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Learn Chinese Introduction to Pinyin

pinyinHanyu Pinyin is the most widely accepted standard for romanizing Mandarin Chinese. It was developed in the late 1950s, officially adopted in mainland China in 1979, and accepted as an international standard for romanizing Chinese (ISO-7098: 1991). Although the pinyin system uses the Roman alphabet, it has reassigned a few letters to sounds that are quite different from what an English speaker would expect. Therefore, it is extremely important to memorize the pinyin pronunciation if one is to have a reasonably close approximation to the Mandarin sounds that it is representing. While easy to criticize, the reassigned letters are in fact no more confusing than similarly non-standard reassignments that have been made in previous romanization systems (such as Wade-Giles or Yale). The Pinyin choice of letters allows it to dispense with the use apostrophes and reduces the number of two character consonants compared to earlier systems. Another obvious improvement is the way it represents multi-syllabic words as a single word unlike previous systems, which insisted in separating each syllable with a space.

Overall, Pinyin has been successfully adopted as a system for representing Mandarin Chinese pronunciation and as a system for romanizing Chinese names; the latter somewhat less successfully because the tone marks are usually dropped thus creating some unintended homonyms. Pinyin is also widely used for entering characters into a computer.


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