writing four-syllable idioms in Pinyin

cover of Chinese Romanization: Pronunciation and OrthographyThe latest excerpt from Yin Binyong’s book on Pinyin orthography covers how to write four-syllable idioms in Hanyu Pinyin (929 KB PDF). Here’s a key passage:

almost all four-character idioms can be broken in two halves, called y?jié ?? (language segments), on the basis of phonetic structure. The simple expedient of connecting the two y?jié with a hyphen then provides idioms with their own distinctive written form, and assures ease of writing and reading. It is also a simple rule for students of HP to master.

But not all four-syllable idioms follow this rule, as the reading shows.

This is a worthwhile reading for Mandarin learners, even if you’re not particularly interested in Pinyin. There are many examples of idioms here, all given in Hanzi, Pinyin, and English.

When to use hyphens in Hanyu Pinyin

cover of Chinese Romanization: Pronunciation and OrthographyI’ve just put online another excerpt from Yin Binyong’s book about Pinyin. This one covers use of the hyphen in Hanyu Pinyin (400 KB PDF).

I’ll summarize some of the basics.

First, I want to stress that in Pinyin a hyphen should never be used to indicate syllable breaks. Those are easy to discern in Pinyin without any such Wade-Gilish clutter — or without any such foolishness as InTerCaPiTaLiZaTion. And in those few cases that might otherwise be problematic, the apostrophe works nicely.

OK, so what are the correct uses of the hyphen in Pinyin? Often, it’s employed much like the en-dash in English, for ranges and connections. And it’s also used in many abbreviated forms, esp. in cases with proper nouns.

  • the road on Taiwan’s east coast between Sua’ao and Hualian: the Su-Hua Expressway
  • the rail line between Beijing and Tianjin is the Jing-Jin line (??????)
  • Beijing Daxue (Peking University) –> Bei-Da (not Beida)
  • Guólì Táiw?n Dàxué (National Taiwan University) –> Tai-Da (not Taida)
  • English-Chinese dictionary: Ying-Han cidian

In terms of signage, that covers the most frequently encountered needs for the hyphen.

photo of signage in the Taipei MRT system, pointing toward the 'Bannan Line'
This sign in Taipei Main Station should read “Ban-Nan Line”, not “Bannan Line”, because the line runs between Banqiao and Nangang. (Actually, now it starts farther out, in Tucheng; but it hasn’t been redubbed the Tu-Nan line.)

For most other uses, see the full document. (Or see the older HTML version, which is without Hanzi.)

That section of the book, however, doesn’t mention one minor use of the hyphen in Hanyu Pinyin: hyphenated family names. These days, most women retain their original names when they marry. Formerly, however, a woman would often link her original name with her husband’s family name. Thus, if Ms. Guo Meihua were to marry a Mr. Li, she might choose to become Li-Guo Meihua, just as a Ms. Smith marrying a Mr. White might choose to adopt the name Smith-White (or White-Smith).

Note, however, that hyphens are not used in what are originally two-syllable family names. The well-known historian is Sima Qian, not Si-Ma Qian. (Similarly, Ouyang, not Ou-Yang; Zhuge, not Zhu-Ge.) Such family names, however, are rare.

For more on this, see p. 156 of the section on proper nouns in Pinyin (1.9 MB PDF).

(Wade-Gilish? Wade-Gileish? Wade-Gile-ish? Wade-Gileish? I still can’t figure out how best to style my nonce term. Oh well.)

Hanyu Pinyin and common nouns: the rules

cover of Chinese Romanization: Pronunciation and OrthographyI’ve just added another long section of Yin Binyong’s book on the detailed rules for Hanyu Pinyin. This part (pp. 78-138) covers common nouns (2.4 MB PDF).

I should have mentioned earlier that this book isn’t useful just for those who want to know more about Pinyin. It can also serve as an excellent work for those learning Mandarin, since it tends to group like ideas together and gives many examples of how combinations form other words.

All that, and it’s absolutely free. So go ahead and download it now.

