Transcriptions: how to write down pronunciation

Updated:Sun, Oct 21, 2012 01:53 AM     Related:Chinese transcription

How to write down Chinese pronunciation? There are three major transcription systems: Wade-Giles Transcription, Pinyin Transcription, and Zhuyin Transcription and the Pinyin is the dominant one.

 

Transcriptions: how to write down pronunciation

The old Chinese became aware of the sound system of their own language when they had to translate foreign words with a meaning that could not be expressed in Chinese: Buddhist terms. Dictionaries that tried to express pronunciation came up during the Tang Dynasty. They used the "reverse cutting" system (fanqie 反切), using the initial sound and the final sound of two words/characters to describe the sound of a word/character. For example: 他前切 [ta][tçin]qie "pronounced like [t-] and [-in] ([tjn])". Another possibility to express the pronunciation of a character was to cite a character with an identical pronunciation, like 薪讀若新 "xin (firewood), read like xin (new).".

The first transscriptions of Chinese language that have been made by Westerners were all written like the particular travelers, merchants or missionaries heard the words and wrote them down following the writing rules of their own language. French people of course wrote the same words not in the same style like British would have done or people from the Netherlands. There did not exist a standardized style of transscription until the late 19th century. Typically for the early transscriptions was the hard style transscription of the sounds [dj] or [tç] as "k", like "kin" for [djin] or "kü" for [tçy], for instance "King-ting ku-kin t'u-shu ki-ch'eng" for 清定古今圖書集成 (pinyin: Qing ding Gujin tushu jicheng). Many geographic names of China are still known today in their old transscription like the provinces Shan-tung, Fo-kien, Kiang-su, or the cities of Peking and Kanton. Also the names of people like Chiang Kai-shek or Sun Yat-sen are derived from non-standardized transscriptions of non-Mandarin languages or dialects (in standard Mandarin, they are called Jiang Jieshi resp. Sun Yixian - but no Chinese calles the founder of the Republic by this name - the is called Sun Zhongshan).

Wade-Giles Transcription

The first persons to create a standard transscription of Chinese were T.F. Wade (d. 1895) and H.A. Giles (d. 1935). Their system called Wade-Giles (chin.: Wei Tuoma shi pinyin 威妥瑪式拼音) is quite correct in reflecting the vowels (like "yüen" for [jyn]), but is very complicated in the manner of reflecting consonants. Wade and Giles saw the hard sound "k" as a soft one and added an apostroph to express hard pronunciation: [gan] is written "kuan", [kan] is written k'uan. The sound [] (the french "j") is written "j", the sound [ç] is "hs". A great problem to find a word in an index is that the Wade-Giles system makes no difference between the consonants [tç] and [t] - both "ch'", [d] and [dj], both "ch". Only in their syllable context, these sounds are recognizable as two different sounds: the vowel-less syllables are added by an "ih", like "ch'ih" for [t] and "chih" for [d]. The syllables [tçi] and [dji] are written "ch'i" resp. "chi". The syllables [dz] and [dzu] are written "tzu" resp. "tsu".

The tone pitches are marked by one of four numbers added to the transsciption, like hsiao3. In spite of these shortcomings, the transscription system Wade-Giles has been used for a long time and has been very widespread, especially in the United States where it is still used today by Sinologists.

The table below gives an overview over the Wade-Giles transscription of the Chinese sounds, the brackets include the pronunciation according to the international sound transscription, after the brackets Wade-Giles.

[b] p [d] t [g] k [dj] ch [d] ch [dz] ts, tz

[p] p' [t] t' [k] k' [tç] ch' [t] ch' [ts] ts', tz'

[m] m [n] n [x, h] h [ç] hs [] sh [s] s

[f] f [l] l [] j

The vowel-less syllables [d][t][][],[dz][ts][s] are written chih, ch'ih, shih, jih, tzû, tz'û, szû. The simple vowels [i][u][y] are written i, wu, yü. The syllables of two-syllable words are separated by a dash: "Chung-kuo".

