Pinyin (拼音 pīnyīn) literally means "join together sounds" (a better translation being "phoneticize") 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 Chinese 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 It superseded older transcriptions like the Wade-Giles system (1859; modified 1912) or Bopomofo.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 External links
7 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.

More detailed pronuciation rules:

a: IPA [a], [e], as in "father"
ai: IPA [ai], like English "eye", but a bit lighter
an: IPA [an], [ən], as in "can" if following "y", as in "unbelievable" otherwise
ar: IPA [aɹ], like a, but pronounced with the tongue curled up against the palate; like rhotic are in North American English
ao: IPA [au̯], approximately as in "cow"; the a is much more audible than the o
b: IPA [p], unaspirated "p", like the English "b" but with a bit more pressure
c: IPA [tsʰ], like "ts"
ch: IPA [tʂʰ], as in "chin"
d: IPA [t], unaspirated "t", like the English "d" but with a bit more pressure
e: IPA [ɤ], a backward, unrounded vowel, which can be formed by first pronouncing a plain continental "o" and then spreading the lips without changing the position of the tongue; when followed by "n", it is pronounced more like the first sound in "an"
ê: IPA [ɛ], as in French "ecole"
ei: IPA [ei], as in "hey"
er: IPA [ɝ], like e, but pronounced with the tongue curled up against the palate; similar to the vowel in rhotic her in English
f: IPA [f], as in English
g: IPA [k], unaspirated "k", like the English "g" but with a bit more pressure
h: IPA [x], like the English "h" if followed by "a"; otherwise it is pronounced more roughly (not unlike the Scottish "ch")
i: IPA [i], like English "ee", except when preceded by "c", "ch", "r", "s", "z" or "zh"; in these cases it sounds similar to e (described above), but not as open
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
iu: IPA [iou̯], pronounced like iou
j: IPA [tɕ], like zh, but not as "full", about halfway between zh and z (unaspirated t + s)
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], [ʊ], an open continental "o", as in German "Hof"
ong: IPA [ʊŋ], here, o is a sound somewhere in between English "o" as in "song" and English "u" as in "bush"
p: IPA [pʰ], as in English
q: IPA [tɕʰ] like ch, but not as "full", about halfway between ch and Pinyin c
r: IPA [ʐ], similar to the English "r" in "rank" with a bit of the initial sound in French "journal" in it (I know this sounds strange at first, but try it!)
s: IPA [s], as in "sun"
sh: IPA [ʃ], as in "shinbone"
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
uo: IPA [uo], 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
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 not as "full", about halfway between sh and s
y: IPA [j], as in English; not pronounced at all if followed by i or ü
z: IPA [ts], like ds, but with more pressure (unaspirated counterpart of c)
zh: IPA [tʂ], as in English "jungle", but with more pressure (unaspirated counterpart of ch)

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:

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 (吗, 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 (or 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 a 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 inconsistant 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.

External links


''UTF-8 Unicode has substantial pinyin handling. See for details