Here are the main divisions:

  1. Introduction
  2. Simple Nouns
  3. Nouns with Prefixes
  4. Nouns with Suffixes
  5. Reduplicated Nouns
  6. Nouns of Modifier-Modified Construction
  7. Nouns of Coordinate Construction
  8. Nouns of Verb-Object and Subject-Predicate Construction
  9. Locational Nouns
  10. Nouns of Time
  11. Noun Phrases that Express a Single Concept

Hanyu Pinyin and proper nouns

cover of Chinese Romanization: Pronunciation and OrthographyThe first large section from Chinese Romanization: Pronunciation and Orthography to go online is the one on proper nouns (2 MB PDF).

  1. Introduction
  2. Place Names
  3. Personal Names
    1. formal names
    2. non-formal names
    3. forms of address
  4. Transliteration of Foreign Place Names and Personal Names
  5. Other Proper Nouns
    1. names of nationalities
    2. names of religions and deities
    3. names of dynasties
    4. names of festivals and holidays
    5. names of celestial bodies
    6. names of languages
    7. titles of literary and artistic works
    8. titles of newspapers and magazines
    9. names of social units
    10. trademarks
  6. Proper Nouns in Combination with Common Nouns

Thus, these rules cover many of the applications of Pinyin that appear on signage.

I’ll post a version with OCR later (probably weeks or months rather than days). In the meanwhile, you can use the bookmarks within the PDF file to navigate the document.

further reading:

detailed rules for Hanyu Pinyin: a major addition to Pinyin.Info

cover of Chinese Romanization: Pronunciation and OrthographyFor several years I’ve had online the brief official principles for writing Hanyu Pinyin. But those go only so far. Fortunately, Yin Binyong (Y?n B?ny?ng / ???) (1930-2003), who was involved in work on Hanyu Pinyin from the beginning, wrote two books on the subject, producing a detailed, logical, and effective orthography for Pinyin.

The only one of those two books with English explanations as well as Mandarin, Chinese Romanization: Pronunciation and Orthography (Mandarin title: Hàny? P?ny?n hé Zhèngcíf? / ???????? / ????????), has gone out of print; and at present there are no plans to bring it back into print. Fortunately, however, I was eventually able to secure the rights to reproduce this work on Pinyin.Info. Yes, the entire book. So everybody be sure to say thank you to the generous publisher by buying Sinolingua’s books.

This book, which is nearly 600 pages long, is a mother lode of information. It would be difficult for me to overstate its importance. Over the next few months I’ll be releasing the work in sections. I had intended to delay this a little, as I have had to wait for a fancy new scanner and am still awaiting some OCR software that can handle Hanzi as well as the Roman alphabet. (This Web site is an expensive hobby!) But since Taiwan has recently adopted Hanyu Pinyin I will be releasing some material soon (without OCR, for the time being) in the hope of helping Taiwan avoid making mistakes in its implementation of an orthography for Pinyin here.

Watch this blog for updates.

spelling out whole numbers in Hanyu Pinyin

By request, here’s the pattern.

Pay particular attention to the cases of wàn (? / ?) and yì (? / ?). When the numbers quantifying those are greater than ten, wàn and yì are written separately.

8 b?
58 w?shíb?
658 liùb?i w?shíb?
5,658 w?qi?n liùb?i w?shíb?
35,658 s?nwàn w?qi?n liùb?i w?shíb?
435,658 sìshís?n wàn w?qi?n liùb?i w?shíb?
9,435,658 ji?b?i sìshís?n wàn w?qi?n liùb?i w?shíb?
79,435,658 q?qi?n ji?b?i sìshís?n wàn w?qi?n liùb?i w?shíb?
379,435,658 s?n q?qi?n ji?b?i sìshís?n wàn w?qi?n liùb?i w?shíb?
6,379,435,658 liùshís?n yì q?qi?n ji?b?i sìshís?n wàn w?qi?n liùb?i w?shíb?

Still higher units follow the pattern of wàn and yì.

Note: When líng (zero) is a medial, it is always written separately.

507 w?b?i líng q? ????
40,507 sìwàn líng w?b?i líng q? ???????

apostrophes in Hanyu Pinyin

To help answer questions raised by earlier posts, I’ve added a page to my site on apostrophes in Hanyu Pinyin. It begins with the basics.

Here’s all you really need to know about when and where to place apostrophes when writing Mandarin Chinese in Hanyu Pinyin:

Put an apostrophe before any syllable that begins with a, e, or o, unless that syllable comes at the beginning of a word or immediately follows a hyphen or other dash.

Please note there is no “if there is ambiguity” in the rule above.