Pinyin font: Linux Libertine

Linux Libertine in Wikipedia logoLinux Libertine is perhaps most familiar as the font used in the Wikipedia logo. This surprisingly large font family also works well with Hanyu Pinyin, though a few adjustments need to be made before all of the fonts in this family work as they should with Pinyin texts.

Here’s how those working on Linux Libertine describe it:

We work on a versatile font family. It is designed to give you an alternative for fonts like T*mes New Roman. We’re creating free software and publish our fonts under terms of the GPL and OFL. Please have a look at the paragraph concerning the license.

It is our aim to support the many western languages and provide many special characters. Our fonts cover the codepages of Western Latin, Greek, Cyrillic (with their specific enhancements), Hebrew, IPA and many more. Furthermore, typographical features such as ligatures, small capitals, different number styles, scientific symbols, etc. are implemented in this font. Linux Libertine thus contains more than 2000 characters.

Here’s what it looks like with Pinyin. (Click to view a PDF, which is much clearer.)
screenshot of Linux Libertine in action on Pinyin text

image of a rhinocerous (xiniu) and the word 'xiniu' in Linux Libertine

All in all: Not bad.

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 Pīnyīn-rich year of the dragon.

Pinyin font: Noticia Text

Since my last examination of the selection at Google Web Fonts the number of font families for Latin Extended has reached 98 [edit: May 31, 2012: 188], with one new face capable of rendering Hanyu Pinyin with tone marks: Noticia Text.

image showing the font Noticia Text in action on a Hanyu Pinyin sample text

Here are the Pinyin-friendly font faces at Google Web Fonts.


  • EB Garamond
  • Gentium Basic
  • Gentium Book Basic
  • Neuton
  • Noticia Text

Sans Serif

  • Andika
  • Ubuntu
  • Ubuntu Condensed
  • Ubuntu Mono

For future reference, the font most recently added to the Latin Extended group is Ruda [edit in May 2012: Chau Philomene One], which doesn’t support Pinyin with diacritics (except, perhaps, through combining diacritics).

See also

Pinyin font: Flexion Pro

Today I’d like to introduce a highly individualistic font family that supports Hanyu Pinyin: Flexion Pro. This one, however, isn’t free.

sample of the Flexion Pro font being used for text in Hanyu Pinyin

Flexion was originally designed for the movie The DaVinci Code, which is apt, given how the main character, Robert Langdon, was named after Flexion’s designer (and ambigram specialist) John Langdon. Hal Taylor completed the font.

Here’s part of Taylor’s description:

Flexion is possibly the only symmetrical type design currently available. In keeping with John’s well-know propensity for ambigrams, many of the characters are mirrored to become other characters; the B is a reversed E, the C is reversed to become a D, G is a mirrored P, the K is a reversed N, and so on.

Of course, some of the tone marks will complicate making this work for ambigrams. But since Chinese-English bilingual ambigrams are possible, making Pinyin ambigrams, even with tone marks, shouldn’t be out of the question.

Flexion comes in four weights.

Pinyin fonts at the Open Font Library

A search for Pinyin fonts at the Open Font Library currently yields 15 font families.

Not all of those, however, really do support Hanyu Pinyin with tone marks. Here are the ones that work, though not always without problems:

And here’s a PDF of all of those Unicode Pinyin font families in action.

I’ve previously mentioned more than one of these: Pecita and the various Gentium faces. I’ll write more about the latter in another post on the work coming out of SIL.


screenshot of the serif font 'crimson' in action on a sample Pinyin text

screenshot of the serif fonts 'Gentium' and 'Gentium Book' in action on a sample Pinyin text

screenshot of the serif font 'Judson' in action on a sample Pinyin text

screenshot of the serif font 'Libertinage' in action on a sample Pinyin text

screenshot of the serif font 'Wirewyrm' in action on a sample Pinyin text

Sans Serif

screenshot of the sans-serif font 'Designosaur' in action on a sample Pinyin text

screenshot of the sans-serif font 'News Cycle' in action on a sample Pinyin text

screenshot of the sans-serif  font 'Pfennig' in action on a sample Pinyin text


screenshot of the monospace sans-serif font 'Consola Mono' in action on a sample Pinyin text


screenshot of the script font 'Pecita' in action on a sample Pinyin text

Full list (including fails), for future reference:

  1. Anahi/Abbey
  2. Consola Mono
  3. Crimson
  4. Designosaur
  5. Douar Outline
  6. Futhark Adapted
  7. Gentium
  8. Judson
  9. Libertinage
  10. Logisoso
  11. News Cycle
  12. Pecita
  13. Pfennig
  14. Vegesignes
  15. WireWyrm

Google Web fonts and Pinyin — December 2011 update

When I put up my first post on Google Web fonts (Google Web fonts and Hanyu Pinyin), that site offered 252 font families, 29 of which cover at least parts of Latin Extended. Now, some three months later, the total has grown to 342 font families, with 70 of those covering at least parts of Latin Extended.

