Thursday, February 21, 2008

Hanyu Pinyin, Tongyong Pinyin and the rest

Ever wondered why some of us learned the capital of People's Republic of China is Peking? And what about Beijing? The city that is called 北京 in Chinese (meaning "Northern capital") has been writen for us as Běijīng, Peiching, Pei-ching, and Peking. Maybe because it is pronounced [peɪ˨˩ tɕɪŋ˥˥].

In order to have something to study, I needed to look up some of the words and phrases in Chinese. I find that using pinyin is easier than the ideograms.
But how is pinyin read? And what is pinyin?
Pinyin is a romanization of Mandarin. This is, Madarin language written with Latin alphabet. A logical step, if you consider that for Westerns it'd be way easier to learn that language (and to be used on communications). Yeah, right. This approach has some important drewbacks.
For example, the conventions of how to use pinyin may not coincide with the use of those Latin letters in Western languages. Letters j, q, x and zh indicate sounds that do not correspond to any English sound, but the reader might be mislead and pronounce them as English sounds.
And maybe this is why someone comes and proposes his own romanization way. The most common of all is Hanyu pinyin (汉语拼音), but the current official romanization in the Republic of China is the Tongyong pinyin (通用拼音). These two replaced the old Wade-Giles system (威妥玛拼音).

In 1859, the British Thomas Francis Wade developed a system to write Mandarin language with the Latin alphabet. In his Chinese-English dictionary of 1892, Herber Allen Giles gave a settled form for Wade's system.
This system was the main one for transcription in the English speaking world for a good deal of the 20th century. It was used for all publications relating China until 1979, but it is still in use in the Republic of China.

The Chinese Postal Map Romanization (郵政式拼音) came into use in late Qing dinasty and was officialy sanctioned by the Imperial Postal Joint-Session Confernce (帝國郵電聯席會議), which was held in Shanghai in the spring of 1906. It was retained after the fall of the Qing dinasty in 1912, and since it was in use in the official postal atlas f the Republic of China, it remained the most common way of rendering Chinese place names in the West for a large part of the 20th century. It was based on Wade-Giles.

A group of linguists that included Yuen Ren Chao (赵元任) and Lin Yutang (林语堂) developed the Gwoyeu Romatzyh system (國語羅馬字, meaning "National [language] Romanization) from 1925 to 1926.
In 1928, China adopted the GR system as the official one. The problem with this one is that it was too narrowly based on the eijing dialect and it was too complex.

Then Hanyu pinyin came, developed by Zhou Youguan. The first edition of Hanyu pinyin was approved and adopted at the Fifth Sesion of the First National People's Congress on February 11th, 1958 (Hey! 50th birthday!) . In 2001 the Chinese Government issued the National Common Language Law, providing a legal basis for applying pinyin.

Tongyong pinyin was introduced in Taiwan in 1998 by Yu Bor-chuan (余伯泉) and it was aproved by ROC's Ministry of Education in 2002 but its use is not mandatory.

A comparision chart of Hanyu pinyin and Tongyong pinyin can be found here.
But besides all I've already mentioned, there are still more.
There is a Chinese transcription system by the École française d'Extrême-Orient (EFEO) that was in use in the French speaking world until the middle of the last century. It was created by Séraphin Couvreur in 1902.
In 1928, with the intention that the large Chinese population living in the Eastern region of the U.S.S.R. could be literate, the Soviet Scientific Research Institute on China (in Moscow) constructed the Beifangxua Latinxua Sin Wenz system (北方話拉丁化新文字). In 1931 a coordinated effort between the Soviet sinologists B.M. Alekseev, A.A. Dragunov and A.G. Shrprintsin, and the Moscow-based Chinese scholars Qu Qiubai, Wu Yuzhang, Lin Boqu (林伯渠), Xiao San, Wang Xiangbao, and Xu Teli established the Latinxua Sin Wenz system.
The Yale romanization was created during World War II for use by United States military personnel to communicate with their Chinese allies on battlefield.
Legge romanization is system used by the prolific 19th century Scottish sinologist James Legge.
The Simplyfied Wade is a modification of the Wade-Giles devised by the Swedish linguist Olov Bertil Anderson in 1970.
The Mandarin Phonetic Symbols II (國語注音符號第二式, abbreviated MPS II) was used in Taiwan until it was abandonded in 2002. It was released on May 10th, 1984 by the Ministry of Education and after two years of public feedback, it was established on January 28th, 1986. It is called II to distinguish it from the Zhuyin fuhao (注音符號, officially called officially called "Mandarin Phonetic Symbols I", 國語注音符號第一式).
You can take a look at a brief comparision of some of these systems here.

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