Spreading the good news

Behold, I bring you good tidings.

As I keep having to note, most of the things that are supposedly in Pinyin are terrible. This is not because Pinyin itself is inherently poor or difficult. It’s because most people who produce such things have a fundamental lack of understanding of Pinyin as a system. (And, yes, that includes most users in China.) So it is with amazement that I report today on a journal that not only offers dozens of pages in Hanyu Pinyin — good Hanyu Pinyin — but does so twice every month. It’s also well worth noting that the journal is aimed primarily at adult native speakers of Mandarin, not foreigners trying to pick up the language, though certainly it could also be read by people in the latter group.

From what I’ve seen so far, this journal gets right the things most commonly written incorrectly elsewhere, including:

And it doesn’t use the atrocious ɑ that some people mistakenly believe is required either.

Unfortunately, punctuation and alphanumerics are not included in the Pinyin. But other than that there’s very little that doesn’t follow standard Pinyin orthography, the main exception being the indication of the tone sandhi related to the special cases of and , (e.g., the journal gives “bú shì” and “búdà” instead of the standard “bù shì” and “bùdà,” and “yìhuíshì” and “yí wèi” instead of the standard “yīhuíshì” and “yī wèi“). That said, though, tone changes related to yi and bu can be something of a pain. So although this isn’t standard, I can see why it was done and am not entirely unsympathetic to this approach.

Here are a few sample lines (click to enlarge):
screenshot of some text in the journal, showing text in simplified Chinese characters with word-parsed Hanyu Pinyin above the Hanzi. Note: Yifusuoshu/以弗所書 = Ephesians

It would be nice if this were in Unicode, to help aid searches and cutting and pasting. The text, however, appears to have been made in a system devised years ago by the people at the journal. Regardless, I’m happy to see the Pinyin.

Overall, despite the lamentable absence of punctuation and Arabic numerals in the Pinyin, this is quality work, which is perhaps all the more remarkable in that the Pinyin and simplified Hanzi edition of this journal is not truly free to circulate in the land of its target audience. That’s because its publishers are Jehovah’s Witnesses, a group suppressed by the PRC (though it appears that at least at the moment their sites are not blocked by the great firewall). The journal, Shǒuwàngtái, may be more familiar to you by its English name: Watchtower. Whatever you might think of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I hope you’ll recognize the considerable accomplishment of those who put together this publication.

Getting to the Jehovah’s Witnesses Web pages that link to Shǒuwàngtái can be tricky. (Go to the magazines page, select “Chinese (Simplified)” for the language; then choose the month and file with Pinyin.) So I’m providing direct links to some documents below:

I haven’t found any Pinyin editions other than those. Perhaps old ones are taken offline.

Rénrén Dōu Xūyào Zhīdao De Hǎo Xiāoxi (I'd prefer 'de' instead of 'De' -- but that's no big deal) 人人都需要知道的好消息

With thanks to Victor Mair.

Weishenme Zhongwen zheme TM nan?

David Moser’s essay Why Chinese Is So Damn Hard — which is one of the most popular readings here on Pinyin Info, with perhaps half a million page views to date (nothing to dǎ pēntì at!) — has been translated into Mandarin: Wèishénme Zhōngwén zhème TM nán? (为什么中文这么TM难?). (Gotta love the use of Roman letters there.)

Although the translation has been online for only 24 hours or so, it has already received more than 150 comments.

A suggestion for readers and translators looking for something similar: Moser’s Some Things Chinese Characters Can’t Do-Be-Do-Be-Do.

Xin Tang 4

cover of issue number 4 of the journal 'Xin Tang (New China)'The fourth issue of Xin Tang is now online.

For those of you wondering why Xin Tang is spelled Xin Talng on the cover, that’s because parts of this particular issue use a tonal-spelling variation of Hanyu Pinyin, as follows.

Simple rules for tonal spelling

  1. ma (?) / ling (?)
  2. mal (?) / lilng (?)
  3. maa (?) / liing (?)
  4. mah (?) / lihng (?)
  5. “‘” biaaoshih qingsheng, kee’shi “‘de” dou –> “d”.

Here, for example, is a message from the publisher.

Colng zheih yihqi qii SHIN TARNG gaai weil XIN TALNG, shiiyohng d welnzih yii Pin Yin (jiaan xiee PY) weil jichuu. Duobahn d welnzhang yohng yooudiaoh PY xiee. Biaodiaoh faa qiing kahn fengmiahn erh xiah’tou d jiaandan shuomilng.