Only two of the new families, however, support Hanyu Pinyin with tone marks: Ubuntu Condensed and Ubuntu Mono. That brings the total to eight Google Web fonts that support Hanyu Pinyin: four serifs and four sans serifs.


  • EB Garamond
  • Gentium Basic
  • Gentium Book Basic
  • Neuton

Sans Serif

  • Andika
  • Ubuntu
  • Ubuntu Condensed
  • Ubuntu Mono

Here’s what the two new families, Ubuntu Condensed and Ubuntu Mono, look like next to the earlier Ubuntu.

example of Ubuntu, Ubuntu Condensed, and Ubuntu Mono in action on Hanyu Pinyin

For reference, here’s the total list of Latin Extended, with Pinyin-compliant fonts in bold.

Serif Faces

  1. Bitter
  2. Cardo
  3. Caudex
  4. EB Garamond
  5. Enriqueta
  6. Gentium Basic
  7. Gentium Book Basic
  8. Neuton
  9. Playfair Display
  10. Radley
  11. Sorts Mill Goudy

Sans Serif Faces

  1. Andika
  2. Anonymous Pro
  3. Anton
  4. Chango
  5. Didact Gothic
  6. Francois One
  7. Fresca
  8. Istok Web
  9. Jockey One
  10. Jura
  11. Marmelad
  12. Open Sans Condensed
  13. Open Sans
  14. Play
  15. Signika Negative
  16. Signika
  17. Tenor Sans
  18. Ubuntu
  19. Ubuntu Condensed
  20. Ubuntu Mono
  21. Varela
  22. Viga

Display Faces (all fail)

  1. Abril Fatface
  2. Arbutus
  3. Bubblegum Sans
  4. Butcherman Caps
  5. Chicle
  6. Eater Caps
  7. Forum
  8. Kelly Slab
  9. Knewave
  10. Lobster
  11. MedievalSharp
  12. Modern Antiqua
  13. Nosifer Caps
  14. Piedra
  15. Passion One
  16. Plaster
  17. Rammetto One
  18. Ribeye Marrow
  19. Ribeye
  20. Righteous
  21. Ruslan Display
  22. Stint Ultra Condensed

Handwriting Faces (all fail)

  1. Aguafina Script
  2. Aladin
  3. Devonshire
  4. Dr Sugiyama
  5. Fondamento
  6. Herr Von Muellerhoff
  7. Marck Script
  8. Miss Fajardos
  9. Miss Saint Delafield
  10. Monsieur La Doulaise
  11. Mr Bedford
  12. Mr Dafoe
  13. Mr De Haviland
  14. Mrs Sheppards
  15. Niconne
  16. Patrick Hand

Google improves its maps of Taiwan

Two years ago when Google switched to Hanyu Pinyin in its maps of Taiwan, it did a poor job … despite the welcome use of tone marks.

Here are some of the problems I noted at the time:

  • The Hanyu Pinyin is given as Bro Ken Syl La Bles. (Terrible! Also, this is a new style for Google Maps. Street names in Tongyong were styled properly: e.g., Minsheng, not Min Sheng.)
  • The names of MRT stations remain incorrectly presented. For example, what is referred to in all MRT stations and on all MRT maps as “NTU Hospital” is instead referred to in broken Pinyin as “Tái Dà Y? Yuàn” (in proper Pinyin this would be Tái-Dà Y?yuàn); and “Xindian City Hall” (or “Office” — bleah) is marked as X?n Diàn Shì G?ng Su? (in proper Pinyin: “X?ndiàn Shìg?ngsu?” or perhaps “X?ndiàn Shì G?ngsu?“). Most but not all MRT stations were already this incorrect way (in Hanyu Pinyin rather than Tongyong) in Google Maps.
  • Errors in romanization point to sloppy conversions. For example, an MRT station in Banqiao is labeled X?n Bù rather than as X?np?. (? is one of those many Chinese characters with multiple Mandarin pronunciations.)
  • Tongyong Pinyin is still used in the names of most cities and townships (e.g., Banciao, not Banqiao).

