Hanyu Pinyin (simplified Chinese: 汉语拼音; traditional Chinese: 漢語拼音; literally: "Chinese phonetic alphabet"), often abbreviated to pinyin, is the official romanization system for Standard Chinese in mainland China and to some extent in Taiwan. It is often used to teach Standard Chinese, which is normally written using Chinese characters. The system includes four diacritics denoting tones. Pinyin without tone marks is used to spell Chinese names and words in languages written with the Latin alphabet, and also in certain computer input methods to enter Chinese characters.
The pinyin system was developed in the 1950s by many linguists, including Zhou Youguang, based on earlier forms of romanization of Chinese. It was published by the Chinese government in 1958 and revised several times. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) adopted pinyin as an international standard in 1982, followed by the United Nations in 1986. The system was adopted as the official standard in Taiwan in 2009, where it is used for romanization alone (in part to make areas more English-friendly) rather than for educational and computer-input purposes. Despite the national government's attempt to implement it, "some cities, businesses, and organizations, notably in the south of Taiwan, did not accept this" and so it remains one of several rival Romanization systems in use there.
|Scheme for the Chinese Phonetic Alphabet|
In 1605, the Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci published Xizi Qiji (《西字奇蹟》; Xīzì Qíjī; Hsi-tzu Ch'i-chi; "Miracle of Western Letters") in Beijing. This was the first book to use the Roman alphabet to write the Chinese language. Twenty years later, another Jesuit in China, Nicolas Trigault, issued his Xi Ru Ermu Zi (《西儒耳目資》; Hsi Ju Erh-mu Tzu; "Aid to the Eyes and Ears of Western Literati") at Hangzhou. Neither book had much immediate impact on the way in which Chinese thought about their writing system, and the romanizations they described were intended more for Westerners than for the Chinese.
One of the earliest Chinese thinkers to relate Western alphabets to Chinese was late Ming to early Qing Dynasty scholar-official, Fang Yizhi (方以智; Fāng Yǐzhì; Fang I-chih; 1611–1671).
The first late Qing reformer to propose that China adopt a system of spelling was Song Shu (1862–1910). A student of the great scholars Yu Yue and Zhang Taiyan, Song had been to Japan and observed the stunning effect of the kana syllabaries and Western learning there. This galvanized him into activity on a number of fronts, one of the most important being reform of the script. While Song did not himself actually create a system for spelling Sinitic languages, his discussion proved fertile and led to a proliferation of schemes for phonetic scripts.
The Wade–Giles system was produced by Thomas Wade in 1859, and further improved by Herbert Giles in the Chinese–English Dictionary of 1892. It was popular and used in English-language publications outside China until 1979.
In the early 1930s, Communist Party of China leaders trained in Moscow introduced a phonetic alphabet using Roman letters which had been developed in the Soviet Oriental Institute of Leningrad and was originally intended to improve literacy in the Russian Far East. This Sin Wenz or "New Writing" was much more linguistically sophisticated than earlier alphabets, with the major exception that it did not indicate tones.
In 1940, several thousand members attended a Border Region Sin Wenz Society convention. Mao Zedong and Zhu De, head of the army, both contributed their calligraphy (in characters) for the masthead of the Sin Wenz Society's new journal. Outside the CCP, other prominent supporters included Sun Yat-sen's son, Sun Fo; Cai Yuanpei, the country's most prestigious educator; Tao Xingzhi, a leading educational reformer; and Lu Xun. Over thirty journals soon appeared written in Sin Wenz, plus large numbers of translations, biographies (including Lincoln, Franklin, Edison, Ford, and Charlie Chaplin), some contemporary Chinese literature, and a spectrum of textbooks. In 1940, the movement reached an apex when Mao's Border Region Government declared that the Sin Wenz had the same legal status as traditional characters in government and public documents. Many educators and political leaders looked forward to the day when they would be universally accepted and completely replace characters. Opposition arose, however, because the system was less well adapted to writing regional languages, and therefore would require learning Mandarin. Sin Wenz fell into relative disuse during the following years.
In 1943, the U.S. military engaged Yale University to develop a romanization of Mandarin Chinese for its pilots flying over China. The resulting system is very close to pinyin, but doesn't use English letters in unfamiliar ways; for example, pinyin x is written as sy. Medial semivowels are written with y and w (instead of pinyin i and u), and apical vowels (syllabic consonants) with r or z. Accent marks are used to indicate tone.
