PRC’s official rules for Pinyin: 2012 revision — in traditional Chinese characters

Last week I put online China’s official rules for Hanyu Pinyin, the 2012 revision (GB/T 16159-2012). I’ve now made a traditional-Chinese-character version of those rules for Pinyin.

Eventually I’ll also issue versions in Pinyin and English.

(Note: The image above is of course Photoshopped. I altered the cover of the PRC standard simply to provide an illustration in traditional Chinese characters for this post.)

Xin Tang 10

I’ve just added to the tenth and final issue (December 1989) of the seminal journal Xin Tang. I strongly encourage everyone to take a look at it and some of the other issues. Copies of this journal are extremely rare; but their importance is such that I’ll be putting all of them online here over the years.

cover of Xin Tang no. 10

Xin Tang 10

Although I’m giving the table of contents in English, the articles themselves are in Mandarin and written in Pinyin.

    • ZHOU YOUGUANG: The Next Step of Language Modernization
    • CHEN ENQUAN: Experiments Should Be Carried Out on the Phoneticization of Chinese Characters
    • LI YUAN: Romanized Chinese Must Be Finalized
    • LI PING: To Be a Promoter of Script Reform
    • ZHENG LINXI: Wu Yuzhang and Chinese Phonetic Spelling
    • ZHANG LIQING: How Should the Tones of Chinese Spelling Be Indicated?
    • LIQING: Elephants
    • CHEN XUANYOU (Tang Period): The Wandering Soul
    • WU JINGZI (Qing Period): Third Daughter Wang
    • LU XUN: On the Collapse of Thunder Peak Pagoda
    • RUI LUOBIN: The Adventures of Chunmei and Mimi
    • COMIC DIALOGUES: Toad Drums
    • WEI YIJIN: Dreams at Twenty
    • DIAO KE: In Praise o f the Spirit of Bees
    • GE XIAOLING: A Song to the Disabled Children
    • YBY: The Story of the Magic Square
    • DIAN EWEN: Interesting Tidbits about Script Reform Abroad
    • LI YUAN: A Few Statistics on Tones Notations in Romanized Chinese
    • Asking the Way
    • Farewell to Our Readers

PRC’s official rules for Pinyin: 2012 revision

In 2012 China revised its official guidelines for writing Pinyin.

These are the Hanyu Pinyin Zhengcifa Jiben Guize (official translation: “Basic Rules of the Chinese Phonetic Alphabet Orthography”), promulgated as GB/T 16159-2012.

Among the changes are that some alternate forms are now allowed, for example “wo de” (my) may also be written as “wode”. I’m not thrilled about that; but I know some people will welcome this.

I’ve added a few notes, such as for errors in the original document.

So far I have made only a version in so-called simplified Chinese characters. But eventually I’ll add one in traditional Chinese characters and an English translation.

front cover of GB/T 16159-2012 Pinyin guidelines

Xin Tang 9

The ninth issue of Xin Tang is now available here on The journal, which was published in the 1980s, is in and about romanization. By this point in its publication most everything in it was written in Hanyu Pinyin (as opposed to Gwoyeu Romatzyh or another system). Xin Tang is interesting not just as a forum in which one can read original content in Pinyin. It’s also important for the history of Pinyin itself. Over the course of its nearly decade-long run, one can see its authors (including many top people in romanization) working out Pinyin as a real script.

Xin Tang no. 9 (December 1988)

xin tang 9

Here’s an English version of the table of contents. Note that the articles themselves are, for the most part, in Mandarin.