I’m pleased to report that Google Maps has recently made substantial improvements.

First, and of fundamental importance, word parsing has finally been implemented for the most part. No more Bro Ken Syl La Bles. Hallelujah!

Here’s what this section of a map of Tainan looked like two years ago:

And here’s how it is now:

Oddly, “Jiànx?ng Jr High School” has been changed to “Tainan Municipal Chien-Shing Jr High School Library” — which is wordy, misleading (library?), and in bastardized Wade-Giles (misspelled bastardized Wade-Giles, at that). And “Girl High School” still hasn’t been corrected to “Girls’ High School”. (We’ll also see that problem in the maps for Taipei.)

But for the most part things are much better, including — at last! — a correct apostrophe: Y?u’ài St.

As these examples from Taipei show, the apostrophe isn’t just a one-off. Someone finally got this right.

Rén’ài, not Renai.
screenshot from Google Maps, showing how the correct Rén'ài (rather than the incorrect Renai) is used

Cháng’?n, not Changan.
screenshot from Google Maps, showing how the correct Cháng'?n is used

Well, for the most part right. Here we have the correct Dà’?n (and correct Ruì’?n) but also the incorrect Daan and Ta-An. But at least the street names are correct.
click for larger screenshot from Google Maps, showing how the correct Dà'?n (and correct Ruì'?n) is used but also the incorrect Daan and Ta-An

Second, MRT station names have been fixed … mostly. Most all MRT station names are now in the mixture of romanization and English that Taipei uses, with Google Maps also unfortunately following even the incorrect ones. A lot of this was fixed long ago. The stops along the relatively new Luzhou line, however, are all written wrong, as one long string of Pinyin.

To match the style used for other stations, this should be MRT Songjiang Nanjing, not Jieyunsongjiangnanjing.
screenshot from Google Maps, showing how the Songjiang-Nanjing MRT station is labeled 'Jieyunsongjiangnanjing Station' (with tone marks)

Third, misreadings of poyinzi (pòy?nzì/???) have largely been corrected.

Chéngd?, not Chéng D?u.
screenshot from Google Maps, showing how the correct 'Chéngd? Rd' is used

Like I said: have largely been corrected. Here we have the correct Chéngd? and Chóngqìng (rather than the previous maps’ Chéng D?u and Zhòng Qìng) but also the incorrect Houbu instead of the correct Houpu.
screenshot from Google Maps, showing how the correct Chóngqìng Rd and Chéngd? St are used but also how the incorrect Houbu (instead of Houpu) is shown

But at least the major ones are correct.

Unfortunately, the fourth point I raised two years ago (Tongyong Pinyin instead of Hanyu Pinyin at the district and city levels) has still not been addressed. So Google is still providing Tongyong Pinyin rather than the official Hanyu Pinyin at some levels. Most of the names in this map, for example, are distinctly in Tongyong Pinyin (e.g., Lujhou, Sinjhuang, and Banciao, rather than Luzhou, Xinzhuang, and Banqiao).

Google did go in and change the labels on some places from city to district when Taiwan revised their names; but, oddly enough, the company didn’t fix the romanization at the same time. But with any luck we won’t have to wait so long before Google finally takes care of that too.

Or perhaps we’ll have a new president who will revive Tongyong Pinyin and Google will throw out all its good work.

Not the same sound

Today’s New York Times exhibits one of my pet peeves. (Yes, I do seem to have a lot of those.)

This particular one is the practice of declaring that some Mandarin word or expression has “the same sound” as something else — even though it doesn’t. Claiming that the Mandarin words for death and four sound identical is a frequent example of this.

So today we have this:

Consider Tide detergent, Taizi, whose Chinese characters literally mean “gets rid of dirt.” (Characters are important: the same sound written differently could mean “too purple.”)

Nope. The Mandarin name for Tide detergent is Tàizì. On the other hand, “too purple” would be “tài z?,” which is close but not the same.

Tàizì ? tài z?

So, the answer to the question “When is a homophone not a homophone?” is “When it’s not a @#$%! homophone.”

But I will give the Times points for not mentioning wax tadpoles.

source: Picking Brand Names in China Is a Business Itself, New York Times, November 11, 2011