Pinyin was created by Chinese linguists, including Zhou Youguang, as part of a Chinese government project in the 1950s. Zhou is often called "the father of pinyin", Zhou worked as a banker in New York when he decided to return to China to help rebuild the country after the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949. He became an economics professor in Shanghai, and in 1955, when China's Ministry of Education created a Committee for the Reform of the Chinese Written Language, Premier Zhou Enlai assigned Zhou Youguang the task of developing a new romanization system, despite the fact that he was not a professional linguist.
Hanyu Pinyin was based on several existing systems: Gwoyeu Romatzyh of 1928, Latinxua Sin Wenz of 1931, and the diacritic markings from zhuyin. "I'm not the father of pinyin," Zhou said years later; "I'm the son of pinyin. It's [the result of] a long tradition from the later years of the Qing dynasty down to today. But we restudied the problem and revisited it and made it more perfect."
A draft was published on February 12, 1956. The first edition of Hanyu Pinyin was approved and adopted at the Fifth Session of the 1st National People's Congress on February 11, 1958. It was then introduced to primary schools as a way to teach Standard Chinese pronunciation and used to improve the literacy rate among adults.
Beginning in the early 1980s, Western publications addressing Mainland China began using the Hanyu Pinyin romanization system instead of earlier romanization systems; this change followed the normalization of diplomatic relations between the United States and the PRC in 1979. In 2001, the PRC Government issued the National Common Language Law, providing a legal basis for applying pinyin. The current specification of the orthographic rules is laid down in the National Standard GB/T 16159-2012.
Pinyin superseded older romanization systems such as Wade–Giles (1859; modified 1892) and postal romanization, and replaced zhuyin as the method of Chinese phonetic instruction in mainland China. The ISO adopted pinyin as the standard romanization for modern Chinese in 1982 (ISO 7098:1982, superseded by ISO 7098:2015); the United Nations followed suit in 1986. It has also been accepted by the government of Singapore, the United States' Library of Congress, the American Library Association, and many other international institutions.
The spelling of Chinese geographical or personal names in pinyin has become the most common way to transcribe them in English. Pinyin has also become the dominant method for entering Chinese text into computers in Mainland China, in contrast to Taiwan where Bopomofo is most commonly used.
Families outside of Taiwan who speak Mandarin as a mother tongue use pinyin to help children associate characters with spoken words which they already know. Chinese families outside of Taiwan who speak some other language as their mother tongue use the system to teach children Mandarin pronunciation when they learn vocabulary in elementary school.
Since 1958, pinyin has been actively used in adult education as well, making it easier for formerly illiterate people to continue with self-study after a short period of pinyin literacy instruction.
Pinyin has become a tool for many foreigners to learn Mandarin pronunciation, and is used to explain both the grammar and spoken Mandarin coupled with Chinese characters (汉字; 漢字; Hànzì). Books containing both Chinese characters and pinyin are often used by foreign learners of Chinese; pinyin's role in teaching pronunciation to foreigners and children is similar in some respects to furigana-based books (with hiragana letters written above or next to kanji, directly analogous to zhuyin) in Japanese or fully vocalised texts in Arabic ("vocalised Arabic").
The tone-marking diacritics are commonly omitted in popular news stories and even in scholarly works. This results in some degree of ambiguity as to which words are being represented.
When a foreign writing system with one set of coding/decoding system is taken to write a language, certain compromises may have to be made. The result is that the decoding systems used in some foreign languages will enable non-native speakers to produce sounds more closely resembling the target language than will the coding/decoding system used by other foreign languages. Native speakers of English will decode pinyin spellings to fairly close approximations of Mandarin except in the case of certain speech sounds that are not ordinarily produced by most native speakers of English: j, q, x, z, c, s, zh, ch, sh, and r exhibiting the greatest discrepancies. (When Chinese speakers call out these letters, they read them as: ji, qi, xi, zi, ci, si, zhi, chi, shi, and ri. The i in the last four sounds more like r and the use of i is purely a matter of convention.)
