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Chinese Pinyin, or Hanyu Pinyin, is the most common Standard Mandarin Romanization system in use.

Hanyu means the Chinese language, pin means "together, connection, annotate" yin means "sound".

Pinyin uses the Latin alphabet to represent sounds in Standard Mandarin. The way these letters represent sounds in Standard Mandarin does not correspond to any other one particular language that uses the Roman alphabet. For example, the sounds indicated in pinyin by b and g correspond more closely to the sounds indicated by p and k in some Western uses of the Latin script, e.g., French. Other letters, like j, q, x or zh, indicate sounds that do not correspond to any exact sound in English. Some of the transcriptions in pinyin, such as the ian ending, do not correspond to English pronunciations, either.

This means that people who have not studied Chinese, or who have studied Chinese but not the pinyin system, are likely to severely mispronounce some words if they attempt to pronounce pinyin according to their own language spellings.

History

In 1954, the Ministry of Education of the China assigned a Committee to reform the written language. This committee developed Hanyu Pinyin based upon existing systems of that time. The main force behind Pinyin was Zhou Youguang (born 1905, turning 103 in 2008 in good health). Zhou Youguan was working in a New York bank when he decided to return to China to help rebuild the country after the war. He became an economics professor in Shanghai. The government assigned him to help the development of a new romanisation system. The switch to language and writing largely saved him from the wrath of the Cultural Revolution of Mao Zedong.

A first draft was published on February 12 1956. The first edition of Hanyu Pinyin was approved and adopted at the Fifth Session of the 1st National People's Congress on February 11, 1958. It was then introduced to primary schools as a way to teach Standard Mandarin pronunciation, and used to improve the literacy rate among adults. In 2001, the Chinese Government issued the National Common Language Law, providing a legal basis for applying pinyin.

Hanyu Pinyin system superseded older romanization systems and replaced Zhuyin as the method of Chinese phonetic instruction in mainland China. Hanyu Pinyin was adopted in 1979 by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) as the standard romanization for modern Chinese. It has also been accepted by the Government of Singapore, the Library of Congress, the American Library Association, and many other international institutions. It has also become a useful tool for entering Chinese language text into computers.

Pronunciation

Chinese speaking Standard Mandarin at home, uses pinyin to help children associate characters with spoken words which they already know; however, for the many Chinese who do not use Standard Mandarin at home, pinyin is used to teach them the Standard Mandarin pronunciation of words when they learn them in elementary school. Pinyin vowels are pronounced similarly to vowels in Romance languages, and most consonants are similar to English. Except the unusual pronunciation of x, q, j, c, zh, ch, sh and z and the unvoiced pronunciation of d, b, and g.

The pronunciation of Chinese is generally given in terms of initials and finals, Initials are initial consonants, while finals are all possible combinations of medials (semivowels coming before the vowel), the nucleus vowel, and coda (final vowel or consonant).
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