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Chinese Language Romanization
For Mandarin (Putonghua/Guoyu) *Bopomofo *Gwoyeu Romatzyh *Hanyu Pinyin *MPS II *Postal System Pinyin *Tongyong Pinyin *Wade-Giles *Yale Romanization
For Cantonese *Barnett-Chao *Gwohngdongwaa pengyam *Jyutping *Meyer-Wempe *Penkyamp

Pinyin (拼音, pīnyīn) literally means "join together sounds" (a less literal translation being "phoneticize", "spell" or "transcription") in Chinese and usually refers to Hanyu pinyin (汉语拼音;, literal meaning: "Han language pinyin"), which is a system of romanization (phonetic notation and transliteration to roman script) for Mandarin used in the People's Republic of China. Pinyin was approved in 1958 and adopted in 1979 by its government. It superseded older transcriptions like the Wade-Giles system (1859; modified 1912) or Bopomofo. Similar systems have been designed for Chinese dialects and non-Han minority languages in the PRC. Cantonese also has a pinyin-type system called Penkyamp, whose name derives from the same word as pinyin, albeit articulated in the Cantonese dialect.

Since then, pinyin has been accepted by the Library of Congress, The American Library Association, and most international institutions as the transcription system for Mandarin. In 1979 the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) adopted pinyin as the standard romanization for Modern Chinese.

It is important to maintain the distinction that pinyin is a romanization and not an anglicization; that is, it is equally applicable for transliteration into any language that uses a roman alphabet. Indeed some of the transliterations in pinyin such as the "ang" ending, do not correspond to English pronunciations. Pinyin has also become a useful tool for entering Chinese language text into computers.

Table of contents
1 Pronunciation
2 Orthographic features
3 Tones
4 Miscellanea
5 Pinyin in Taiwan
6 Controversy
7 External links
8 Fonts


The primary purpose of pinyin in Chinese schools is to teach Mandarin pronunciation. Many in the West are under the mistaken belief that pinyin is used to help children associate characters with spoken words which they already know, but this is incorrect as many Chinese do not use Mandarin at home, and therefore do not know the Mandarin pronunciation of words until they learn them in elementary school through the use of pinyin.

Pinyin uses the Roman alphabet, hence the pronunciation is relatively straightforward for Westerners. A pitfall for novices is, however, the unusual pronunciation of "x", "q" and (for English speakers) "c" and "z". The sounds represented by "x" and "q" in Western languages don't exist in Chinese, so the Pinyin system "recycles" them and assigns them other sounds: "x" represents a soft "sh" (like the "sh" in "sharp" but not as fully sounding), "q" represents a soft "ch" (again, like the "ch" in "chin" but not quite). The "c" is pronounced like "ts", "z" like "ds". Finally, "ü" stands for the same sound as in German and "u" is pronounced like "ü" if it follows "y", "x", "j" or "q". The combined initials, vowels, and finals represent the segmental phonemic portion of the language.



Bilabial Labiodental Alveolar Retroflex Alveolo-palatal Velar
Plosive p t k
Nasal m n
Fricative f s ʂ ʐ ɕ x
Affricate ts tsʰ tʂʰ tɕʰ
Lateral approximant l
Approximant w j ʁ

In Pinyin:

Bilabial Labiodental Alveolar Retroflex Alveolo-palatal Velar
Plosive b p d t g k
Nasal m n
Fricative f s sh r x h
Affricate z c zh ch j q
Lateral approximant l
Approximant w y (')



i u y
ɤ   uo  
ɤʊ iɤʊ    
an iɛn uan yɛn
ən in uən yn
ɑŋ iɑŋ uɑŋ  
ɤŋ iɤŋ    
    ʊŋ yʊŋ
-r rhymes omitted. 3

In Pinyin:

In combination with an initial:

i i u 1
a ia ua  
e   o/uo 2  
  ie   e 1
ai   uai  
ei   ui  
ao iao    
ou iu    
an ian uan an 1
en in un n 1
ang iang uang  
eng ing    
    ong iong

In standalone form:

yi wu yu
a ya wa  
e   wo  
  ye   yue
ai   wai  
ei   wei  
ao yao    
ou you    
an yan wan yuan
en yin wen yun
ang yang wang  
eng ying (weng)  

1 "" becomes "u" after j q x.
2 "o" is used after b p m f, "uo" everywhere else.
3 /ər/ (而,二, etc.) is written as er. For other -r rhymes formed by the suffix -r, pinyin does not use special orthography; one simply appends -r to the rhyme that it is added to without regard for any sound changes that may take place along the way.