In this system, the correspondence between the Roman letter and the sound is sometimes idiosyncratic, though not necessarily more so than the way the Latin script is employed in other languages. For example, the aspiration distinction between b, d, g and p, t, k is similar to that of English (in which the two sets are however also differentiated by voicing), but not to that of French. Letters z and c also have that distinction, pronounced as [ts] and [tsʰ] (whilst reminiscent of both of them being used for the phoneme [ts] in the German language and Latin script-using Slavic languages respectively). From s, z, c come the digraphs sh, zh, ch by analogy with English sh, ch. Although this introduces the novel combination zh, it is internally consistent in how the two series are related, and reminds the trained reader that many Chinese pronounce sh, zh, ch as s, z, c (and English-speakers use zh to represent /ʒ/ in foreign languages such as Russian anyway). In the x, j, q series, the pinyin use of x is similar to its use in Portuguese, Galician, Catalan, Basque, and Maltese; and the pinyin q is akin to its value in Albanian; both pinyin and Albanian pronunciations may sound similar to the ch to the untrained ear. Pinyin vowels are pronounced in a similar way to vowels in Romance languages.
The pronunciation and spelling of Chinese words are generally given in terms of initials and finals, which represent the segmental phonemic portion of the language, rather than letter by letter. Initials are initial consonants, while finals are all possible combinations of medials (semivowels coming before the vowel), the nucleus vowel, and coda (final vowel or consonant).
Unlike European languages, clusters of letters – initials (声母; 聲母; shēngmǔ) and finals (韵母; 韻母; yùnmǔ) – and not consonant and vowel letters, form the fundamental elements in pinyin (and most other phonetic systems used to describe the Han language). Every Mandarin syllable can be spelled with exactly one initial followed by one final, except for the special syllable er or when a trailing -r is considered part of a syllable (see below). The latter case, though a common practice in some sub-dialects, is rarely used in official publications. One exception is the city Harbin (哈尔滨; 哈爾濱), whose name comes from the Manchu language.
Even though most initials contain a consonant, finals are not always simple vowels, especially in compound finals (复韵母; 複韻母; fùyùnmǔ), i.e. when a "medial" is placed in front of the final. For example, the medials [i] and [u] are pronounced with such tight openings at the beginning of a final that some native Chinese speakers (especially when singing) pronounce yī (衣, clothes, officially pronounced /í/) as /jí/ and wéi (围; 圍, to enclose, officially pronounced /uěi/) as /wěi/ or /wuěi/. Often these medials are treated as separate from the finals rather than as part of them; this convention is followed in the chart of finals below.
In each cell below, the bold letters indicate pinyin, and the brackets enclose the symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet.
|Plosive||unaspirated||b [p]||d [t]||g [k]|
|aspirated||p [pʰ]||t [tʰ]||k [kʰ]|
|Nasal||m [m]||n [n]|
|Affricate||unaspirated||z [ts]||zh [ʈʂ]||j [tɕ]|
|aspirated||c [tsʰ]||ch [ʈʂʰ]||q [tɕʰ]|
|Fricative||f [f]||s [s]||sh [ʂ]||x [ɕ]||h [x]|
|Liquid||l [l]||r [ɻ~ʐ]|
|Semivowel2||y [j]/[ɥ]1 and w [w]|
1 y is pronounced [ɥ] (a labial-palatal approximant) before u.
2 the letters w and y are not included in the table of initials in the official pinyin system. They are an orthographic convention for the medials i, u and ü when no initial is present. When i, u, or ü are finals and no initial is present, they are spelled yi, wu, and yu, respectively.
The conventional order (excluding w and y), derived from the zhuyin system, is:
|b p m f||d t n l||g k h||j q x||zh ch sh r||z c s|
In each cell below, the first line indicates IPA, the second indicates pinyin for a standalone (no-initial) form, and the third indicates pinyin for a combination with an initial. Other than finals modified by an -r, which are omitted, the following is an exhaustive table of all possible finals.1
The only syllable-final consonants in Standard Chinese are -n and -ng, and -r, which is attached as a grammatical suffix. A Chinese syllable ending with any other consonant either is from a non-Mandarin language (a southern Chinese language such as Cantonese, or a minority language of China), or indicates the use of a non-pinyin romanization system (where final consonants may be used to indicate tones).