[a]

a [o]

o [ə]

o [ε]

eh [ai]

ai [ei]

ei [aω]

ao [ou]

ou [an]

an [ən]

en [aŋ]

ang [əŋ]

eng [uŋ]

ung [ər]

erh

[-i]

i [-ja]

ia [-jε]

ieh [-jaω]

iao [-jou]

iu [-jεn]

ien [-in]

in [-iaŋ]

iang [-iŋ]

ing [-juŋ]

iung

[-u]

u [-ωa]

ua [-ωo]

uo [-ωai]

uai [-ωei]

uei [-ωan]

uan [-un]

un [-ωaŋ]

uang [-ωəŋ]

eng

[-y]

ü [-yε]

üeh [-yεn]

üan [-yn]

ün

Pinyin Transcription

Today, the People's Republic of China uses the transscription system Pinyin «÷­µ "Arranged Sounds", a system more coherent in reflecting consonants than the Wade/Giles system, introducing letters of the Roman alphabet that are used for very different sounds in European languages: "h" reflects a sound more similar to the guttural [x], "j" is [dj], "q" is [tç], "x" is [ç]. The vowel-rare sounds are "zh" for [d], "ch" for [t], "sh" is like [] in English, but a little bit more guttural, "r" is the French "j" with an inheriting English "r" [], "z" for [dz], "c" for [ts], and "s" just for [s]. Lexically very useful, this consonantial system is destroyed by a horrible, that means unlogical system for the vowels. [y] is sometimes written "u" like in "qu" for [tçy] or "xuan" for [çyn], sometimes written "ü" like "nü" for [ny] or "lüe" for [ly]. [] is sometimes written "e" like in "lüe" for [ly], sometimes written "a" like "xuan" for [çyn]. [o] is sometimes written "o" like "bo" for [bo], sometimes written "uo" like "luo" for [lo]. [u] is sometimes written "u" like "lu" for [lu], sometimes written "o" like "gong" for [gu]. The letter "a" sometimes stands for [a] like "xia" for [çja], sometimes for [] like "xian" for [çjn]. Redundant are the letters "y" like "yi" for [i], while it is used for [j] in "yao" for [ja], and "w" like "wu" for [u], while it is used for [] in "wo" for [o]. It can be argued that the syllables "gong" and "xuan" are pronunciations of the south: [go] and [çyan].

Tones pitches are markes by accents: an upper dash for the rising tone, a raising accent for the raising tone, an upside down circumflex for the low rising tone, and a falling accent for the falling pitch (b, bá, b, bà). But the Pinyin system claims to be the correct pronunciation of the capital Beijing. In that sense, it should be more coherent to the northern pronunciation. Nevertheless, the Pinyin system should be accepted as an official transscription of Chinese words that becomes more and more common outside of China.

The table below gives an overview over the pinyin transscription of the Chinese sounds, the brackets include the pronunciation according to the international sound transscription, after the brackets pinyin transscription.

[b] b [d] d [g] g [dj] j [d] zh [dz] z

[p] p [t] t [k] k [tç] q [t] ch [ts] c

[m] m [n] n [x, h] h [ç] x [] ch [s] s

[f] f [l] l [] r

The vowel-less syllables [d][t][][],[dz][ts][s] are written zhi, chi, shi, ri, zi, ci, si. The simple vowels [i][u][y] are written yi, wu, yu. The syllables of two-syllable words are written as one word: "Zhongguo".

