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拼音 Pīnyīn

By Levi Clancy for Student Reader on

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Pīnyīn is the transliteration of Chinese into the Roman alphabet.

Though now treated as supreme, there have been other systems: yao (developed in the 1960s), wei gao (from Taiwan). Pīnyīn was developed in mainland China. Shown below is Hànyǔ pīnyīn (for Standard Mandarin) which is accepted for other dialects as well.

Chinese syllables contain an consonant (usually); a vowel (always); and a tone (always).

There is an initial: consonant or semi-vowel (w or y). And a final: vowels nasal vowels (containing n or ng).

Eleven basic consonants

B b
P p
M m
W w
D d

A very hard d like in stir.

T t
N n
L l
G g
A very hard g like in skirt.
K k
H h

The h stretches the throat more than in English.

J j

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Q q

Like batch

X x

Sibilant consonants

Sibilant consonants are produced by forcing air through the front of the teeth

Z z
like cards

C c
like cats
Note that this is pronounced very different than English 'c'.

S s
like whistle

Retroflex consonants

Zh zh
closest cognate is beige
Like the z sound, but with the tongue rolled back.

Ch ch
closest cognate is choke or catch
Like the c sound, but with the tongue rolled back.

Sh sh
closest cognate is shogun
Like the s sound, but with the tongue rolled back.

R r
Pronounced like one is smiling, almost like a cross between an y and an r. Not rounded like in English road, rule or rate, but more like in grrr or brrr (without any rolling).

Six basic vowels

A a
Like father
As an it sounds like wand.

O o
The pronunciation varies depending on the preceding consonant. When preceded by b, p, m, t or w (as in bo, po, mo, to, wo) it sounds like war, born (bo, po, mo, to, wo). When preceded by any other consonant it sounds like an English o.

E e
Like lip
As en it sounds like wonder.

I i
Like eagle, beetle

U u
Like flu

Ü ü
A deep u not found in English; try saying eeee then rounding your lips.

Compound vowels

Ai ai
like my

Ei ei
like hey

Ao ao
like ow

Ou ou
like oh

Ia ia
like yeh

Iao iao

Ie ie
like yeh

Iu iu
like yo

Ua ua

Ue ue

Üe üe

Uo uo
like whoa

Uai uai
like why

Ui ui
like way
Unexpectedly, this is like weigh (as opposed to wee).

Nasal vowels

An an

Ian ian
like yen
Sounds like yen.

Un un
like when
Unexpectedly, sounds like when.

Ün ün

Uan uan
like juan.

Üan üan
like you-ehn

Uang uang

Ueng ueng

Ang ang

Eng eng

Ong ong

Iang iang
like yang; rhymes with kangaroo.

Ing ing
Like peeping.

Special rules

A a, E e and O o are the stronger vowels; I i, U u and Ü ü are the weaker vowels. The tone is written over the stronger vowel; in the case of two adjacent strong vowels, the tone is written over the first.

If z, c, s, zh, ch, sh or r are followed by an i, then the i is silent. It is merely a placeholder since it is against convention for a syllable to be written without a vowel.

If a syllable consists entirely of a y followed by a vowel, the y is silent. It is merely a placeholder since it is against convention for a syllable to be written without a consonant.

J, q and x are never followed by u. If a syllable is written with a ju, qu or xu then it is inferred to respectively be jü, qü or xü.

If one syllable within a word ends in a vowel, and the next syllable in that word begins with a vowel, then an apostrophe is inserted between the syllables as a clarification.