1 [aɚ̯] is written er. For other finals formed by the suffix -r, pinyin does not use special orthography; one simply appends r to the final that it is added to, without regard for any sound changes that may take place along the way. For information on sound changes related to final r, please see Erhua#Rules.
2 ü is written as u after j, q, or x.
3 uo is written as o after b, p, m, f, or w.
Technically, i, u, ü without a following vowel are finals, not medials, and therefore take the tone marks, but they are more concisely displayed as above. In addition, ê [ɛ] (欸; 誒) and syllabic nasals m (呒, 呣), n (嗯, 唔), ng (嗯, 𠮾) are used as interjections.
Most rules given here in terms of English pronunciation are approximations, as several of these sounds do not correspond directly to sounds in English.
|b||[p]||spit||unaspirated p, as in spit|
|p||[pʰ]||pay||strongly aspirated p, as in pit|
|m||[m]||may||as in English mummy|
|f||[f]||fair||as in English fun|
|d||[t]||stop||unaspirated t, as in stop|
|t||[tʰ]||take||strongly aspirated t, as in top|
|n||[n]||nay||as in English nit|
|l||[l]||lay||as in English love|
|g||[k]||skill||unaspirated k, as in skill|
|k||[kʰ]||kay||strongly aspirated k, as in kill|
|h||[x]||loch||roughly like the Scots ch. English h as in hay or, more closely in some American dialects, hero is an acceptable approximation. One way to produce this sound is by very slowly making a "k" sound, pausing at the point where there is just restricted air flowing over the back of the tongue (after the release at the beginning of a "k")|
|j||[tɕ]||churchyard||No equivalent in English, but similar to an unaspirated "-chy-" sound when said quickly. Like q, but unaspirated. Is similar to the English name of the letter G, but curl the tip of the tongue downwards to stick it at the back of the teeth. Not like the s in vision despite the common English pronunciation of "Beijing". The sequence "ji" word-initially is the same as the Japanese pronunciation of じ(ジ) ji.|
|q||[tɕʰ]||punch yourself||No equivalent in English. Like punch yourself, with the lips spread wide as when one says ee. Curl the tip of the tongue downwards to stick it at the back of the teeth and strongly aspirate. The sequence "qi" word-initially is similar to the Japanese pronunciation of ち(チ) chi.|
|x||[ɕ]||push yourself||No equivalent in English. Like -sh y-, with the lips spread as when one says ee and with the tip of the tongue curled downwards and stuck to the back of the teeth. The sequence "xi" is similar to the Japanese pronunciation of し(シ) shi.|
|zh||[ʈʂ]||junk||Rather like ch (a sound between choke, joke, true, and drew, with tongue tip curled more upwards). Voiced in a toneless syllable.|
|ch||[ʈʂʰ]||church||As in chin or nurture in American English, but with the tongue tip curled more upwards and strongly aspirated.|
|sh||[ʂ]||shirt||As in shoe, or marsh in American English, but with the tongue tip curled more upwards.|
|r||[ɻ~ʐ]||ray||Similar to the English r in reduce, but with the tongue tip curled more upwards, unrounded lips and lightly fricated.|
|z||[ts]||reads||unaspirated c, similar to something between suds and cats; as in suds in a toneless syllable|
|c||[tsʰ]||hats||like the English ts in cats, but strongly aspirated, very similar to the Czech, Polish, and Slovak c.|
|s||[s]||say||as in sun|
|w||[w]||way||as in water. Before an e or a it is sometimes pronounced like v as in violin.*|
|y||[j], [ɥ]||yea||as in yes. Before a u, pronounced with rounded lips.*|
Y and w are equivalent to the semivowel medials i, u, and ü (see below). They are spelled differently when there is no initial consonant in order to mark a new syllable: fanguan is fan-guan, while fangwan is fang-wan (and equivalent to *fang-uan). With this convention, an apostrophe only needs to be used to mark an initial a, e, or o: Xi'an (two syllables: [ɕi.an]) vs. xian (one syllable: [ɕi̯ɛn]). In addition, y and w are added to fully vocalic i, u, and ü when these occur without an initial consonant, so that they are written yi, wu, and yu. Some Mandarin speakers do pronounce a [j] or [w] sound at the beginning of such words—that is, yi [i] or [ji], wu [u] or [wu], yu [y] or [ɥy],—so this is an intuitive convention. See below for a few finals which are abbreviated after a consonant plus w/u or y/i medial: wen → C+un, wei → C+ui, weng → C+ong, and you → C+iu.
