How to write numbers and measure words in Hanyu Pinyin

cover image for the bookToday’s selection from Yin Binyong’s X?nhuá P?nxi? Cídi?n (???????? / ????????) is about writing numbers and measure words.

This reading is available in two versions:

For more on this, see these posts and the PDFs linked to therein.

How to write verbs in Hanyu Pinyin (Mandarin text)

cover image for the book

Here’s the first of several selected readings from Yin Binyong’s X?nhuá P?nxi? Cídi?n (???????? / ????????). It covers the writing of verbs.

This reading is available in two versions:

  • simplified Chinese characters: ???? ??
  • traditional Chinese characters: ???? ??

For those who would like to read about this in English, see

important book on Pinyin to be excerpted on this site

cover image for the bookX?nhuá P?nxi? Cídi?n (???????? / ????????), is the second of Yin Binyong’s two books on Pinyin orthography. The first, Chinese Romanization: Pronunciation and Orthography, is in English and Mandarin; much of it is already available here on Pinyin.Info.

Although Xinhua Pinxie Cidian is only in Mandarin, the large number of examples makes it easy to get the point even if you may not read Mandarin in Chinese characters very well.

This week I will begin posting some excerpts from this invaluable work. What’s more, I have made a version in traditional Chinese characters, which I hope that readers in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and elsewhere will take advantage of. So those not used to reading simplified Chinese characters will have a choice (which is more than the government of Taiwan is providing these days).

I’m extremely happy to be able to bring you this information and wish to acknowledge the generosity of the Commercial Press. Stay tuned.

Simplified Chinese characters being purged from Taiwan government sites

Taiwan’s government Web sites have begun removing versions of their content in simplified Chinese characters at the instruction of President Ma Ying-jeou (M? Y?ngji?).

This isn’t just a matter of, say, writing “??” (Taiwan) instead of “??” (which, yes, the government here is encouraging). This is much bigger. Entire pages, entire Web sites even, written in simplified Chinese characters are being eliminated.

The Tourism Bureau, for example, removed the version of its site in simplified Chinese characters from the Web on Wednesday. This comes at a time that the government’s further lifting of restrictions against individual Chinese tourists is aimed at bringing in more travelers from China.

The Presidential Office’s spokesman quoted Ma as saying “To maintain our role as the pioneer in Chinese culture, all government bodies should use traditional Chinese in official documents and on their Web sites, so that people around the world can learn about the beauty of traditional characters.” (Is that what pioneers do? I’ll try to find the original Mandarin-language quote later if I get a chance.)

It’s one thing to urge businesses not to remove traditional Chinese characters and replace them with simplified Chinese characters (as the government did on Tuesday). It’s quite another to remove alternate versions in another script — one that a very sizable target audience would have an easier time with.

During the administration of President Chen Shui-bian the government began adding versions in simplified Chinese characters of the Mandarin texts of official Web sites. The Office of the President was one such site. Now the simplified version is gone. That’s happening across government sites.

Here, for example, are some screen shots I took.

This was the language/script selection at the National Palace Museum‘s Web site as of Thursday morning. (Click to see an image of the entire front page.)
click to see image of entire front page
“????” (ji?nt? Zh?ngwén) is brighter because I had my mouse over it to highlight that text.

And here the language/script selection at the National Palace Museum’s Web site as of Thursday evening:
click to see image of entire front page
As you can see, the choice of viewing the site in simplified Chinese characters has been removed.

Here at Pinyin.Info I often have material in Hanyu Pinyin. So I’m certainly not unsympathetic to the idea that sometimes the medium really is a major part of the message. But I doubt that President Ma’s tough-love approach in this area will accomplish anything useful for Taiwan or the survival of traditional Chinese characters; indeed, I believe it will be counter-productive.

To be more blunt about this, this seems like a really, really bad idea.

some sources:

Google Translate and romaji revisited

OK, Google has improved its Pinyin converter some, though it still fails in important areas. So that’s the present situation for Google and Mandarin.

How about for Google and Japanese?

Professor J. Marshall Unger of the Ohio State University’s Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures generously agreed to reexamine Google’s performance in conversions to r?maji (Japanese written in romanization).

Below is his latest evaluation.

For his initial analysis (in December 2009), see Google Translate and r?maji.

I ran the test passage through Google Translate again. There’s some improvement, but it’s still pretty mediocre.

