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LEARN CHINESE: CHINESE PINYIN

Chinese Pinyin

Pinyin, short for Hanyu Pinyin, which means "phonetic notation" or "phonetic symbols" while Pin means "spell(ing)" and Yin means "sound(s)"), is a system of romanization (phonemic notation and transcription to Roman script) for Standard Mandarin. Pinyin was approved in 1958 and adopted in 1979 by the government in the People's Republic of China. It superseded older romanization systems such as Wade-Giles (1859; modified 1912) and Postal System Pinyin, and replaced zhuyin as the method of Chinese phonetic instruction in mainland China.

Since then, Pinyin has been accepted by the Government of Singapore, the Library of Congress, the American Library Association, and most international institutions as the preferred transcription system for Mandarin. In 1979 the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) adopted pinyin as the standard romanization for modern Chinese (ISO-7098:1991).

Pinyin is a romanization and not an anglicization; that is, it uses Roman letters to represent sounds in Standard Mandarin Chinese. The way these letters represent sounds in Standard Mandarin Chinese will differ from how other languages that use the Roman alphabet represent sound. For example, the sounds indicated in Pinyin by b and p are distinguished from each other (by aspiration) in a manner different from that of both English (which has voicing and aspiration) and of French (which has voicing alone). Other letters, like j, q, x or zh indicate sounds that do not correspond to any exact sound in English. Some of the transcriptions in Pinyin such as the ang ending, do not correspond to English pronunciations, either. Pinyin has also become a useful tool for entering Chinese language text into computers.

When learning Chinese Pinyin, you shall be aware of certain limitations:

    1. Pinyin does not represent English pronunciation and should not be pronounced according to English conventions. You are advised to learn Pinyin phonetic conventions, bearing in mind that many sounds have no equivalents in Englishss.
    2. Since Pinyin is based only on the sounds of Mandarin Chinese, Pinyin is unsuitable for use for speakers of some other Chinese spoken dialects, because the sounds do not correspond to their speech.
    3. The phonotactics of spoken Mandarin Chinese dictate a relatively small set of possible syllables and there is a potential for homonyms. Because of this, Pinyin can be ambiguous, especially when transcribing Standard Written Chinese, which uses formal constructions not often found in speech. However, this should not be an issue in the transcription of normal spoken Mandarin conversation since speakers would not use such ambiguous constructions in speech.

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