The apostrophe (') (隔音符號, géyīn fúhào, 'syllable-dividing mark') is used before a syllable starting with a vowel (a, o, or e) in a multiple-syllable word when the syllable does not start the word (which is most commonly realized as [ɰ]), unless the syllable immediately follows a hyphen or other dash. This is done to remove ambiguity that could arise, as in Xi'an, which consists of the two syllables xi ("西") an ("安"), compared to such words as xian ("先"). (This ambiguity does not occur when tone marks are used: The two tone marks in Xīān unambiguously show that the word consists of two syllables. However, even with tone marks, the city is usually spelled with an apostrophe as Xī'ān.)
The following is a list of finals in Standard Chinese, excepting most of those ending with r.
To find a given final:
|Pinyin||IPA||Form with zero initial||Explanation|
|-i||[ɹ̩~z̩], [ɻ̩~ʐ̩]||(n/a)||-i is a buzzed continuation of the consonant following z-, c-, s-, zh-, ch-, sh- or r-.
(In all other cases, -i has the sound of bee; this is listed below.)
|a||[a]||a||like English father, but a bit more fronted|
|e||[ɤ] ( listen)||e||a back, unrounded vowel (similar to English duh, but not as open). Varies between [ə] and [ɰɤ] depending on the speaker.|
|ai||[ai̯]||ai||like English eye, but a bit lighter|
|ei||[ei̯]||ei||as in hey|
|ao||[au̯]||ao||approximately as in cow; the a is much more audible than the o|
|ou||[ou̯]||ou||as in North American English so|
|an||[an]||an||like British English ban, but more central|
|en||[ən]||en||as in taken|
|ang||[aŋ]||ang||as in German Angst.
(Starts with the vowel sound in father and ends in the velar nasal; like song in some dialects of American English)
|eng||[əŋ]||eng||like e in en above but with ng appended|
|ong||[ʊŋ]||(n/a)||starts with the vowel sound in book and ends with the velar nasal sound in sing. Varies between [oŋ] and [uŋ] depending on the speaker.|
|er||[aɚ̯]||er||Similar to the sound in bar in American English. Can also be pronounced [ɚ] depending on the speaker.|
|Finals beginning with i- (y-)|
|i||[i]||yi||like English bee|
|ia||[ja]||ya||as i + a; like English yard|
|ie||[je]||ye||as i + ê where the e (compare with the ê interjection) is pronounced shorter and lighter|
|iao||[jau̯]||yao||as i + ao|
|iu||[jou̯]||you||as i + ou|
|ian||[jɛn]||yan||as i + an; like English yen. Varies between [jen] and [jan] depending on the speaker.|
|in||[in]||yin||as i + n|
|iang||[jaŋ]||yang||as i + ang|
|ing||[iŋ]||ying||as i + ng|
|iong||[jʊŋ]||yong||as i + ong. Varies between [joŋ] and [juŋ] depending on the speaker.|
|Finals beginning with u- (w-)|
|u||[u]||wu||like English oo|
|ua||[wa]||wa||as u + a|
|uo, o||[wo]||wo||as u + o where the o (compare with the o interjection) is pronounced shorter and lighter (spelled as o after b, p, m or f)|
|uai||[wai̯]||wai||as u + ai, as in English why|
|ui||[wei̯]||wei||as u + ei|
|uan||[wan]||wan||as u + an|
|un||[wən]||wen||as u + en; as in English won|
|uang||[waŋ]||wang||as u + ang|
|(n/a)||[wəŋ]||weng||as u + eng|
|Finals beginning with ü- (yu-)|
|u, ü||[y] ( listen)||yu||as in German über or French lune.
