Hanyu Pinyin

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Hanyu Pinyin, also known as Pinyin, is the internationally recognized standard for romanizing Mandarin Chinese. It was approved by the government of Communist China in 1958 and adopted in 1979 as the basis for romanizing all Chinese names and also for the teaching of Mandarin. It is used in all schools as a basic literacy tool upon which the learning of Chinese characters is based. It is also used by most universities outside China, other than those in Taiwan, as a basis for teaching Mandarin as a foreign language.

Although Taiwan initially rejected Hanyu Pinyin, they later developed a variant, known as Tongyong Pinyin to replace the older, less precise Wade-Giles romanization system. In September 2008 the government of Taiwan announced it will switch to pinyin for schools and official business, although individuals can continue to use the older Wade-Giles system.

Pinyin can also refer to a system for entering Chinese characters into a computer. It is a pronunciation-based system, in which the character is rendered based on its pinyin pronunciation, as opposed to structure-based systems such as Yangguizi.

How Pinyin Works

The Roman letters used in Pinyin do not necessarily have the same pronunciation value as those of English or any other language, especially q and x. Here is a table of the Pinyin letters with a rough English equivalent. The Pinyin letters are divided into initials, which consist of consonants plus w and y, and finals, which always start with a vowel, and which may exist as syllables on their own, except that those syllables beginning with i, u and ü always begin with y, w and y respectively.

Pinyin Letter or Combination of Letters English Near Equivalent
b b
p p
m m
f f
d d
t t
n n
l l
j j with the tongue flat in the mouth
q ch with the tongue flat in the mouth
x Like "sh" with the tongue flat in the mouth
zh Like "j" with the tongue curled touching the palate
ch ch with the tongue curled touching the palate
sh sh with the tongue touching the palate
r As in "ar" with a long rolling r, made with the tongue touching the palate
z As in the last syllable of "daze"
c ts (always at the beginning of a word, unlike in English. In fact German "c" has the same sound before "e" and "i")
s s
a Long a sound in English, as in "father"
o Short o sound in English, as in "John"
e er without the "r" on the end (again, the way British people pronounce it)
i ee
u oo, but with the lips more closely rounded, more like the German "u"
ü The French "u" or the German "ü". Not found in English. "Ü" is only written this way after "l" and "n". When it occurs after j, q, x and y, it is always written as "u" without the umlauts, as the other "u" never occurs after these letters
y y as in "Eye": replaces "i" and "ü" at the beginning of a syllable. If the sound is "i" on its own, then the syllable is written "yi" or "yu".
w w Replaces "u" at the beginning of a syllable. If the sound is "u" on its own, then the syllable is written "wu".
ao ao, as in "Macao"
an As in "Ann" spoken by people from Northern England
ang More like "ahng", never like the "ang" in "angry"
ei Like "ay" in "day"
en Like "an" when it is unstressed, also similar to "earn" when said by British people (with the "r" being pronounced, but not drawn out).
eng "erng"; similar, but not the same as the "ung" in "bung" when spoken by American speakers of English
i.e. The same as Yeah. Written "ye" on its own.
in / yin As in "in"
iong / yong "eang," pronounced very short
ong ung, like in "sung" but the u is held longer. Never like the "ong" in "song"
ou Like the "o" in "go"
un Like "under". On its own, this syllable is written as "wen" and pronounced accordingly
üe A combination of the "ü" sound and "e" as in "hen". Not found in English. Without an initial consonant, this syllable is written "yue"
ün A combination of the "ü" soung and n. Without an initial consonant, this syllable is written "yun"

In addition to the pinyin letters, there are also four tone marks to indicate which of the four tones is to be used. For example, the syllable "ma" may be written "mā", "má", "mǎ" or "mà"

Chinese characters are all monosyllabic and may exist on their own as individual words or be combined together to make new ones. This is reflected in Pinyin, for example the character "车" (chē) on its own means "vehicle". However, it is combined with another character to make "火车" (huǒchē), which is "train". In this instance "huǒchē" is written as one word and not two. Pinyin words are also capitalized in the European fashion if the words referred to are proper nouns. Chinese names in pinyin treat the surname and given name as two words, so the name of China's current president is written as Hu Jintao (Hu is the surname) and not Hu Jin Tao.