Reforming Pinyin

Full-form Pinyin as a bridge to a reformed Pinyin

[April 15, 2011]

Now that Hanyu Pinyin is the official standard in both Taiwan and China, it is high time to improve it as a romanization system for Standard Chinese. This is actually quite simple—the goal is to make Hanyu Pinyin and Zhuyin Fuhao (a.k.a. Bopomofo) correspond in a more systematic way.

I don't know if it would be wise to effect such a change, one that would concern billions of people and oceans of data, but it is hard to deny that the solution presented here is elegant, minimal, and easy to understand. Certainly Taiwan might consider it, as a bridge between past and present. Anyone who has stood aside as a highly-educated Chinese friend tries to guess the correct Pinyin for a given sound knows there is room for improvement. Zhuyin is also the basis for Chinese Braille, another reason to seize the moment and address as many of the inconsistencies between it and Pinyin as possible.

Simplifications and abbreviations

The current rules of Pinyin orthography contain two types of departures from the norm: "simplifications" (for lack of a better word) and abbreviations. Reforming Pinyin is a matter of adjusting the simplifications and suspending two of the abbreviations.

There are three simplifications. The first two are fully consistent, and thus easily reversed, or not. The third is based on an inconsistency and is thus highly problematic, resulting in confusion. Changing the latter is not optional.

  1. e represents both e [ㄜ] and ê [ㄝ] when not ambiguous.
  2. u represents both wu, u [ㄨ] and yü, ü [ㄩ] when not ambiguous.
  3. -ong represents both -ung [ㄨㄥ] and -üng [ㄩㄥ]. With the initials ji, qi, xi (the only initials that combine with -üng), this simplification results in jiong, qiong, xiong. With yü as an initial, it is yong, which is inconsistent with every other case where yü (simplified to yu) is an initial, that is, yue, yuan, yun.

There are four abbreviations:

  1. -en [ㄣ] and -eng [ㄥ] are shortened to -n and -ng when they follow the vowels i [ㄧ], u [ㄨ], ü [ㄩ].
  2. wu [ㄨ] as an initial always drops its u. Thus, wen [ㄨㄣ] and weng [ㄨㄥ], not wun and wung. Also wa, wai, wei, wan, wang, not wua, wuai, wuei, wuan, wuang.
  3. -uei [ㄨㄟ] is shortened to -ui.
  4. -iou [ㄧㄡ] is shortened to -iu.

Reforming Pinyin is not hard. First, we extend Pinyin into what we may call "Full-form Pinyin," which corresponds precisely and consistently with the structure of Zhuyin. In the process, we undo all of the above simplifications and abbreviations. This gets us to a good starting point for reform. We could go all the way back to the actual 1955 starting point, i.e., base GR, but that would be too much. I don't have a problem with the most of the changes that were made in that respect. My problem is when they started introducing inconsistencies within the new system, like using -ong instead of -ung for ㄨㄥ while retaining the u in all other cases, i.e., -un, -uan, -uang, -uai, -uei. Indeed, this single change is the root of most of the problems—undo it and much of the confusion melts away.

I believe we know why -ong (replacing -ung) was introduced in 1956—it was thought that u was too prevalent after ü was simplified to u (a high priority, since typing tone marks over ü was problematic on most typewriters at the time), so there you have it. Today, however, in the age of Unicode, placing tone marks over ü is not a problem (Unicode contains precomposed characters for all of them), so the impetus behind the introduction of -ong no longer exists. There is no longer any need to simplify ü, and thus no need for -ong.

There are a few other things that should be reformed, but without -ong mucking up the works the problems are easy to understand and the solutions are simple—so simple, in fact, that they could be treated as optional, an approach to reform which could, then, make it happen. Instead of changing five or six things, you change one or two things and make the remainder optional. I'll discuss this in more detail later.

Full-form Pinyin

Let's begin by eliminating the bad seed:

  • Current -ong becomes -ung and -üng.
    • Thus, -iong becomes -üng.

This is very helpful, but to implement our Full-form Pinyin we must now turn around and go in the other direction, undoing all the other simplifications and abbreviations as well.

First, we reverse the simplification of ü [ㄩ]:

  • ju, qu, xu, yu become jü, qü, xü, yü.
  • -u- [ㄩ] becomes -ü-.

Next, we reverse all the abbreviations:

  • -un, wen [ㄨㄣ] and -ün, yün [ㄩㄣ] become -uen, wuen and -üen, yüen.
  • -ung, weng [ㄨㄥ] and -üng, yüng [ㄩㄥ] become -ung, wueng and -üeng, yüeng.
  • -in, yin [ㄧㄣ] becomes -ien, yien.
  • -ing, ying [ㄧㄥ] becomes-ieng, yieng.
  • -ui, wei [ㄨㄟ] becomes -wuei, wuei.
  • -iu, you [ㄧㄡ] becomes -iou, yiou.

Finally, we reverse the simplification of ê [ㄝ]:

  • -ie, ye [ㄧㄝ] becomes -iê, yiê.
  • -ue/-üe, yue [ㄩㄝ] becomes -üê, yüê.

