Modern Hanyu Pinyin

The Communist government created a commission in late 1949 to address the question of Romanization. It was understood that scientific and technical communication around the world required a reliable system of rendering Chinese, or else China would be marginalized by world technologies. The group of scholars included those who had created Latinxua Sinwenz and members of the Gwoyeu Ramantzyh movement. All were accomplished linguists. The result of this work - which took well over a decade to complete - is Hanyu Pinyin. The work required some delicate political and strategic decision-making. It was decided, for example, to base Pinyin on Beijing pronunciation and the Mandarin language. It would indicate all tones, and use Latin characters, but not to supplant written Chinese. Rather, it would be a complement. Recommendations on simplifying Chinese characters were also developed, but separate from the creation of Pinyin. Care was taken to classify this excursion into foreign writing as "patriotic."

A first draft of the committee's work came out in 1956 and was ratified at the First People's National Congress, Session Five, in 1958. Pinyin was then employed in primary schools to expand literacy and to teach non-speakers of Mandarin how Mandarin is pronounced.

During the Cultural Revolution (1966 to 1972 and ensuing years) no forward progress was made on linguistic reform, due in large measure to the fear of persecution of anyone seen as "pro-foreign." Pinyin disappeared entirely from government posters, propaganda and newspapers.

Eventually a revised and final form of Pinyin emerged, based on Beijing dialect and indicating tones through Latin letters and diacritics. It is Mandarin-specific. It employs the tripartite system invented centuries earlier, recording the "initial sound," the "final sound," and the "suprasegmental tone." ("Suprasegmental" means that the feature in question -- tone, pitch, stress, aspiration, vowel extension or nasalization -- extends over more than one neighboring language segments.) The State Council approved the final version in 1978. In 1982 it became the ISO standard for the Romanization of written Chinese. Since 2001, Pinyin is the legally required form of Romanization.

Features of Hanyu Pinyin

Hanyu 漢語 is one way of Saying "Chinese." "Pinyin" literally means "spell sound."For English-speakers, Pinyin offers many benefits. The vowels are pronounced like the vowels in European languages, and most of the consonants are as well. Certain consonants have special rules, however, and must be learned: Letters to beware of are x, q, j, c, zh, ch, sh and z (sometimes -i) as well as unvoiced d, b, and g.The order of the alphabet comes from is derived from Zhuyin Fuhao ("bo-po-mo-fo") and is as follows: b p m f d t n l g k h j q x zh ch sh r z c s. The spaces a given to show clusters of phonetically similar letters.In Pinyin, the initial sound is almost always a consonant. The final sound is either a vowel, a "medial" (described as a semi-vowel coming before a vowel), the "nucleus" vowel, and a coda (terminal vowel or consonant.

Click here for Chinese translation services.