Google commemorates Zhou Youguang

Yesterday (January 13, 2018), Google marked the 112th birthday of Zhou Youguang, the father of Hanyu Pinyin, with one of its doodles. (Click the image to see the animated version.)

Google doodle marking the 112th birthday of Zhou Youguang

Google’s description didn’t note Zhou’s remarkable longevity. He lived to see his 111th birthday!

One bit of the description is misleading: “[Hanyu Pinyin] bridged multiple Chinese dialects with its shared designations of sound.” First, what are commonly referred to as “dialects” are actually separate languages (e.g., Cantonese, Hakka, Hoklo). Second, Hanyu Pinyin is designed for modern standard Mandarin, not for other languages, though it could be used as the basis for writing systems for Sinitic languages other than Mandarin; this did not happen on a wide scale, however, because the government of the People’s Republic of China has worked to suppress Sinitic languages other than Mandarin — to say nothing of the languages of Tibetans and other minorities.

A few points are noteworthy about the sketches, specifically the inclusion of Gǔgē, the Mandarin name for Google, written in zhuyin fuhao (a.k.a. bopomofo) (ㄍㄨˇㄍㄜ) and Gwoyeu Romatzyh (guuge) — the doubled vowel indicates third tone.

Zhou Youguang

Zhou Youguang doodle continued

It’s also interesting that the doodle was shown on Google in Japan, China, and Singapore, but not in Taiwan, where Hanyu Pinyin is official but generally used on street signs rather than in personal names.

Countries where the ZYG doodle was shown. China, Japan, the  United States, Canada, and several other countries are indicated -- but not Taiwan.

Thanks to Alex for the tip.

5 thoughts on “Google commemorates Zhou Youguang

  1. Thanks for this. Disappointed this was not shown in the UK. We got the “African Nations Championship” instead, which bizarrely was only shown in the UK, Ireland, Iceland and just two African countries. They did rather miss the point that yesterday would not only have been Zhou’s 112th birthday, but the first for which he is no longer with us.

  2. “Second, Hanyu Pinyin is designed for modern standard Mandarin, not for other languages, though it could be used as the basis for writing systems for Sinitic languages other than Mandarin; this did not happen on a wide scale, however, because the government of the People’s Republic of China has worked to suppress Sinitic languages other than Mandarin — to say nothing of the languages of Tibetans and other minorities.”

    But this assumes that Hanyu Pinyin is designated as an actual writing system for Mandarin, as opposed to a learning aid that should be discarded by the time a person enters high school, which is how it’s formally treated in the People’s Republic of China. There is only one official writing system for the country: simplified Chinese characters, and it’s assumed to work for all Sinitic languages and dialects, by argument of tradition. Hanyu Pinyin is frequently used for electronic input these days, but the out put is still simplified Chinese characters – you’re not considered literate unless you can read Hanzi.

  3. I don’t see anything inaccurate in what I wrote. We seem to be talking about different issues. Did you perhaps misread my “designed” as “designated”?

    As for how Hanyu Pinyin is treated in the PRC, yes, it’s regarded as a set of training wheels. But that doesn’t alter Pinyin’s fundamental nature: It’s a writing system for modern standard Mandarin, however it might primarily be used at present. Similarly, even though many people regard Chinese characters as transcending Sinitic languages (in a way that alphabetic scripts do not), they don’t. DeFrancis demolished that notion long ago in The Chinese Language: Fact and Fantasy.

    Then there’s what it means to be considered literate in Mandarin. But that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms. (What does it mean to “read Hanzi”? How many? How is it determined how many Hanzi people can read? What about writing them? What about writing them with a pen and paper, unaided by electronics or dictionaries? How much should we take the PRC’s word for any of this? And so forth.)

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