The same passage in Pinyin with tone marks:

Cóng zhèi yì q? q? SHIN TARNG g?i wéi XIN TANG, sh?yòng d wénzì y? P?n Y?n (ji?n xi? PY) wéi j?ch?. Du?bàn d wénzh?ng yòng y?udiào PY xi?. Bi?odiào f? q?ng kàn f?ngmiàn èr xià’tou d ji?nd?n shu?míng.

Not all of the romanization in this issue follows that form. Some has no special spellings but instead uses tone marks. Some has no tone marks. Give ’em all a try and see what you think.

Xin Tang 4 (PDF)

Xin Tang 6

cover of Xin Tang, no. 6My previous post linked to a new HTML version of Homographobia, an essay by John DeFrancis. The work was first published in November 1985, in the sixth issue of Xin Tang (New China).

Xin Tang (X?n Táng) is an especially interesting journal in that it is primarily in Mandarin written in romanization. A variety of romanization systems and methods are employed over the course of the journal. Indeed, over the course of its run one can see many questions of systems and orthographies being worked out.

I want to stress, though, that the journal does not restrict itself to material of interest only to romanization specialists. It also features poetry, illustrated stories, philosophy, letters to the editor, children’s material, and much more.

English and a few Chinese characters are also found; and there are even articles in languages such as Turkish (with Mandarin and English translations).

Most of what appears in English is also translated into Mandarin — romanized Mandarin, of course. So DeFrancis’s essay also appears, appropriately, in Pinyin:

Homographobia is a disorder characterized by an irrational fear of ambiguity when individual lexical items which are now distinguished graphically lose their distinctive features and become identical if written phonemically. The seriousness of the disorder appears to be in direct proportion to the increase in number of items with identical spelling that phonemic rendering might bring about….

Tongyinci-kongjuzheng shi yi zhong xinli shang d shichang, tezheng shi huluande haipa yong pinyin zhuanxie dangqing kao zixing fende hen qingchu d cir hui shiqu tamend bianbiexing. Kan qilai, zhei ge bing d yanzhongxing gen pinyin shuxie keneng zaocheng d tongxing pinshi shuliang d zengjia cheng zhengbi….

All of the issue with the DeFrancis essay is now online: Xin Tang no. 6.

illustration of a dragon reading a copy of Xin Tang, from an illustrated story
Note the occasional employment of a tonal spelling (shuui).

new book in Pinyin

image of the cover of the printed edition of Pinyin Riji DuanwenI’m very pleased to announce the publication of a new book, Pīnyīn Rìjì Duǎnwén, by Zhāng Lìqīng. Other than one introductory letter in English, the work is entirely in Mandarin.

This is perhaps the world’s first Mandarin-language book to be published in Hanyu Pinyin without so much as one Chinese character. Thus, it is of historic importance. But it’s also a wonderful collection of stories. The author generously granted Pinyin.info the right to release all of this book online.

The work will also soon be available in an inexpensive printed edition.

Some of you will recall Zhang’s lovely story Dàshuǐ Guòhòu (“After the Flood”), which first appeared here three years ago. It leads the new collection. The remaining twelve memoirs/stories are mainly in the same vein, recalling a childhood in China and Taiwan.

Zhè shì yī gè lǎo gùshi. Shìqing fāshēng zài 1946 nián xiàtiān. Nà nián wǒ jiāngjìn shí suì, zhù zài Sìchuān Chéngdū jiāoqū d Bǎihuā Qiáo. Zhōngguó Kōngjūn Tōngxìn Xuéxiào d jīdì zài nàli. Wǒ bàba shì nà ge xuéxiào d jūnguān….

The author died earlier this year. She was able to view proofs of the work, though her illness prevented her from making any corrections herself. Fortunately, several people stepped in, contributing substantially to the checking of the Pinyin and other aspects of the work. I’d like especially to thank the following people: David W. Goodrich, Jiao Liwei, Kuo Hsin-chun, Melvin Lee, and Victor H. Mair. Any errors found in the book should be considered my own.

Please report any divergences from the Pinyin orthography established by Yin Binyong and the spellings used in the ABC Chinese-English Comprehensive Dictionary (Zhang was, after all, one of the associate editors of that massive work) to me. I’ve made very few intentional departures from those.