Original Google Translate
???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????? 6-Nichi gogo 4-ji 35-fun-goro, T?ky?-to Chiyoda-ku K?kyogaien no tod? (uchibori-d?ri) no Nij?bashi zen k?saten de, Ch?goku kara no kank? kyaku no 40-dai no dansei ga j?y?sha ni hane rare, zenshin o tsuyoku Utte mamonaku shib? shita. Kuruma wa hod? ni noriagete aruite ita dansei (69) mo hane, dansei wa atama o tsuyoku utte ishiki fumei no j?tai. Marunouchi-sho wa, unten shite ita T?ky?-to Minato-ku hakkin 3-ch?me, kaisha yakuin Takahashi nobe Tsubuse y?gi-sha (24) o jid?sha unten kashitsu sh?gai no utagai de genk?-han taiho shi, y?gi o d? chishi ni kirikaete shirabete iru.
???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????? D?sho ni yoru to, shib? shita dansei wa ?dan hod? o aruite watatte ita tokoro o chokushin shite kita kuruma ni hane rareta. Kuruma wa hidari ni ky? handoru o kiri, shad? to hod? no sakai ni oka reta kasetsu no saku o haneage, hod? ni noriageta toyuu. Saku wa hod? de ran’ningu o shite ita dansei (34) niatari, dansei wa ry?ashi ni karui kega.
???????????????????????????????????????????? D?sho wa, shib? shita dansei no mimoto kakunin o susumeru totomoni, t?ji no k?saten no shing? no j?ky? o shirabete iru.
????????????????????????????????????????? Genba sh?hen wa T?ky? kank? no supotto no hitotsudaga, saikin wa jogingu o tanoshimu hito mo fuete iru.


  • The use of numerals dodges a plethora of errors, but “6-Nichi” is still wrong for Muika.
  • Lots of correct capitalizations have been added, but “uchibori” was missed and “Utte” capitalized by mistake.
  • Some false spaces or lack of spaces persist: “hane rare”, “oka reta”; “hitotsudaga” and “niatari” were correctly hitotsu da ga and ni atari in the original test.
  • Names still get butchered (“hakkin” for Shirogane, “nobe Tsubuse” for Nobuhiro.
  • The needless apostrophe in “ran’ningu” is still there.
  • Interestingly, “toyuu” is a new error: it should be to iu.
  • There’s evidence of some attempt to use hyphens, but why not in “kank? kyaku” or “Nij?bashi zen”?

So, to update: Google gets kudos for conscientiousness, but I stick by my original comments.

For more by Prof. Unger, see’s recommended readings, which includes selections from The Fifth Generation Fallacy: Why Japan Is Betting Its Future on Artificial Intelligence, Literacy and Script Reform in Occupation Japan: Reading Between the Lines, and Ideogram: Chinese Characters and the Myth of Disembodied Meaning.

Google Translate’s Pinyin converter revisited

When Google Translate‘s Pinyin converter was first released about a year and a half ago, it sucked. Wow, did it ever suck. Since then, however, Google has instituted some changes. So it seems about time this was reexamined.

Fortunately, Google’s Pinyin converter is now much better than before.

Here’s the sort of FUBAR romanization — it certainly doesn’t deserve to be called Hanyu Pinyin — Google used to produce:

tán zh?ng guó de“y?“hé” wén” de wèn tí? w? jué de zuì h?o néng xi?n li?o jiè y? xià zài zh?ng guó t?ng yòng de y? yán?… rú gu? n? sh? yòng zh?ng guó de gòng tóng y? yán p? t?ng huà? n? li?o ji? zhè ge y? yán de y? f??b? rú“de? de? de“ hé“le” de bù tóng yòng f?? ma?zh? dào zhè ge y? yán de j? b?n y?n jié?bù b?o kuò sh?ng diào? zh? y?u408gè ma?

Now the same passage will look like this:

Tán zh?ngguó de “y?” hé “wén” de wèntí, w? juéde zuì h?o néng xi?n li?o jiè y?xià zài zh?ngguó t?ngyòng de y?yán…. Rúgu? n? sh?yòng zh?ngguó de gòngtóng y?yán p?t?nghuà, n? li?oji? zhège y?yán de y?f? (b?rú “de, de, de “hé “le” de bùtóng yòngf?) ma? Zh?dào zhège y?yán de j?b?n y?njié (bù b?okuò sh?ngdiào) zh?y?u 408 gè ma?

At last! Capitalization at the beginning of a sentence and word parsing! But — you knew there was going to be a but, didn’t you? — Google’s Pinyin converter falls significantly short because it still fails completely in two fundamental areas: capitalization of proper nouns and proper use of the apostrophe.