  • Articles
    • Wang Jun: Perfecting Hanyu Pinyin and Broadening Its Use
    • Wang Naican: “Established at Age Thirty,but the Task is Heavy and the Way is Long”
    • Apollo Wu: China Needs an Alphabetical Script
    • Zhang Liqing: Must Written Chinese Have Tones Indicated?
    • Qian Yuzhi, Li Shuo: Research on Alphabetical Spelling of Tones
    • Victor H. Mair: A Letter Concerning the Compilation of an Alphabetically Ordered Dictionary
  • Pinyin and Computers
    • Guo Xiao, Chen Zhiqiang: Welcoming the Era of the Popularization of Word Processors- An Interview with Professor Zhou Youguang
    • Yin Binyong: Pinyin Computers Force People to Change Their Writing Styles
    • Wu Yue: Using a Computerized Chinese Typewriter to Help in Creative Writing
    • Jin Huishu: Few Special Spellings Are Required for “Automatic Conversion from Pinyin to Chinese Characters”
    • It Is Not Difficult to Master Pinyin Computers (report from Henan)
    • International Computer Conference Held in Toronto in 1988 (report from Canada)
  • Children’s Corner: Literature
    • Little Xie’s Long Trunk,
    • The Adventures of Chunmei and Mimi (illustrated serial by Rui Luobin),
    • Encounter beneath the Lighthouse,
    • The Oriole and the Eagle (Liqing),
    • The Fig Tree (Xu Hongxin)
  • Classical Chinese Selection
    • A Passage from the Zhuangzi
  • Learning Mandarin
    • Lesson 1: in Peking
  • Letters from Readers
  • News
    • Commemoration of the Thirtieth Anniversary of the Promulgation of the Scheme for Hanyu Pinyin Official
    • Promulgation of the Basic Orthographical Rules for Hanyu Pinyin
    • The Bilingual Pedagogical Experiment of Zhang Zhigong
    • Hangzhou Experiments with a New Pedagogy Using Pinyin
    • Announcement of a New Book: “Chinese Romanization: Pronunciation and Orthography”

Zhou Youguang on politics

The New York Times has just published a profile of Zhou Youguang, who is often called “the father of Pinyin” (though he modestly prefers to stress that others worked with him): A Chinese Voice of Dissent That Took Its Time.

This profile focuses not only on Zhou’s role in the creation of Hanyu Pinyin but also on his political views, which he has become increasingly public with.

About Mao, he said in an interview: “I deny he did any good.” About the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre: “I am sure one day justice will be done.” About popular support for the Communist Party: “The people have no freedom to express themselves, so we cannot know.”

As for fostering creativity in the Communist system, Mr. Zhou had this to say, in a 2010 book of essays: “Inventions are flowers that grow out of the soil of freedom. Innovation and invention don’t grow out of the government’s orders.”

No sooner had the first batch of copies been printed than the book was banned in China.

Although the reporter’s assertion, following the PRC’s official figures, that “China all but stamp[ed] out illiteracy” is well wide of the mark, there is no denying Pinyin’s crucial role in this area. I recommend reading the whole article.

Zhou Youguang

Pinyin sort order

The standard for alphabetically sorting Hanyu Pinyin is given in the ABC dictionary series edited by John DeFrancis and issued by the University of Hawaii Press.

Here’s the basic idea:

The ordering is primarily simply alphabetical. Diacritical marks, punctuation, juncture and capitalization are only taken into account when the strings being compared are otherwise identical. For example, píng’?n sorts before p?ny?n, because pingan sorts before pinyin, because g precedes y alphabetically.

Only when two strings are alphabetically identical is non-alphabetical information taken into account.

The series’ Reader’s Guide presents the specifics of the sort order. Since I don’t have to worry about how much space this takes up on my site, I have reformatted the information slightly to give the examples as numbered lists.

Head entry transcriptions with the same sequence of letters are ordered first strictly by letter sequence regardless of tones, then by initial syllable tone in the sequence 0 1 2 3 4. For entries with the same initial tone, arrangement is by the tone of the second syllable, again in the order 0 1 2 3 4. For example:

  1. sh?shi
  2. sh?sh?
  3. sh?shí
  4. sh?sh?
  5. sh?shì
  6. shísh?
  7. shíshì
  8. sh?sh?
  9. shìsh?

Irrespective of tones, entries with the vowel u precede those with ü.
For example:

  1. l?
  2. l?
  3. l?
  4. l?
  1. n?

Entries without apostrophe precede those with apostrophe. For example:

  1. biànargue
  2. b?’ànthe other shore

Lower-case entries precede upper-case entries. For example:

  1. hòujìnaftereffect
  2. Hòu JìnLater Jin dynasty

For entries with identical spelling, including tones, arrangement is by order of frequency….

For most users, the most important thing to note is that the neutral tone is regarded as 0, not as 5. Thus, the order is not? á ? à a,” but “a ? á ? à.” And, because lowercase comes before uppercase, notA a ? ? Á á ? ? À à” but “a A ? ? á Á ? ? à À.

One can see this in action in the A entries for the ABC English-Chinese, Chinese-English Dictionary. And here are some sample pages from an earlier ABC dictionary.