(Pronounced as English ee with rounded lips)
|ue, üe||[ɥe]||yue||as ü + ê where the e (compare with the ê interjection) is pronounced shorter and lighter|
|uan||[ɥɛn]||yuan||as ü + an. Varies between [ɥen] and [ɥan] depending on the speaker.|
|un||[yn]||yun||as ü + n|
|ê||[ɛ]||(n/a)||as in bet|
|o||[ɔ]||(n/a)||approximately as in British English office; the lips are much more rounded|
|io||[jɔ]||yo||as i + o|
Pinyin differs from other romanizations in several aspects, such as the following:
Most of the above are used to avoid ambiguity when writing words of more than one syllable in pinyin. For example, uenian is written as wenyan because it is not clear which syllables make up uenian; uen-ian, uen-i-an, and u-en-i-an are all possible combinations whereas wenyan is unambiguous because we, nya, etc. do not exist in pinyin. See the pinyin table article for a summary of possible pinyin syllables (not including tones).
Although Chinese characters represent single syllables, Mandarin Chinese is a polysyllabic language. Spacing in pinyin is based on whole words, not single syllables. However, there are often ambiguities in partitioning a word. The Basic Rules of the Chinese Phonetic Alphabet Orthography (汉语拼音正词法基本规则; 漢語拼音正詞法基本規則; Hànyǔ Pīnyīn Zhèngcífǎ Jīběn Guīzé) were put into effect in 1988 by the National Educational Commission (国家教育委员会; 國家教育委員會; Guójiā Jiàoyù Wěiyuánhuì) and the National Language Commission (国家语言文字工作委员会; 國家語言文字工作委員會; Guójiā Yǔyán Wénzì Gōngzuò Wěiyuánhuì). These rules became a Guobiao standard in 1996 and were updated in 2012.
The pinyin system also uses diacritics to mark the four tones of Mandarin. The diacritic is placed over the letter that represents the syllable nucleus, unless that letter is missing (see below). Many books printed in China use a mix of fonts, with vowels and tone marks rendered in a different font from the surrounding text, tending to give such pinyin texts a typographically ungainly appearance. This style, most likely rooted in early technical limitations, has led many to believe that pinyin's rules call for this practice and also for the use of a Latin alpha (ɑ) rather than the standard style of the letter (a) found in most fonts. (The same problem happens to g—often written as ɡ, or U+0261). The official rules of Hanyu Pinyin, however, specify no such practice.(184.108.40.206:8)
These tone marks normally are only used in Mandarin textbooks or in foreign learning texts, but they are essential for correct pronunciation of Mandarin syllables, as exemplified by the following classic example of five characters whose pronunciations differ only in their tones:
The words are "mother", "hemp", "horse", "scold", and a question particle, respectively.
Before the advent of computers, many typewriter fonts did not contain vowels with macron or caron diacritics. Tones were thus represented by placing a tone number at the end of individual syllables. For example, tóng is written tong2. The number used for each tone is as the order listed above, except the neutral tone, which is either not numbered, or given the number 0 or 5, e.g. ma5 for 吗/嗎, an interrogative marker.
|Tone||Tone Mark||Number added to end of syllable
in place of tone mark
|First||macron ( ¯ )||1||mā||ma1||ma˥|
|Second||acute accent ( ´ )||2||má||ma2||ma˧˥|
|Third||caron ( ˇ )||3||mǎ||ma3||ma˨˩˦|
|Fourth||grave accent ( ` )||4||mà||ma4||ma˥˩|
or dot before syllable (·)
Briefly, the tone mark should always be placed by the order—a, o, e, i, u, ü, with the only exception being iu, where the tone mark is placed on the u instead. Pinyin tone marks appear primarily above the nucleus of the syllable, for example as in kuài, where k is the initial, u the medial, a the nucleus, and i the coda. The exception is syllabic nasals like /m/, where the nucleus of the syllable is a consonant, the diacritic will be carried by a written dummy vowel.
When the nucleus is /ə/ (written e or o), and there is both a medial and a coda, the nucleus may be dropped from writing. In this case, when the coda is a consonant n or ng, the only vowel left is the medial i, u, or ü, and so this takes the diacritic. However, when the coda is a vowel, it is the coda rather than the medial which takes the diacritic in the absence of a written nucleus. This occurs with syllables ending in -ui (from wei: (wèi → -uì) and in -iu (from you: yòu → -iù.) That is, in the absence of a written nucleus the finals have priority for receiving the tone marker, as long as they are vowels: if not, the medial takes the diacritic.
An algorithm to find the correct vowel letter (when there is more than one) is as follows:
If the tone is written over an i, the tittle above the i is omitted, as in yī.
