Pinyin pangram challenge

One of the many things I plan to do eventually is to put up some graphics of how Pinyin looks in various font faces. A Pinyin pangram would do nicely for a sample text. You know: a short Mandarin sentence in Hanyu Pinyin that uses all of the following 26 letters: abcdefghijklmnopqrstuüwxyz (i.e., the English alphabet’s a-z, minus v but plus ü).

But then I couldn’t find one. So I put the question out to some people I know and quickly got back two Pinyin pangrams.

Ruanwo bushi yingzuo; putongfan bushi xican; maibuqi lüde kan jusede. (57 letters)


Zuotian wo bang wo de pengyou Lü Xisheng qu chengli mai yi wan doufuru he ban zhi kaoji. (70 letters)

from Robert Sanders and Cynthia Ning, respectively.

James Dew weighed in with some helpful advice. And, with some additional help from the original two contributors and my wife, I made some additional modifications, eventually resulting in a variant reduced to 48 letters:

Zuotian wo bang nü’er qu yi jia chaoshi mai kele, xifan, doupi.

With tone marks, that’s “Zuótiān wǒ bāng nǚ’ér qù yī jiā chāoshì mǎi kělè, xīfàn, dòupí.”

I suppose xīfàn is not really the sort of thing one buys at a chāoshì. On the other hand, people probably don’t worry much about whether jackdaws really do love someone’s big sphinx of quartz, so I think we’re OK. Still, something shorter than 48 letters should be possible — though pangram-friendly brevity is more easily accomplished in English than in Mandarin as spelled in Hanyu Pinyin. As one correspondent noted:

Most of the “excess” letters are vowels. Trouble is that Chinese doesn’t pile up the consonants much. Brown, for example, takes care of b, r, w, and n, while only expending one little o…. There’s no word like string in Chinese (5 consonants; one vowel). Chinese piles up vowels: zuotian and chaoshi and doufu and kaoji all use more vowels than consonants.

I’m challenging readers to come up with more Pinyin pangrams.

But I don’t want this to be a reversed shi shi shi stunt, so let’s stay away from Literary Sinitic. And I’d prefer the equivalent of “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” to that of “Cwm fjord veg balks nth pyx quiz.” In other words, wherever possible this should be in real-world, sayable Mandarin.

One possible variant on this would be to use “abcdefghijklmnopqrstuüwxyz” plus all the forms with diacritics āáǎàēéěèīíǐìōóǒòūúǔùǘǚǜ.” (No ǖ — first-tone ü, that is — is necessary.) But that would be even more work.

Those who devise good pangrams will will be covered in róngyào — or something like that.

Happy hunting.

6 thoughts on “Pinyin pangram challenge

  1. OK, so my pangram doesn’t make a lot of sense, but I think the theoretical limit is 37 characters, assuming you disallow Beijing-style final r.

    w? qù tóngjì , ch? k?pà mòl? x?fàr? : yù sù zé bù dá !
    [I go to Tongji, eat scary dark green shampoo, more haste less speed!]

    Rationale: The 17 letters bcdfjklmpqrstwxyz only appear at the start of a syllable, and never share syllables with each other. So those must be the initials for the 17 syllables. Then add -ng to one syllable, add an h to one of the c- z- or s- syllables, and ensure all 6 vowels are covered. Now find suitable words!

  2. @Pinyin: Although that’s not a pangram, I certainly appreciate your comment.

    @Matt: That was fast! Thanks for working out the math, too.

    An r final would be OK as long as it’s a real form. So that would knock the number down to 36. Additional reductions would theoretically be possible by employing vowel-less onomatopoeia (e.g., “ng” or even “hng”); but that’s tricky.

  3. Wenlin’s support of regular expressions makes it possible to search the ABC Chinese-English Comprehensive Dictionary for relatively long words that might be appropriate.
    CTRL+F, then search for:

    Many of the results are fixed expressions, so not all are appropriate if one is going for something that can be said and understood in modern standard Mandarin. But it’s a start.

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