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.

Pinyin’s never-used letter?

As most people reading this blog know, Mandarin has about 1,300 syllables (interjections and loan words complicate the count a little). If tones — a basic part of the language — are disregarded, the number of drops to 400 and something syllables.

Given 410 or so basic syllables and 4 tones — one of these days I need to write something more on the wrongful neglect of the so-called neutral tone — some people might expect there to be more like 1,640 syllables instead of about 1,300. The reason for the lower number is that not all syllables exist in all four tones. For example, quite clearly the official language of Zhōngguó does not lack zhōng … or zhǒng or zhòng. But zhóng is another matter.

So not all possible tonal variations of those 400-something syllables appear in modern standard Mandarin. But what about letters?

If you look at the official alphabet for Hanyu Pinyin, it’s exactly the same as that for English (other than in pronunciation, of course), which is a bit odd, especially considering that Pinyin doesn’t use the letter v (or at least isn’t supposed to for Mandarin words).

So in this case, I’m excluding v but otherwise being expansionist about the glyphs I’m calling letters. To be specific: I’m referring to a-z, minus v, but including ā, á, ǎ, à, ē, é, ě, è, ī, í, ǐ, ì, ō, ó, ǒ, ò, ū, ú, ǔ, ù, ü, ǖ, ǘ, ǚ, and ǜ. (Even though Ī, Í, Ǐ, Ì, Ū, Ú, Ǔ, Ù, Ü, Ǖ, Ǘ, Ǚ, and Ǜ never come at the beginning of a word, let’s not automatically eliminate them, because there is an occasional need for ALL CAPS.)

Are there any of those possible glyphs that don’t appear at all — at least as given in the large ABC Comprehensive Chinese-English Dictionary?

The answer, perhaps surprisingly, is yes.

Which letter is it?

a. ǖ b. ǘ c. ǚ d. ǜ

Have you made your choice?

It doesn’t take much thought to eliminate C as the answer. “Nǚ” (woman) is one of those first-couple-of-Mandarin-lessons vocabulary terms. And the word for green (lǜsè) is hardly obscure either. It might be harder to think of a word with the letter ǘ; but there are some. Donkey () is probably the most common. So the answer is A: ǖ.

It’s important to note that the lack of ǖ is in appearance only. The sound ǖ occurs in plenty of Mandarin words; it’s just that Pinyin’s simplified orthography calls for writing “u” instead where ǖ follows j, q, x, or y.

But even though I didn’t find an example of ǖ, I’d encourage font designers not to scratch it from their list of must-have glyphs for Pinyin faces, especially since teachers will no doubt want to continue giving tone-pattern drills based on four tones for all vowels, regardless. Also, someone with a searchable edition of the Hanyu Da Cidian or maybe the new Oxford online edition is probably about to use the comments to point me to some obscure entry there….

How to handle ‘de’ and interjections in Hanyu Pinyin

cover image for the bookToday’s selection from Yin Binyong’s Xīnhuá Pīnxiě Cídiǎn (《新华拼写词典》 / 《新華拼寫詞典》) deals with how to write Mandarin’s various de‘s, mood particles, and interjections.

This reading is available in two versions:

I’ve already written about the principles in previous posts. For example, see

How to write numbers and measure words in Hanyu Pinyin

cover image for the bookToday’s selection from Yin Binyong’s Xīnhuá Pīnxiě Cídiǎn (《新华拼写词典》 / 《新華拼寫詞典》) is about writing numbers and measure words.

This reading is available in two versions:

For more on this, see these posts and the PDFs linked to therein.

How to write verbs in Hanyu Pinyin (Mandarin text)

cover image for the book

Here’s the first of several selected readings from Yin Binyong’s Xīnhuá Pīnxiě Cídiǎn (《新华拼写词典》 / 《新華拼寫詞典》). It covers the writing of verbs.

This reading is available in two versions:

For those who would like to read about this in English, see

important book on Pinyin to be excerpted on this site

cover image for the bookXīnhuá Pīnxiě Cídiǎn (《新华拼写词典》 / 《新華拼寫詞典》), is the second of Yin Binyong’s two books on Pinyin orthography. The first, Chinese Romanization: Pronunciation and Orthography, is in English and Mandarin; much of it is already available here on Pinyin.Info.

Although Xinhua Pinxie Cidian is only in Mandarin, the large number of examples makes it easy to get the point even if you may not read Mandarin in Chinese characters very well.

This week I will begin posting some excerpts from this invaluable work. What’s more, I have made a version in traditional Chinese characters, which I hope that readers in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and elsewhere will take advantage of. So those not used to reading simplified Chinese characters will have a choice (which is more than the government of Taiwan is providing these days).

I’m extremely happy to be able to bring you this information and wish to acknowledge the generosity of the Commercial Press. Stay tuned.

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 (媽) / ling (拎)
  2. mal (麻) / lilng (零)
  3. maa (馬) / liing (領)
  4. mah (罵) / lihng (另)
  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 qī qǐ SHIN TARNG gǎi wéi XIN TANG, shǐyòng d wénzì yǐ Pīn Yīn (jiǎn xiě PY) wéi jīchǔ. Duōbàn d wénzhāng yòng yǒudiào PY xiě. Biāodiào fǎ qǐng kàn fēngmiàn èr xià’tou d jiǎndān shuōmíng.

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 (Xīn 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).