Rules given in terms of English pronunciation

All rules given here in terms of English pronunciation are approximate.
a: IPA [ɑ] if ending a syllable, then as in "father"
ai: IPA [aɪ], like English "eye", but a bit lighter
an: IPA [an], [ən] as in fan in British Received Pronunciation or as in ton as in the American Midwest. If occurring in the combinations ian, an, juan, quan, xuan, yuan, then like pen in British RP, fan in the American Midwest.
ar, anr, air: IPA [aɹ], like a, but pronounced with the tongue curled up against the palate; like rhotic are in North American English
angr: same as ar but nasalized (i.e., pass the sound through your nose as well)
ao: IPA [aʊ], approximately as in "cow"; the a is much more audible than the o
aor: like ao but with an -r added to the back; comparable to American tower (but much more compact)
b: IPA [p], unaspirated "p", as in spit
c: IPA [tsʰ], like "ts", aspirated
ch: IPA [tʂʰ], as in "chin", but with the tongue curled upwards
d: IPA [t], unaspirated "t", as in stand
e: IPA [ɤ], when occurring at the end of a syllable and not in the combinations of ie, e, ue, then a backward, unrounded vowel, which can be formed by first pronouncing a plain continental "o" (British RP law) and then spreading the lips without changing the position of the tongue. Many unstressed syllables in Chinese use the schwa (idea), and this is also written as e.
ê: IPA [ɛ], as in French "école"
ei: IPA [ei], as in "hey"
en: IPA [ən], as in taken
eir, enr: IPA [ɝ], like e, but pronounced with the tongue curled up against the palate; similar to the vowel in rhotic her in English
eng, like e above but with ng added to it at the back
er, if occurring not as a result of the suffix -r (e.g. 而, 二), then like ar; if occurring as a result of the suffix -r (e.g. 歌儿, 车儿), then like e but with an -r added at the end. see also ier, uer, er:
engr, like er but nasalized
f: IPA [f], as in English
g: IPA [k], unaspirated "k", as in skill
h: IPA [x], like the English "h" if followed by "a"; otherwise it is pronounced more roughly (not unlike the Scots "ch")
i: IPA [i], like English "ee", except when preceded by "c", "ch", "r", "s", "sh", "z" or "zh"; in these cases it should be pronounced as a natural extension of those sounds in the same position, but slightly more open to allow for a clear-sounding vowel to pass through
ie: IPA [iɛ], the initial i sounds like English "ee", but is very short; e (pronounced like ê) is pronounced longer and carries the main stress
ier: "ie" with -r added
iu: IPA [iou̯], pronounced like iou
j: IPA [tɕ], like q, but unaspirated. (To get this sound, first take the sound halfway between joke and check, and then slowly pass it backwards along the tongue until it is entirely clear of the tongue tip.)
k: IPA [kʰ], as in English
l: IPA [l], as in English
m: IPA [m], as in English
n: IPA [n], as in English
o: IPA [u̯], if occurring in the combinations bo, po, mo, fo, wo, then it is the same as uo. See also ou
ong: IPA [ʊŋ], here, o is a sound somewhere in between English "o" as in "song" and English "u" as in "bush"
ongr: The same vowel as ong, but with an -r added and nasalized.
ou: as in so
our: take ou and add -r. The sound should be compact.
p: IPA [pʰ], as in English
q: IPA [tɕʰ] like church; pass it backwards along the tongue until it is free of the tongue tip
r: IPA [ʐ], similar to the English "r" in "rank", but with the lips spread, and with a bit of the sound in camouflage in it (I know this sounds strange at first, but try it!)
s: IPA [s], as in "sun"
sh: IPA [ʂ], as in "shinbone", but with the tongue curled upwards
t: IPA [tʰ,] as in English
u: IPA [u], [y], like English "oo", except when preceded by y, x, j or q; in this case it is pronounced like ü
ue, uer: see "üe"
uo: IPA [uo], starts with English "oo" and ends with the sound in law. The u is pronounced shorter and lighter than the o
ü: IPA [y], as in German "üben" or French "lune"
üe: IPA [yɛ], e is pronounced like ê, the ü is short and light
üer: "üe" with -r added
w: IPA [w], as in English, but many people pronounce it as in German w; not pronounced at all if followed by u
x: IPA [ɕ], like sh, but take the sound and pass it backwards along the tongue until it's clear of the tongue tip
y: IPA [j], as in English; not pronounced at all if followed by i or ü
z: IPA [ts], halfway between beds and bets
zh: IPA [tʂ], ch with no aspiration (take the sound halfway between joke and church and curl it upwards)

Orthographic features

Pinyin differs from other Romanizations in several aspects, such as:


The Pinyin system also incorporates suprasegmental
phonemes to represent the four tones of Mandarin. Each tone is indicated by a diacritical mark above a non-medial vowel. In the following examples, the vowel used as an example is a.

