Saturday, October 4, 2008

Spelling in Gwoyeu Romatzyh

The spelling of Gwoyeu Romatzyh can be divided into its treatment of s, s and s. GR uses contrasting pairs of consonants to represent initials in Chinese: for example ''b'' and ''p'' represent IPA and . The letters ''j, ch'' and ''sh'' represent two different series of initials: the and the sounds. Although these spellings create no ambiguity in practice, readers more familiar with Pinyin should pay particular attention to them: GR ''ju'', for example, corresponds to Pinyin ''zhu'', not ''ju'' .

Many of the finals in GR are similar to those used in other . Distinctive features of GR include the use of ''iu'' for the close front rounded vowel spelt ''ü'' or simply ''u'' in Pinyin. Final ''-y'' represents certain allophones of ''i'': GR ''shy'' and ''sy'' correspond to Pinyin ''shi'' and ''si'' respectively.

The most striking feature of GR is its treatment of tones. The first tone is represented by the basic form of each syllable, the spelling being modified according to precise for the other three tones. For example the syllable spelt ''ai'' becomes ''air, ae and ''ay in the other tones. A neutral tone can optionally be indicated by preceding it with a dot or full stop: for example ''perng.yeou'' "friend".

, a common feature of Chinese, is marked in GR by the suffix ''-l''. Owing to the rather complex orthographical details, a given rhotacized form may correspond to more than one basic syllable: for example ''jiel'' may be either ''ji + el'' or ''ji + el'' .

A number of frequently-occurring morphemes have abbreviated spellings in GR. The commonest of these, followed by their Pinyin equivalents, are: ''-g'' , ''-j'' , ''-m'' , ''sh'' and ''-tz'' .

Basic forms

GR introduced several innovations in Chinese romanization. One of these, later adopted by Pinyin, was to use contrasting pairs of consonants to represent sounds in Chinese. For example ''b'' and ''p'' represent IPA and . Another feature of GR surviving in Pinyin was to write words as units: eg ''Gwoyeu'' rather than the Wade-Giles ''Kuo2-yü3''.

The basic features of GR spelling are shown in the following tables of initials and finals, the latter referring to the basic T1 forms. Many of the spelling features are the same as in Pinyin; differences are highlighted in the tables and after the second table. The follow in a separate section.

In the tables Pinyin spellings are given only where they differ from GR, in which case they appear in ''italics'' below the GR spelling. The tables also give IPA pronunciations in .


:GR differs from Pinyin
:[IPA pronunciation]
:alveolo-palatal consonants
:retroflex consonants


:GR differs from Pinyin
:[IPA pronunciation]


GR basic spellings are compared to the spelling conventions of Pinyin in the below. A , after the , compares spellings using all four tones.

Alveolar and retroflex series

The letter ''j'' and the s ''ch'' and ''sh'' represent two different series of sounds. When followed by ''i'' they correspond to the sounds ; otherwise they correspond to the sounds . In practice this feature creates no ambiguity, because the two series of consonants are in complementary distribution. Nevertheless it does make the correspondence between GR and Pinyin spellings difficult to follow. In some cases they agree ; but in other cases they differ—sometimes confusingly so .

This potential for confusion can be seen graphically in the , where the bold letters j, ch and sh cut across the highlighted division between alveolo-palatal and retroflex.

Other differences from Pinyin

GR also differs from Pinyin in its transcription of vowels and semivowels:
* GR uses ''iu'' for the close front rounded vowel spelt ''ü'' or in many cases simply ''u'' in Pinyin.
* Final ''-y'' represents allophones of ''i'' : GR ''shy'' and ''sy'' correspond to Pinyin ''shi'' and ''si'' respectively.
* No basic forms in GR begin with ''w-'' or ''y-'': Pinyin ''ying'' and ''wu'' are written ''ing'' and ''u'' in GR .

Other important GR spellings which differ from Pinyin include:
* GR writes ''au'' for Pinyin ''ao'' .
* ''el'' corresponds to Pinyin ''er'' . The most important use of ''-l'' is as a suffix.
* GR uses ''ts'' for Pinyin ''c'' and ''tz'' for Pinyin ''z''.
* ''-uen'' and ''-uei'' correspond to the contracted Pinyin forms ''-un'' and ''-ui''.
* GR also has three letters for dialectal sounds: ''v'' , ''ng'' , and ''gn'' .

As in Pinyin, an apostrophe is used to clarify syllable divisions. ''Pin'in'', the GR spelling of the word "Pinyin", is itself a good example: the apostrophe shows that the compound is made up of ''pin'' + ''in'' rather than ''pi'' + ''nin''.

Pinyin comparison: basic forms

The following list summarizes the differences between GR and Pinyin spelling. The list is in GR alphabetical order .

Tonal rules

:''Note:'' In this section the word "" is abbreviated as "T": thus T1 stands for Tone 1, or first tone, etc.

Wherever possible GR indicates tones 2, 3 and 4 by respelling the of the syllable, replacing a vowel with another having a similar sound . But this concise procedure cannot be applied in every case, since the syllable may not contain a suitable vowel for modification. In such cases a letter is added or inserted instead. The precise rule to be followed in any specific case is determined by the rules given below.