[a]

a [o]

o [ə]

e [ε]

ê [ai]

ai [ei]

ei [aω]

ao [ou]

ou [an]

an [ən]

en [aŋ]

ang [əŋ]

eng [uŋ]

ong, eng [ər]

er

[-i]

i [-ja]

ia [-jε]

ie [-jaω]

iao [-jou]

iu [-jεn]

ian [-in]

in [-iaŋ]

iang [-iŋ]

ing [-juŋ]

iong

[-u]

u [-ωa]

ua [-ωo]

uo [-ωai]

uai [-ωei]

ui [-ωan]

uan [-n]

un [-ωaŋ]

uang [-ωəŋ]

eng

[-y]

ü [-yε]

ue [-yεn]

uan [-yn]

un

Zhuyin Transcription (Bo-po-mo-fo)

A third system that has been in use only in Taiwan (and in mainland dictionaries, but only for completion) is the system called Zhuyin 注音 "Commented Sounds" or simply Bo-po-mo-fo, following the first four sounds of the alphabet. This system is very easy to learn, but it does not use Latin letters. Instead, it relies on simplified or very old forms of characters. In my opinion, it is the best system of transscription that exists, but it is not very widespread and will probably die out after Taiwan has started to use the mainland Pinyin system. The Zhuyin system simply puts together initial and final sound of one syllable, like ㄅㄠ "b+a" for [ba]. Syllables without initial sound are simply written with the final sound, like ㄨ "u" for [u]. Syllables without final vowel are simply written with their inital sound, like ㄓ "dz" for [dz]. Specialities are 1) the use of ㄣ "en" for the final sound [-in], like ㄒㄧㄣ "ç+i+en" for [çin], for the final sound [-un], like ㄍㄨㄣ "g+u+en" for [gun], and for the final sound [-yn], like ㄐㄩㄣ "dj+ü+en" for [djyn]; 2) the use of ㄥ "eng" for the final sound [-ing], like ㄐㄧㄥ "dj+i+e" for [dji] and for the final sound [-ung], like ㄌㄨㄥ "l+u+e" for [lu]; 3) the use of ㄢ "an" for the final sound of [-n], like ㄒㄧㄢ "ç+i+an" for [çin] (causing here the same problem like in the Pinyin transscription system); and 4) the use of "ü+eng" for the final sound of [-iu], like ㄐㄩㄥ "dj+ü+eng" for [dju].

The tone pitches are either indicated by accents like in the pinyin transscription - but without the high tone mark - or by points in the corner of the vowel: left upper for the low rising pitch, right upper for the falling pitch, left lower for high and rising pitch.

A hyperlinked table shows the Zhuyin alphabet and the characters the particular letters are deriving from, transscribed with the international transscription system.

The final sound usage of the zhuyin transscription system is demonstrated in the table below. The vowel-less syllables [d-][t-][-][-],[dz][ts][s] are transscribed by the sole particular consonants: ㄓㄔㄕㄖ,ㄗㄘㄙ. As the zhuyin system is only used by Chinese to have a reading help, there are no rules for word separation.

[a]

ㄚ [o]

ㄛ [ə]

ㄜ [ε]

ㄝ [ai]

ㄞ [ei]

ㄟ [aω]

ㄠ [ou]

ㄡ [an]

ㄢ [ən]

ㄣ [aŋ]

ㄤ [əŋ]

ㄥ [uŋ]

ㄩㄥ

[-i]

ㄧ [-ja]

ㄧㄚ [-jε]

ㄧㄝ [-jaω]

ㄧㄠ [-jou]

ㄧㄡ [-jεn]

ㄧㄢ [-in]

ㄧㄣ [-iaŋ]

ㄧㄤ [-iŋ]

ㄧㄥ [-juŋ]

ㄧㄩㄥ

[-u]

ㄨ [-ωa]

ㄨㄚ [-ωo]

ㄨㄛ [-ωai]

ㄨㄞ [-ωei]

ㄨㄟ [-ωan]

ㄨㄢ [-un]

ㄨㄣ [-ωaŋ]

ㄨㄤ [-ωəŋ]

ㄨㄥ

[-y]

ㄩ [-yε]

ㄩㄝ [-yεn]

ㄩㄢ [-yn]

ㄩㄣ

Gwoyeu Rwomaatzyh Transcription

Gwoyeu rwomaatzyh 國語羅馬字 (pinyin: Guoyu Luomazi "National language in Latin letters") is a transscription system published in 1928, but it is not very widespread and slowly dying out because the system is too complicated. It is the only system reflecting the tone pitches not by marking the tones with numbers or accents, but by inserting the tone pitch into the transscription.

