnel and their Chinese counterparts. It uses a more regular spelling of Mandarin phonemes than other systems of its day.

This system was used for a long time, because it was used for phrase-book usage and part of the Yale system of teaching Chinese. The Yale system taught Mandarin using spoken, colloquial Chinese patterns. Contemporary systems taught Mandarin as if it were a written language that followed the rules of Latin grammar. The Yale system was for perhaps twenty years the most effective Mandarin teaching system. Furthermore, in the 1960s and 1970s, in Australia, the U.K., and the U.S.A., the choices of learning simple or traditional characters and using either Hanyu Pinyin or Gwoyeu Romatzyh had political overtones of aligning with the Communist Party of China or the Kuomintang respectively. Many Overseas Chinese and Western academics took sides. The Yale textbooks, Yale teaching system, and Yale Romanization system were a neutral choice.

The Yale system has since been superseded by the Chinese Hanyu Pinyin system.

Chinese systems

Qieyin Xinzi

The first modern indigenous Chinese romanization system, the Qieyin Xinzi was developed in 1892 by Lu Zhuangzhang . It was used to write the sounds of the of the language.


and Wang Zhao and Lu Zhuangzhang were part of the Commission on the Unification of Pronunciation , which developed the rudimentary Jiyin Zimu system of Zhang Binglin into the Mandarin-specific phonetic system now known as or Bopomofo, which was eventually proclaimed on November 23, 1918.

The significant feature of Bopomofo is that it is composed entirely of "ruby characters" which can be written beside any Chinese text whether written vertically, right-to-left, or left-to-right. The characters within the Bopomofo system are unique phonetic characters, and are not part of the Latin alphabet. In this way, it is not technically a form of romanization, but because it is used for phonetic transcription the alphabet is often grouped with the romanization systems.

Gwoyeu Romatzyh

In 1923, the KMT's Ministry of Education instituted a National Language Unification Commission which, in turn, formed an eleven member romanization unit. The political circumstances of the time prevented any positive outcome from the formation of this unit.

A new voluntary working subcommittee was independently formed by a group of five scholars who strongly advocated romanization. The committee, which met twenty-two times over a twelve month period , consisted of , Lin Yutang, Qian Xuantong, Li Jinxi , and one Wang Yi. They developed the Gwoyeu Romatzyh system, proclaimed on September 26, 1928. The most distinctive aspect of this new system was that, rather than relying upon marks or numbers, it indicated the tonal variations of the "root syllable" by a systematic variation within the spelling of the syllable itself. The entire system could be written with a standard QWERTY keyboard.

…the call to abolish characters in favour of a romanized alphabet reached a peak around 1923. As almost all of the designers of were ardent supporters of this radical view, it is only natural that, aside from serving the immediate auxiliary role of sound annotation, etc., their scheme was designed in such a way that it would be capable of serving all functions expected of a bonafide writing system, and supersede characters in due course.

Despite the fact that it was created to eventually replace Chinese characters, and that it was constructed by linguists, Gwoyeu Romatzyh was never extensively used for any purpose other than delivering the pronunciation of specific Chinese characters in dictionaries. And, while the "within syllable" indication of the tone made sense to Western users, the complexity of its tonal system was such that it was never popular with Chinese users.

Latinxua Sinwenz

The work towards constructing the Latinxua Sinwenz system began in Moscow as early as 1928 when the Soviet Scientific Research Institute on China sought to create a means through which the large Chinese population living in the far eastern region of the U.S.S.R. could be made literate, facilitating their further education.

This was significantly different from all other romanization schemes in that, from the very outset, it was intended that the Latinxua Sinwenz system, once established, would supersede the Chinese characters. They decided to use the Latin alphabet because they thought that it would serve their purpose better than the Cyrillic alphabet. Unlike Gwoyeu Romatzyh, with its complex method of indicating tones, Latinxua Sinwenz system does not indicate tones at all, and it is not Mandarin-specific and so could be used for other Chinese languages and dialects.

The eminent Moscow-based Chinese scholar Qu Qiubai and the Russian linguist V.S. Kolokolov devised a prototype romanization system in 1929.

In 1931 a coordinated effort between the Soviet sinologists B.M. Alekseev, A.A. Dragunov and A.G. Shrprintsin, and the Moscow-based Chinese scholars Qu Qiubai, Wu Yuzhang, Lin Boqu , Xiao San, Wang Xiangbao, and Xu Teli established the Latinxua Sinwenz system. The system was supported by a number of Chinese intellectuals such as Guo Moruo and Lu Xun, and trials were conducted amongst 100,000 Chinese immigrant workers for about four years and later, in 1940–1942, in the communist-controlled Shaanxi-Gansu-Ningxia Border Region of China. In November 1949, the railways in China's north-east adopted the Latinxua Sinwenz system for all their telecommunications.