The placement of the tone marker, when more than one of the written letters a, e, i, o, and u appears, can also be inferred from the nature of the vowel sound in the medial and final. The rule is that the tone marker goes on the spelled vowel that is not a (near-)semi-vowel. The exception is that, for triphthongs that are spelled with only two vowel letters, both of which are the semi-vowels, the tone marker goes on the second spelled vowel.
Specifically, if the spelling of a diphthong begins with i (as in ia) or u (as in ua), which here serves as a near-semi-vowel, this letter does not take the tone marker. Likewise, if the spelling of a diphthong ends with o or u representing a near-semi-vowel (as in ao or ou), this letter does not receive a tone marker. In a triphthong spelled with three of a, e, i, o, and u (with i or u replaced by y or w at the start of a syllable), the first and third letters coincide with near-semi-vowels and hence do not receive the tone marker (as in iao or uai or iou). But if no letter is written to represent a triphthong's middle (non-semi-vowel) sound (as in ui or iu), then the tone marker goes on the final (second) vowel letter.
In addition to tone number and mark, tone color has been suggested as a visual aid for learning. Although there are no formal standards, there are a number of different color schemes in use.
In spoken Chinese, the third tone is often pronounced as a "half third tone", in which the pitch does not rise. Additionally, when two third tones appear consecutively, such as in 你好 (nǐhǎo, hello), the first syllable is pronounced with the second tone. In pinyin, words like "hello" are still written with two third tones (nǐhǎo).
An umlaut is placed over the letter u when it occurs after the initials l and n in order to represent the sound [y]. This is necessary in order to distinguish the front high rounded vowel in lü (e.g. 驴; 驢; "donkey") from the back high rounded vowel in lu (e.g. 炉; 爐; "oven"). Tonal markers are added on top of the umlaut, as in lǘ.
However, the ü is not used in the other contexts where it could represent a front high rounded vowel, namely after the letters j, q, x, and y. For example, the sound of the word 鱼/魚 (fish) is transcribed in pinyin simply as yú, not as yǘ. This practice is opposed to Wade–Giles, which always uses ü, and Tongyong Pinyin, which always uses yu. Whereas Wade–Giles needs to use the umlaut to distinguish between chü (pinyin ju) and chu (pinyin zhu), this ambiguity cannot arise with pinyin, so the more convenient form ju is used instead of jü. Genuine ambiguities only happen with nu/nü and lu/lü, which are then distinguished by an umlaut.
Many fonts or output methods do not support an umlaut for ü or cannot place tone marks on top of ü. Likewise, using ü in input methods is difficult because it is not present as a simple key on many keyboard layouts. For these reasons v is sometimes used instead by convention. For example, it is common for cellphones to use v instead of ü. Additionally, some stores in China use v instead of ü in the transliteration of their names. The drawback is that there are no tone marks for the letter v.
This also presents a problem in transcribing names for use on passports, affecting people with names that consist of the sound lü or nü, particularly people with the surname 吕 (Lǚ), a fairly common surname, particularly compared to the surname 陆 (Lù), 鲁 (Lǔ), 卢 (Lú) and 路 (Lù). Previously, the practice varied among different passport issuing offices, with some transcribing as "LV" and "NV" while others used "LU" and "NU". On 10 July 2012, the Ministry of Public Security standardized the practice to use "LYU" and "NYU" in passports.
Although nüe written as nue, and lüe written as lue are not ambiguous, nue or lue are not correct according to the rules; nüe and lüe should be used instead. However, some Chinese input methods (e.g. Microsoft Pinyin IME) support both nve/lve (typing v for ü) and nue/lue.
Taiwan (Republic of China) adopted Tongyong Pinyin, a modification of Hanyu Pinyin, as the official romanization system on the national level between October 2002 and January 2009, when it switched to Hanyu Pinyin. Tongyong Pinyin ("common phonetic"), a variant of pinyin developed in Taiwan, was designed to romanize languages and dialects spoken on the island in addition to Mandarin Chinese. The Kuomintang (KMT) party resisted its adoption, preferring the Hanyu Pinyin system used in Mainland China and in general use internationally. Romanization preferences quickly became associated with issues of national identity. Preferences split along party lines: the KMT and its affiliated parties in the pan-blue coalition supported the use of Hanyu Pinyin while the Democratic Progressive Party and its affiliated parties in the pan-green coalition favored the use of Tongyong Pinyin.
