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.

Pinyin-friendly display faces at Google Fonts

As of January 9, 2018, Google Fonts had 848 font families, 183 of which are display faces. Of those, the following 20 can handle Hanyu Pinyin with tone marks.

Pinyin-friendly handwriting faces at Google Fonts

As of January 9, 2018, Google Fonts had 848 font families, 80 of which are handwriting faces. Of those, just 3 can handle Hanyu Pinyin with tone marks.

  • Dekko (Caveat: Although Dekko handles some seldom-seen diacritics, it doesn’t deal well with curved apostrophes or quotation marks, so use it with caution.)
  • Itim
  • Sriracha

Pinyin-friendly sans serif faces at Google Fonts

As of January 9, 2018, Google Fonts had 848 font families, 134 of which are sans serif faces. Of those, 22 can handle Hanyu Pinyin with tone marks.

Pinyin-friendly serif faces at Google Fonts

As of January 9, 2018, Google Fonts had 848 font families, 114 of which are serif faces. Of those, the following 22 can handle Hanyu Pinyin with tone marks.

China attracting fewer and fewer U.S. study-abroad students

China is continuing to decline as a destination for U.S. study-abroad students, slipping from fifth place to sixth (behind Britain, Spain, Italy, France, and Germany; with Ireland, Australia, Costa Rica, and Japan completing the top ten).

This likely indicates that the craze for learning Mandarin has already peaked. Greater awareness of the unhealthy levels of pollution in China may also be a factor.

chart showing how US enrollments in study-abroad programs in China were low in the 1990s (about 2000 students), grew sharply in the 2000s (to almost 15000 in 2011), and have been declining ever since
Note: The dip in the 2002–2003 school year was a result of worries about the outbreak of SARS.

Meanwhile, almost all other parts of East Asia saw increases in 2015–2016 over 2014–2015:

Destination Students in 2014-15 Students in 2015-16 % Change
China 12,790 11,688 -8.6
Hong Kong 1,508 1,612 6.9
Japan 6,053 7,145 18.0
Macau 3 4 33.3
Mongolia 71 71 0.0
South Korea 3,520 3,622 2.9
Taiwan 880 980 11.4


Additional reading:

How to add tone marks to Pinyin automatically, sort of

PInyin text without and with tone marks

There are plenty of ways to type Hanyu Pinyin with tone marks. These usually involve typing the tone number after the vowel in question or entering a series of special keystrokes to produce the tone mark.

But some consider that too much mafan, or perhaps are unsure of which tones are correct. (Heads up, students learning Mandarin! This post will be useful.) So occasionally I’m asked this question:

Is there a way to type in Hanyu Pinyin and have the correct tone marks appear automatically — even without typing tone numbers or pressing additional keys? Oh, and for free too, please.

The answer is a qualified yes.

Google Translate’s Pinyin function has come a long way since its inauspicious beginning about eight years ago. For quite some time it has even offered a way to add tone marks automatically, though few people know of this function, which could still use a great deal of improvement.

To get Google Translate to produce Pinyin with tone marks as you enter text in toneless Pinyin, first you need to set the system to translate from “Chinese” to “Chinese (Traditional)” or from “Chinese” to “Chinese (Simplified)”.

Enter your text in the box and Pinyin with tone marks will appear below the box on the right.

(Click any image to enlarge it.)

Alas, there are some problems with the system.

A lot of perfectly normal things that are essential to proper writing in Hanyu Pinyin will cause Google Translate to break. So when adding your text, do not use any of the following:

  • capital letters
  • the letter ü (use “v” instead)
  • more than 160 characters (including spaces and punctuation) at a time

Up to 160 characters is fine

Image showing how Google Translate will produce Hanyu Pinyin with tone marks for texts of up to 160 characters

But more than 160 characters will break the function that adds tone marks to Pinyin

The following are optional in terms of getting Google Translate to give you good results, though they are not optional in properly written Pinyin:

  • apostrophes
  • spaces
  • punctuation

A second significant problem is that the system doesn’t deal well with proper nouns, failing both word parsing and capitalization, though at least it seems to recognize that proper nouns are units, even if Google Translate doesn’t write them correctly. sample showing how Google Translate fails to capitalize and parse Tian'anmen and Mao Zedong, producing tian'anmen and maozedong instead.

So although Google Translate won’t handle everything for you, it can nevertheless be a useful tool for including tone marks in Hanyu Pinyin.