The high tone is only marked for simple initial sound syllables with an inheriting "h" (mhau 貓, lha 拉), the rising tone is marked by an "r" (char 茶, torng 同; syllables with in initial m, n, l, and r don't change: ren 人) or by changing of "i" and "u" to "y" and "w" (chyn 琴, hwang 黃), the low tone by a doubling of the vowel (chii 起, faan 反, koou 口) and changing "i" to "e" and "u" to "o" (goan 管, sheu 許), and the falling tone by changing "i" to "y" and "u" to "w" (tzay 在, yaw 要) or a doubling or changing of the the final consonant (bann 半, jenq 正).

The Yale romanization of Cantonese also expresses the low tone pitches by inserting an "h" into the word: yáuh, fàhn, yeuhn.

[b] b [d] d [g] g [dj] j [d] j [dz] tz

[p] p [t] t [k] k [tç] ch [t] ch [ts] ts

[m] m [n] n [x, h] h [ç] sh [] sh [s] s

[f] f [l] l [] r

The vowel-less syllables [d][t][][],[dz][ts][s] are written jy, chy, shy, ry, tzy, tsy, sy. The simple vowels [i][u][y] are written yi, yu, yiu.

[a]

a [o]

o [ə]

e [ε]

ê [ai]

ai [ei]

ei [aω]

au [ou]

ou [an]

an [ən]

en [aŋ]

ang [əŋ]

eng [uŋ]

ong [ər]

el

[-i]

i [-ja]

ia [-jε]

ie [-jaω]

iau [-jou]

iou [-jεn]

ian [-in]

in [-iŋ]

iang [-iŋ]

ing [-juŋ]

iong

[-u]

u [-ωa]

ua [-ωo]

uo [-ωai]

uai [-ωei]

uei [-ωan]

uan [-n]

un [-ωaŋ]

uang [-ωəŋ]

ueng

[-y]

iu [-yε]

iue [-yεn]

iuan [-yn]

iun

And there exists an abundancy of free style transscriptions in all places where Chinese people live, all without system and according to the native language of their living place, like "gong shee" for [guŋ çi]. Most oversees Chinese are of Cantonese or at least Southern origin, so the Mandarin Pinyin system could not be applied anyway.

Chinese Language and Chinese Script

Every language has its own script, but not every script is suitable for a language. As a monosyllabic (one word is one syllable), non-flecting language (there exists no verbal conjugation or noun declination), a character script is very suitable for Chinese language. Korea and Japan had to develop their own writing systems because a character script was not able to reflect grammatical particles and suffixes of these languages. Vietnamese, although also a monosyllabic, non-flecting language, has a grammar that is quite different from Chinese grammar. The Roman alphabet is a better system to write down words in Vietnamese. Cantonese speakers try to write their language although they have some problems because the different grammatical structure and word treasure of Cantonese makes it necessary to create many new characters.

In old Chinese, when there was still no systematization of characters, some writers used characters of a totally different word for a word they did not know the character, for example the character 辟 pi or bi that was simply used phonetically, that means as a sound for the words that should be written 僻, 闢, 避 or 劈. Still today, there are many characters that have two or more pronunciations (duoyinzi 多音字), like 便 pian "cheap" or bian "suitable, comfortable", or 重 zhong "heavy" or chong "double". Many characters of verbs can be pronounced with two different tone pitches to indicate a causative meaning, like 聽 ting (high pitch) "to hear", tìng (falling pitch) "to make obey"; or 看 kan (high pitch) "to look after", kàn (falling pitch) "to look"; or 種 zhŏng (low rising pitch) "seed", zhòng (falling pitch) "to sow".

 

Source:HugChina

 

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