A colour-coded rule of thumb is given below for each tone: the same colours are used below in a . Each rule of thumb is then amplified by a comprehensive set of rules for that tone. These codes are used in the rules:

:* V = a vowel
:* NV = a non-vowel
:* ? = "but avoid forming "

Pinyin equivalents are given in brackets after each set of examples. To illustrate the GR tonal rules in practice, a comparing Pinyin and GR spellings of some Chinese provinces follows the detailed rules.

Tone 1: basic form
* Initial sonorants : insert ''-h-'' as second letter. ''rheng, mha''
* Otherwise use the .

Tone 2: i/u → y/w; or add -r
* Initial sonorants: use basic form. ''reng, ma''
* NV''i'' → NV''y'' . ''chyng, chyan, yng, yan, pyi''
* NV''u'' → NV''w'' . ''chwan, wang, hwo, chwu''
* Otherwise add ''r'' to vowel or diphthong. ''charng, bair''

Tone 3: i/u → e/o; or double vowel
* V''i'' or ''i''V → V''e'' or ''e''V . ''chean, bae, sheau'' , but not gee
* V''u'' or ''u''V → V''o'' or ''o''V . ''doan, dao, shoei'' , but not hoo
* Otherwise double the vowel. ''chiing, daa, geei, huoo, goou''
* Add initial ''y-/w-'' if necessary. ''yean, woo''

Tone 4: change/double final letter; or add -h
* V''i'' → V''y''. ''day, suey''
* V''u'' → V''w'' . ''daw, gow'' , but not chiw
* ''-n'' → ''-nn''. ''duann''
* ''-l'' → ''-ll''. ''ell''
* ''-ng'' → ''-nq''. ''binq''
* Otherwise add ''h''. ''dah, chiuh, dih''
* Add initial ''y-/w-'' if necessary. ''yaw, wuh''

Neutral tone

A dot may be placed before neutral tone syllables, which appear in their original tonal spelling: ''perng.yeou, dih.fang'' . used this device in the first eight chapters of the ''Mandarin Primer'', restricting it thereafter to new words on their first appearance. In ''A Grammar of Spoken Chinese'' he introduced a subscript circle to indicate an optional neutral tone, as in ''bujyodaw'', "don't know" .

GR ''u-'' and ''i-'' syllables
It is important to note that any GR syllables beginning ''u-'' or ''i-'' must be T1: in T2, T3 and T4 these syllables all begin with ''w-'' or ''y-'' respectively. An example in all four tones is the following: ''ing, yng, yiing, yinq'' .

Pinyin comparison: all tones

This table illustrates the GR in use by listing some Chinese provinces in both GR and Pinyin . The tonal spelling markers or "clues" are highlighted using the same as above. Note that T1 is the default tone: hence ''Shinjiang'' , for example, is spelt using the basic form of both syllables.

:GR tone key
:Tone 1 Tone 2 Tone 3 Tone 4


''Erhua'' , or the or retroflex ending, is indicated in GR by ''-el'' rather than ''-r'', which is already used as a . The appropriate is then applied to the rhotacized form: for example ''shell'' and ''ideal'' .

Most other romanization systems preserve the underlying form, but GR transcribes the surface form as pronounced. These are the main principles followed when a syllable is rhotacized in GR:
# final ''-y'' and ''-n'' are deleted.
# ''-el'' is added to final ''-i'' and ''-iu'', and replaces the finals lost by rule .
# ''-l'' is added to all other finals .
As a consequence the one-to-one correspondence between GR and Pinyin is broken, since one GR rhotacized form may correspond to several Pinyin forms. For example:
* ''jiel'' corresponds to both ''jīr'' and ''jīnr''.
* ''jial'' corresponds to both ''jiār'' and ''jiānr''.

Tone sandhi

The most important manifestation of tone sandhi in Mandarin is the change of a T3 syllable to T2 when followed by another T3 syllable . GR does not reflect this change in the spelling: the word for "fruit" is written ''shoeiguoo'', even though the pronunciation is closer to ''shweiguoo''. Four common words with more complicated tone sandhi are mentioned below under .


A number of frequently-occurring morphemes have abbreviated spellings in GR. The commonest of these, followed by their Pinyin equivalents, are:

:occurs in ''sherm'' , ''jemm/tzemm'' and ''tzeem''
:also in compounds such as ''jiowsh'' , ''dannsh'' , etc.


In its original form GR used the two "spare" letters of the alphabet, ''v'' and ''x'', to indicate reduplication. This mimicked the method by which the Chinese script indicates repeated with an iteration mark . In GR the letter ''x'' indicates that the preceding syllable is repeated , ''vx'' being used when the preceding ''two'' syllables are repeated .

This concise but completely unphonetic, and hence unintuitive, device appears in Chao's ''Mandarin Primer'' and all W. Simon's texts . Eventually, however, it was silently discarded even by its inventor: in Chao's ''Grammar'' as well as his ''Sayable Chinese'' all reduplicated syllables are written out in full in their GR transcription.


The following words and do not follow the rules of GR:
* The name ''Romatzyh'' follows international usage .
* The characters 一 , 七 , 八 , and 不 are always written ''i'', ''chi'', ''ba'', and ''bu'', respectively, regardless of the tone in which they are pronounced. In other words changes due to tone sandhi are not reflected in GR.

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