Please note that the use of “d” (where most authors would use “de”) is intentional. This is not a bug but a feature, something I came to understand better the more time I spent with this text. The use of “d” is explained in the second introductory letter (Liǎng Fēng Gěi Biānzhě d Xìn: 2).

ɑ vs. a

image of the rounded 'a' and the normal 'a' with the example given of the word 'Hanyu' (with tone marks)About a year ago (which is roughly how overdue this post is), a commenter noted that some Chinese publishers “are convinced that Pinyin must be printed with ɑ (single-story „Latin alpha“, as opposed to double-story a), and with ɡ (single story; not double story g).”

But does Hanyu Pinyin in fact call for this longstanding Chinese habit of bad typography? This was one of the first questions I asked of Zhou Youguang, the father of Hanyu Pinyin, when I met with him: Are those who insist upon the ɑ-style letter correct?

“Oh, no,” Zhou replied. “That ‘ɑ’ is just for babies!” And he laughed that wonderful laugh of his that no doubt has contributed to his remarkable longevity.

Zhou was referring to the facts that the “ɑ” style of letter is usually found specifically in books for infants … and that this style generally does not belong elsewhere. In fact, ɑ and ɡ (written thusly, as opposed to g) are often referred to as infant characters. A variant of the letter y is sometimes included in this set.

Letters in that style are also found in the West — but almost always in books for toddlers, and often not even in those. Furthermore, even in those cases the use of such letters appears to have no positive effect on children’s reading.

The correct-style letters for Pinyin are the same as those for English, Zhou stated.

I hope that anyone who has been using “ɑ” will both officially and in practice switch to “a”. It’s long past time that the supposed rule calling for “ɑ” was treated as a dead letter.

Long live good typography!

How to learn real Mandarin: an anecdote

The following is a guest post by Professor Victor H. Mair of the University of Pennsylvania’s Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations.

The personal names used in the original correspondence have been changed to generational designations.

Compared to the Hànzì-centric pedagogical approach which forces little children to memorize extremely difficult and complicated characters like 老鼠 and 蝴蝶 instead of teaching them lǎoshǔ and húdié, today I received some more hopeful and sane news.

A friend of mine is teaching her grandson Mandarin. The way she is doing it is to write out the Xī yóu jì (Journey to the West) in a simple báihuà paraphrase using Pinyin only (with glosses in English for new vocabulary). My friend is a first-generation immigrant to America, and her daughter married a German who was studying in the United States, so that makes the grandson third-generation Chinese-American/German.

The other day, the grandson asked his mom out of the blue: “What’s the difference between shíjiān, shídài, and shífèn?” My friend, the grandmother, explained to me that all of these terms were in the Pinyin text that she had prepared for her grandson, and that she had glossed them as “time” or “period.” She said that the boy’s mother was very pleased, and she was tickled too, because the boy had discerned the common element shí by himself. As my friend (the grandmother) put it, “He spends very little time on Chinese, so we were pleasantly surprised.”

Hearing this account from my friend, I wrote to her: “Thank you so much for the TRULY WONDERFUL story you wrote about your grandson. This is how to learn real Chinese!!!! And you are being a real Chinese teacher to teach your grandson this way. And I’m also happy that your daughter appreciates what you and her son are doing together. Tell your grandson I’m really impressed at the intelligence of his question.”

A new look at early character forms

Cover of the book: 'Orthography of Early Chinese Writing'A review in a recent journal issue focusing on romanization led me to discover online the entire text of an interesting new book: Orthography of Early Chinese Writing: Evidence from Newly Excavated Manuscripts, by Imre Galambos.

This gives an idea of what the book covers:

Beside offering a more useful approach to both studying Warring States manuscripts and variant character forms in general, this study sheds new light on the development of the Chinese script, its transition into the clerical script stage, and the reality of the Qin reforms. The variability of Warring States character forms demonstrates that Chinese characters evolved not along a linear path that stretched from the oracle-bone inscriptions to the modern script but followed a complex process involving distinct cultures and languages. The “fuzziness” of the line of evolution with respect to the spoken languages and dialects of ancient China raises questions regarding the national identity of the Chinese script. A related issue is how far can one go back in time and say with certainty that the various scripts were not only the predecessors of the Chinese script but were in fact Chinese.

Some numbers for searches:

  • ISBN 963 463 811 2
  • ISSN 1787-7482