The ABC series follows the example of the Hanyu Pinyin Cihui (?????? / Hàny? P?ny?n Cíhuì) (example), with only one minor difference, as noted by Tom Bishop:

HPC [Hanyu Pinyin Cihui] gave hyphens and spaces the same priority as apostrophes, so that lìg?ng sorted before l?-g?ng, in spite of the tones. Usage of hyphens and spaces in pinyin is still far from being fully standardized. (The same is true in English orthography.) Consequently, for collation it makes sense to give less weight to hyphens and spaces, and more weight to tones, thus sorting l?-g?ng before lìg?ng. In ABC, hyphens and spaces don’t affect the sort order unless they change the pronunciation in the same way that apostrophe would; for example, 1míng-àn ?? and 2míng’àn ?? are treated as homophones, and they sort after m?ng?n ??.

Pinyin font: Linux Biolinum

The highly useful and Pinyin-friendly Linux Libertine has a companion font family: Linux Biolinum.

Biolinum is designed for emphasis, e.g. of titles. You can also use it for short passages of text. For longer texts a serif font such as the Libertine should be used for readability. The Biolinum has the same vertical metrics and visual weight as the Libertine, so that it fits perfectly to the Libertine and can be also used for emphasizing within the body text.

Linux Biolinum Capitals and Linux Biolinum Keyboard don’t presently work with Pinyin. But the other styles do, as this sample of Linux Biolinum with Pinyin text shows.

Some fonts *not* to use for Pinyin

One of the traditions in advance of Chinese New Year is housecleaning — something not among my favorite activities. But I thought I’d do a bit of housecleaning of half-finished posts and get at least one up before the new year (tomorrow). So here it is.

Although I occasionally bemoan the fact that relatively few font families are made such that they can handle Hanyu Pinyin with tone marks (at least not right out of the box), it’s worth noting that some of the commonly found fonts that do cover all of the letters and diacritics really suck at it and should be avoided when writing in Pinyin.

Typically, such fonts were designed mainly with Hanzi in mind.

Here’s one example:
screenshot of a Pinyin text set in Adobe Ming -- and, boy oh boy, is it ever hideous


That was Adobe Ming. Yes, Adobe.

I’ll go ahead and point out the obvious problems:

And I’m not so sure about the consistency of the x-height either. Those stubby little descenders are puzzling, too, but are not necessarily wrong.

Perhaps the designers intended these letters for use in vertically aligned text — though I don’t think these forms would work well even then. Perhaps there’s some context in which these might make sense, though I’m inclined to doubt this. Perhaps the designers have an irrational hatred of romanization and wanted to make Pinyin look as ugly as possible. Whatever the reason, even though this and the other Unicode-compliant fonts below have all of the letters with diacritics that Pinyin requires, using them for Pinyin texts would be a very bad idea.

Since there is apparently still some confusion about why the “?” form (in contrast to the normal “a” form) is incorrect, see the chart below.

table showing that the fonts discussed in this post that use the rounded style for the letter 'a' do so only with diacritics, not elsewhere. This is wrong. The rounded a's should not be used at all.

Note how the odd form of the letter a does not appear in regular text or even in double-width forms; instead, it’s seen only when accompanied by a tone mark. In other words, even within individual fonts the ? form is treated not as a normal “a” that happens to look that way but as something specifically for Pinyin, which is flat-out wrong. Other than the addition of diacritics themselves, there is no reason to alter letter shapes in any way for Pinyin.

Let’s get back to the broader issue. Here are some more examples of fonts that render Pinyin in ugly ways. (Click image to view PDF.)

click to view PDF with much larger and clearer text

To aid Web searches, here’s a text list of the fonts above, none of which should be used for Hanyu Pinyin:

  • Adobe Fangsong Std
  • Adobe Heiti Std
  • Adobe Kaiti Std
  • Adobe Ming Std
  • Adobe Song Std
  • MS Gothic
  • MS Mincho
  • MS PGothic
  • MS PMincho
  • MS UI Gothic
  • NSimSun
  • SimHei
  • SimSun

SimSun is probably the least awful of the bunch. But even so, there’s no good reason to use it instead of something else that would do the job much better, such as Gentium:
screenshot of the same Pinyin text, but this one is set in Gentium -- and it looks great

Generally speaking, if you wouldn’t want to use a font for English, French, Italian, etc., then don’t use it for Hanyu Pinyin.

Say no to making Pinyin ugly!

I wish you all a happy and P?ny?n-rich year of the dragon.