Pinyin 拼音

A. Introduction to Chinese Pinyin - 汉语拼音介绍


【Pinyin History】 In general, pronunciation cannot be derived from looking at Chinese characters, although sometimes characters with common parts have similar pronunciation. Unlike other current written languages, Chinese characters are not primarily phonetic, and certainly not alphabetic, but pictographic or ideographic (displaying combinations of pictures or symbols to convey meaning) like ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics.

Hence there has needed to be a way of representing in writing the pronunciation of each character when teaching the language. Several systems have been used, but pinyin is the current standard way of writing Chinese pronunciation.

Prior to about the 1930s, people started learning Chinese with Chinese characters alone. In the 1910s, Zhuyin was introduced in China by the Republican Government. Zhuyin is a system of phonetic notation for the transcription of spoken Chinese, particularly the Mandarin dialect. It had its success.

In 1958, the newly installed People’s Republic of China government embarked on a program of Language Reform that included replacing the Zhuyin alphabet with the Roman alphabet. Pinyin was not adopted because of functional concerns with Zhuyin. Instead China hoped that this would make China better connected to the outside world.

The table showed a comparison of Zhuyin (first column) and Pinyin (second column). Pinyin used common latin letters.

The chief advocate of Language Reform was Zhou Enlai (周恩来 Zhōu'ēnlái), the Premier of the People’s Republic of China from its founding in 1949. International Organization for Standardization adopted it as a world standard in 1982.

Note that Zhuyin remains the predominant phonetic system in teaching reading and writing in elementary school in Taiwan.


【What is Pinyin for?】 Pinyin (拼音 Pīnyīn) means to "join together" (拼 pīn) , or spell out, "sounds" (音 yīn). Pinyin was developed for Chinese speakers and those learning standard Chinese pronunciation, and is an efficient way of representing Chinese sounds with the Roman alphabet. It serves the same purpose as the international phonetic symbols used in dictionaries to show how English words are pronounced.

It is obvious that pinyin wasn’t developed for, and is often misunderstood by, the English-speaking world. This is in evidence whenever English speakers try to pronounce pinyin words without any previous study. About half the time letters in pinyin represent different sounds from what they would in a typical English word, and most of the time the vowels have peculiar sounds.

Pinyin is a very useful tool to learn to get around China. The Chinese view their characters as the true Chinese written language, but pinyin can be seen on many maps, road signs, and other notices. Pinyin is much easier to learn, use and remember than characters, particularly if tones are ignored. Pinyin notation can be thoroughly learnt in a few hours (though the tongue may not be fully trained in that time— that takes days or weeks of practice), but a working knowledge of Chinese characters (3,000 characters for basic literacy) takes years of hard study.