For a time, the system was very important in spreading literacy in Northern China; and more than 300 publications totalling half a million issues appeared in Latinxua Sinwenz. However:

In 1944 the latinization movement was officially curtailed in the communist-controlled areas on the pretext that there were insufficient trained cadres capable of teaching the system. It is more likely that, as the communists prepared to take power in a much wider territory, they had second thoughts about the rhetoric that surrounded the latinization movement; in order to obtain the maximum popular support, they withdrew support from a movement that deeply offended many supporters of the traditional writing system.

Hanyu Pinyin

In October 1949, the Association for Reforming the Chinese Written Language was established. Wu Yuzhang was appointed Chairman. All of the members of its initial governing body belonged to either the Latinxua Sinwenz movement or the Gwoyeu Romatzyh movement . For the most part, they were also highly trained linguists. Their first directive was to take "the phonetic project adopting the Latin alphabet" as "the main object of research".

In a speech delivered on January 10, 1958, Zhou Enlai observed that the Committee had spent three years attempting to create a non-Latin Chinese phonetic alphabet but "no satisfactory result could be obtained" and "the Latin alphabet was then adopted". He also emphatically stated:

In future, we shall adopt the Latin alphabet for the Chinese phonetic alphabet. Being in wide use in scientific and technological fields and in constant day-to-day usage, it will be easily remembered. The adoption of such an alphabet will, therefore, greatly facilitate the popularization of the common speech .

The development of the Hanyu Pinyin system was a complex process involving decisions on many difficult issues, such as:

* Should Hanyu Pinyin's pronunciation be based on that of Beijing?
* Was Hanyu Pinyin going to supersede Chinese written characters altogether, or would it simply provide a guide to pronunciation?
* Should the traditional Chinese writing system be simplified?
* Should Hanyu Pinyin use the Latin alphabet?
* Should Hanyu Pinyin indicate tones in all cases ?
* Should Hanyu Pinyin be Mandarin-specific, or adaptable to other dialects and other Chinese languages?
* Was Hanyu Pinyin to be created solely to facilitate the spread of Putonghua throughout China?

Despite the fact that the "Draft Scheme for a Chinese Phonetic Alphabet" published in "People's China" on March 16, 1956 contained certain unusual and peculiar characters, the Committee for Research into Language Reform soon reverted to the Latin Alphabet, citing the following reasons:

* The Latin alphabet is extensively used by scientists regardless of their native tongue, and technical terms are frequently written in Latin.
* The Latin alphabet is simple to write and easy to read. It has been used for centuries all over the world. It is easily adaptable to the task of recording Chinese pronunciation.
* While the use of the Cyrillic alphabet would strengthen ties with the U.S.S.R., the Latin alphabet is familiar to most Russian students, and its use would strengthen the ties between China and many of its Southeast Asian neighbours who are already familiar with the Latin alphabet.
* As a response to Mao Zedong's remark that "cultural patriotism" should be a "weighty factor" in the choice of an alphabet: despite the fact that the Latin alphabet is "foreign" it will serve as a strong tool for economic and industrial expansion; and, moreover, the fact that two of the most patriotic Chinese, Qu Qiubai and Lu Xun, were such strong advocates of the Latin alphabet indicates that the choice does not indicate any lack of patriotism.
* On the basis that the British, French, Germans, Spanish, Polish and Czechoslovakians have all modified the Latin alphabet for their own usage, and because the Latin alphabet is derived from the Greek alphabet, which, in turn came from Phoenician and Egyptian, there is as much shame attached to using the Latin alphabet as there is in using Arabic numerals and the conventional mathematical symbols, regardless of their point of origin.

The movement for language reform came to a standstill during the Cultural Revolution and nothing was published on language reform or linguistics from 1966 to 1972. The Pinyin subtitles that had first appeared on the masthead of the People's Daily newspaper and the Hong Qi Journal in 1958 did not appear at all between July 1966 and January 1977.

In its final form Hanyu Pinyin:
* was used to indicate pronunciation only
* was exclusively based on the pronunciation of the Beijing dialect
* included tone marks
* embodied the traditional "initial sound", "final sound", and "suprasegmental tone” model
* was written in the Latin alphabet

Hanyu Pinyin has developed from Mao's 1951 directive, through the promulgation on November 1, 1957 of a draft version by the State Council, to its final form being approved by the State Council in September 1978, to being accepted in 1982 by the International Organization for Standardization as the standard for transcribing Chinese.

Other transcriptions

Chinese languages have been phonetically transcribed into many other writing systems. The Phagspa script, for example, has helped reconstruct the pronunciation of pre-modern forms of Chinese.

There is a single widespread system for cyrillization of Chinese, that is the .

Xiao'erjing is a system for transcribing Chinese using the Arabic alphabet.

The ongoing ''Science and Civilisation in China'' project uses another romanization scheme, similar to Wade-Giles. The most noticeable difference is that an "h" is inserted for aspiration . Thus Hanyu Pinyin ''tiān'' / Wade-Giles ''t'ien''1 is rendered ''thien''. See the SCC extract as an example of this scheme in use.

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