Tongyong Pinyin was made the official system in an administrative order that allowed its adoption by local governments to be voluntary. A few localities with governments controlled by the KMT, most notably Taipei, Hsinchu, and Kinmen County, overrode the order and converted to Hanyu Pinyin before the January 1, 2009 national-level switch, though with a slightly different capitalization convention than mainland China. Most areas of Taiwan adopted Tongyong Pinyin, consistent with the national policy. After 2009 switch, many street signs in Taiwan today still display Tongyong Pinyin but some, especially in northern Taiwan, display Hanyu Pinyin. It is still not unusual to see spellings on street signs and buildings derived from the older Wade–Giles, MPS2 and other systems.
The adoption of Hanyu Pinyin as the official romanization system in Taiwan does not preclude the official retention of earlier spellings. International familiarity has led to the retention of the spelling Taipei ("Taibei" in pinyin systems) and even to its continuation in the name of New Taipei, a municipality created in 2010. Personal names on Taiwanese passports honor the choices of Taiwanese citizens, who often prefer the Wade–Giles romanization of their personal names. Transition to Hanyu Pinyin in official use is also necessarily gradual. Universities and other government entities retain earlier spellings in long-established names, and budget restraints preclude widespread replacement of signage and stationery in every area. Primary education in Taiwan continues to teach pronunciation using zhuyin (MPS or Mandarin Phonetic Symbols).
Pinyin is now used by foreign students learning Chinese as a second language.
Pinyin assigns some Latin letters sound values which are quite different from that of most languages. This has drawn some criticism as it may lead to confusion when uninformed speakers apply either native or English assumed pronunciations to words. However, this problem is not limited only to pinyin, since many languages that use the Latin alphabet natively also assign different values to the same letters. A recent study on Chinese writing and literacy concluded, "By and large, pinyin represents the Chinese sounds better than the Wade–Giles system, and does so with fewer extra marks."
Because Pinyin is purely a representation of the sounds of Mandarin, it completely lacks the semantic cues and contexts inherent in Chinese characters. Pinyin is also unsuitable for transcribing some Chinese spoken languages other than Mandarin, languages which by contrast have traditionally been written with Han characters allowing for written communication which, by its unified semanto-phonetic orthography, could theoretically be readable in any of the various vernaculars of Chinese where a phonetic script would have only localized utility.
Simple computer systems, able to display only 7-bit ASCII text (essentially the 26 Latin letters, 10 digits, and punctuation marks), long provided a convincing argument for using pinyin instead of Chinese characters. Today, however, most computer systems are able to display characters from Chinese and many other writing systems as well, and have them entered with a Latin keyboard using an input method editor. Alternatively, some PDAs, tablet computers, and digitizing tablets allow users to input characters graphically by writing with a stylus, with concurrent online handwriting recognition.
Pinyin-like systems have been devised for other variants of Chinese. Guangdong Romanization is a set of romanizations devised by the government of Guangdong province for Cantonese, Teochew, Hakka (Moiyen dialect), and Hainanese. All of these are designed to use Latin letters in a similar way to pinyin.
In addition, in accordance to the Regulation of Phonetic Transcription in Hanyu Pinyin Letters of Place Names in Minority Nationality Languages (少数民族语地名汉语拼音字母音译转写法; 少數民族語地名漢語拼音字母音譯寫法) promulgated in 1976, place names in non-Han languages like Mongolian, Uyghur, and Tibetan are also officially transcribed using pinyin in a system adopted by the State Administration of Surveying and Mapping and Geographical Names Committee known as SASM/GNC romanization. The pinyin letters (26 Roman letters, plus ü and ê) are used to approximate the non-Han language in question as closely as possible. This results in spellings that are different from both the customary spelling of the place name, and the pinyin spelling of the name in Chinese:
|Customary||Official (pinyin for local name)||Traditional Chinese name||Simplified Chinese name||Pinyin for Chinese name|
|Official romanization adopted
by the People's Republic of China
|de facto used romanization
by the People's Republic of China
|Romanization used by the United Nations
|Official romanization adopted
by the Republic of China (Taiwan)