  1. First tone is represented by a macron (ˉ) added to the pinyin vowel:
  2. Second tone is denoted by an acute accent (ˊ):
  3. Third tone is symbolized by a caron (ˇ, also known as a reverse circumflex). Note, it is officially not breve (˘, lacking a downward angle), although this misuse is somewhat common on the Internet.
  4. Fourth tone is represented by a grave accent (ˋ):
  5. Fifth tone is represented by a regular vowel without any accent mark:
(In some cases, this is also written with a dot before the syllable; for example, ·ma.)

Since most computer fonts do not contain the macron or caron accents, a common convention is to postfix the individual syllables with a digit representing their tone (e.g., "tóng" (tong with the rising tone) is written "tong2"). The digit is numbered as the order listed above, except the "fifth tone", which, in addition to being numbered 5, is also either not numbered or numbered 0, as in ma0 (嗎, an interrogative marker).

The pinyin vowels are ordered as a, o, e, i, u, and . Generally, the tone mark is placed on the vowel that first appears in the order mentioned. Li is a superficial exception whose true pronunciation is liu. And since o precedes i, u (contracted to ) is marked.

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.


A dieresis or an umlaut is occasionally used over the vowel u in conjunction with the tonal marks when placed after the initials l and n, which distinguishes between rounded-u and unrounded-u sounds. However, the umlaut-u is not used after the semiconsonant y and after the consonants j, q, and x. This practise is opposed to Wade-Giles, which always uses , and Tongyong Pinyin, which always uses yu.

Many fonts or inputs do not support diaeresis (umlaut) for ü, v is used instead by convention. Occasionally, uu (double u) or U (capital u) is used in its place.

See also:

Pinyin in Taiwan

Republic of China on Taiwan is in the process of adopting a modified version of pinyin (currently Tongyong Pinyin). For elementary education it has used zhuyin, and for romanization there is no standard system in general use on Taiwan despite many efforts to standardize on one system. In the late-1990s, the government of Taiwan formally decided to move from zhuyin to pinyin. This has triggered a very heated discussion of which pinyin system to use, hanyu pinyin of People's Republic of China or some other systems.

Much of the controversy centered on issues of national identity because of political interests. Proponents for adopting pinyin maintained that it is an international standard that is already used throughout the world. Proponents for adopting a new system maintain that Taiwan should have its own identity and culture apart from People's Republic of China.

A new system Tongyong Pinyin was created in Taiwan in 1998. Tongyong pinyin is mostly similar to Hanyu pinyin with a few changes for the letters of certain sounds.

On October 2002, the ROC government has adopted tongyong pinyin but through an administrative order which local governments can override. Localities with governments controlled by the Kuomintang, most notably Taipei City, have overridden the order and converted to hanyu pinyin (although with a slightly different capitialization convention than the Mainland). As a result, English signs have inconsistent romanization in Taiwan with most places using Tongyong Pinyin but some using Hanyu Pinyin. This has resulted in the odd situation in Taipei City in which inconsistent pinyin are shown in freeway directions, with freeway signs, which are under the control of the national government, using one pinyin, but surface street signs, which are under the control of the city government, using the other.

As of 2003, no form of pinyin is used in elementary education on Taiwan to teach pronunciation. Although the ROC government has stated the desire to use romanization rather than bopomofo in education, the lack of agreement on which form of pinyin to use and the huge logistical challenge of teacher training has stalled these efforts.


Debate continues about the actual suitability of pinyin as a Chinese romanization method. This argument revolves around pinyin's unconventional use of Roman letters, of which the phonological values of some phonemes are quite different than that of most languages utilizing the Roman alphabet. Some sinologists praise this as pinyin's flexibility in that it allows the entire Roman alphabet to be adapted to the Chinese sound system (compared to Wade-Giles, which leaves out or underuses many letters); others, however, point out that pinyin letter values are hence so unconventional that they guarantee a very large number of mispronunciations in a non-Chinese reading the romanized text, again, in contrast with Wade-Giles. However, as not only the PRC but by now most institutions and publications have adopted it, the debate seems increasingly obsolete.

External links


''Unicode has substantial pinyin handling. See
Pinyin.info for details