By Levi Clancy for Student Reader on
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
A very hard d like in stir.
G gA very hard g like in skirt.
The h stretches the throat more than in English.
Sibilant consonants are produced by forcing air through the front of the teeth
Z zlike cards
C clike catsNote that this is pronounced very different than English 'c'.
S slike whistle
Zh zhclosest cognate is beige
Like the z sound, but with the tongue rolled back.
Ch chclosest cognate is choke or catchLike the c sound, but with the tongue rolled back.
Sh shclosest cognate is shogun
Like the s sound, but with the tongue rolled back.
R rPronounced 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 aLike father
As an it sounds like wand.
O oThe 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 eLike lip
As en it sounds like wonder.
I iLike eagle, beetle
U uLike flu
Ü üA deep u not found in English; try saying eeee then rounding your lips.
Ai ailike my
Ei eilike hey
Ao aolike ow
Ou oulike oh
Ia ialike yeh
Ie ielike yeh
Iu iulike yo
Uo uolike whoa
Uai uailike why
Ui uilike wayUnexpectedly, this is like weigh (as opposed to wee).
Ian ianlike yenSounds like yen.
Un unlike whenUnexpectedly, sounds like when.
Uan uanlike juan.
Üan üanlike you-ehn
Iang ianglike yang; rhymes with kangaroo.
Ing ingLike peeping.
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.