1. Proper Nouns

Google’s Pinyin converter fails to follow the basic point of capitalizing proper nouns. For example, here are some well-known place names. I have prefixed the names with “?” because Google automatically capitalizes the first word in a line; so to see how it handles capitalization of place names something other than the name must go first.

screenshot showing what happens if the following is entered into Google Translate: '???, ???, ???, ???'. That leads to the following in Google Translate: 'in Xi'an, in Chang [sic], in Chongqing, in Beijing'. But the romanization line reads 'Zai xian, Zai changan, Zai chongqing, Zai beijing'

Google Translate gets these right, other than the odd truncation of Chang’an. But the Pinyin converter (see the gray text at the bottom of the image above) fails to capitalize these, even though it correctly parses them as units and thus must “know” their meanings.

The same thing happens with personal names.

Input this:


Google Translate provides this:

Is Ma Ying-jeou
Mao Zedong
Chen Shui-bian

Those are correct, if the missing Iss are discounted.

But the Pinyin appears as “Shì m?y?ngji? Shì máozéd?ng Shì chénshu?bi?n“. So even though the software understands that these names are units, the capitalization and word parsing are still wrong and they are still not rendered as they should be in Pinyin: “M? Y?ngji?,” “Máo Zéd?ng,” “Chén Shu?bi?n.

There is nothing obscure about capitalizing proper nouns. How did this get missed?

2. Apostrophes

The cases of Xi’an and Chang’an above already demonstrate apostrophe omission. Let’s try a few more tests, including some words that are not proper nouns.

Input this:


The Pinyin is rendered as “??rb?níy? Ránér Rénài Lián?u” rather than the correct forms of ?’?rb?níy?, rán’ér, rén’ài, and lián’?u.

As always I want to stress that, whatever you might have heard elsewhere, apostrophes are not optional. But the rules for their use are easy — so easy that I suspect a fairly simple computer script could fix this problem quickly and simply. (Only about 2 percent of Mandarin words, as written in Hanyu Pinyin, have apostrophes.)

As is the case with the mistakes with proper nouns, these apostrophe errors are all the more puzzling because Google Translate does not appear to share them. Fortunately, these problems should not be particularly difficult to fix, especially if the Pinyin converter can make better use of Google Translate’s database.

Although Google’s failures to implement capitalization of proper nouns and apostrophe use are significant problems, they could likely be corrected quickly and easily. (I strongly suspect this would take considerably less time than it has taken for me to write this post.) The result would be a vastly improved converter. So I am hopeful that Google will work on this soon.

3. Additional work

Once Google gets those basics fixed, it should focus on the simple matter of correcting spacing before and after some quotations (which would surely take just a few minutes to take care of) and any other such spacing errors, and fixing its word parsing related to numbers (which is a bit more complicated, though the basics are easy: everything from 1 to 100 is written solid).

Next would come something requiring a bit more care: the proper handling of Mandarin’s three tense-marking particles: zhe, guo, and le.

And Google should attach the pluralizing suffix -men to the word it modifies rather than leaving it separate (e.g., háizimen, not háizi men).

Then, with all of those taken care of, Google would have a pretty good Pinyin converter that I would be happy to praise. Of course even then it could still use other improvements; but those would most likely deal more with particulars than the fundamentals of how Pinyin is meant to be written.

A separate post, to be written soon, will compare the performance of several Pinyin converters (including Google’s). Stay tuned.

Oxford Chinese Dictionary goes online

cover image of the Oxford Chinese DictionaryOxford University Press has just announced that its massive Oxford Chinese Dictionary is now available through its Oxford Language Dictionaries Online subscription service.

I haven’t seen the online version yet myself; but from the publisher’s description it appears to be largely the same as the published edition, whose paucity of Pinyin is disappointing. The publisher, however, is promising that “Pinyin will be added to all Chinese translations” in November, which should be a major step forward.

Perhaps some of you at universities have institutional access. I would welcome reports.

source: What’s New, Oxford Language Dictionaries Online, May 2011.

old fashioned

photo of donuts and their label: 'Choco Fashioned / ??????', price NT$35 (about US$1.20)

Here’s a shot of some Hanzified, Mandarinized English I recently came across. Qi?okèlì (???) is of course a well-established loan word, from the English “chocolate” (though here the English is given in the more Japanese-English form of choco, as befits a Japanese donut chain store in Taiwan). ?uf?ixi?ng (???) is a rendering of “old fashioned.” Although the “old” is missing from the English above, it can be seen in both of the tags pictured below.

photo of donuts and their labels: 'White Cocoa Old Fashioned / ??????' and 'Old Fashioned / ?????'
Bái k?k? ?uf?ixi?ng (??????) and yuán wèi ?uf?ixi?ng (?????).

And if that’s not enough to fill you up with Hanzified English, perhaps try a piece of B?shìdùn pài (????), i.e., “Boston [cream] pie.”