This is too clumsy for any sort of practical usage, but it is nonetheless helpful as a foundation for understanding how to reform Pinyin.

Reformed Pinyin

To begin, we simply retain our first two steps in creating Full-form Pinyin: [1] the elimination of -ong and [2] the reversal of the simplification of ü [ㄩ].

Then we re-establish most of the standard abbreviations. As a result,

  • Full-form -ieng, yieng is abbreviated to -ing, ying. Thus, ming, etc. (status quo)
  • Full-form -ien, yien is abbreviated to -in, yin. Thus, min, etc. (status quo)
  • Full-form -uen, wuen is abbreviated to -un, wen. Thus, cun, etc. (status quo)
  • Full-form -ueng, wueng is abbreviated to -ung, weng. Thus, zhung, etc. (status quo, reformed u notwithstanding)
  • Full-form -üen, yüen is abbreviated to -ün, yün. Thus, jün, etc. (status quo, reformed ü notwithstanding)
  • Full-form -üeng, yüeng is abbreviated to -üng, yüng. Thus, xüng, etc.

This nicely maintains the status quo. That leaves two abbreviations to be reformed:

  • The diphthong -ei [ㄟ] in full-form -uei, wuei is never abbreviated. Thus, wei, duei, etc.
  • The diphthong -ou [ㄡ] in full-form -iou, yiou is never abbreviated. Thus, you, niou, etc.

The current Pinyin abbreviations -ui and -iu are both misleading and unnecessary. Unlike the other changes I've suggested, adopting -uei and -iou in their place is not critical. Nonetheless, the inconsistencies in the orthography of these two diphthongs are problematic. Consider wei, dui, and you, niu. Linguistic relationships that are not otherwise immediately apparent are made plain by undoing these abbreviations. This helps everyone, from native speakers caught trying to recall the idiosyncrasies of Pinyin, to foreign students trying to understand the phonetics of the language, not to mention anyone else trying to pronounce Chinese names and places.

Finally, we can turn to the last simplification, the case of ê [ㄝ]. Although ê exists in current Pinyin by itself as a rare alternate reading for an interjection [誒], it is otherwise never differentiated from e [ㄜ] since it always occurs in conjunction with either i [ㄧ] or ü [ㄩ], as in ye, bie and yue (reformed yüe), nüe, for example. Full-form Pinyin uses ê for this, thus yê, biê and yüê, nüê. However, unlike ü, Unicode does not contain precomposed characters for Pinyin tone marks over ê, so we shall dispense with this in Reformed Pinyin and continue to not differentiate between -e and -ê. Thus,

  • Full-form -iê, yiê is simplified to -ie, ye. Thus, bie, etc. (status quo)
  • Full-form -üê, yüê is simplified to -üe, yüe. Thus, jüe, etc. (status quo, reformed ü notwithstanding)

This is not fully consistent with Zhuyin, but it does not result in the same kind of systemic confusion as the other simplifications.

Is such a thing possible?

Now we can return to the question of the real world. I believe it would be wise for Taiwan, at least, to bite the bullet now and change the two most troublesome aspects of the disconnect between Pinyin and Zhuyin: [1] the idiosyncratic use of -ong and [2] the failure to consistently differentiate between u and ü. These go hand-in-hand, and can't be easily separated—changing -ong to -ung without differentiating u and ü results in yung, -iung instead of yüng, -üng. Each requires the other.

In addition, I've argued for a reform of the handling of diphthongs in Pinyin by never abbreviating them, i.e., changing -ui and -iu to -uei and -iou. This is not essential, but still worth doing—perhaps it could be designated an alternate orthography, labeled as "educational" or something like that.

TABLE: Reformed Pinyin

      ~ e a ei ai ou ao en an ~ ang wu wo wa wei wai wen wan weng wang yi ye ya you yao yin yan ying yang yüe yün yüan yüng er
      ㄨㄛ ㄨㄚ ㄨㄟ ㄨㄞ ㄨㄣ ㄨㄢ ㄨㄥ ㄨㄤ ㄧㄝ ㄧㄚ ㄧㄡ ㄧㄠ ㄧㄣ ㄧㄢ ㄧㄥ ㄧㄤ ㄩㄝ ㄩㄣ ㄩㄢ ㄩㄥ
B ~ bo   ba bei bai   bao ben ban beng bang bu                 bi bie     biao bin bian bing              
P ~ po   pa pei pai pou pao pen pan peng pang pu                 pi pie     piao pin pian ping              
M ~ mo   ma mei mai mou mao men man meng mang mu                 mi mie   miou miao min mian ming              
F ~ fo   fa fei   fou   fen fan feng fang fu                                              
D ~   de da dei dai dou dao den dan deng dang du duo   duei   dun duan dung   di die   diou diao   dian ding              
T ~   te ta tei tai tou tao   tan teng tang tu tuo   tuei   tun tuan tung   ti tie     tiao   tian ting              
N ~   ne na nei nai nou nao nen nan neng nang nu nuo       nun nuan nung   ni nie nia niou niao nin nian ning niang nüe        
L ~   le la lei lai lou lao   lan leng lang lu luo       lun luan lung   li lie lia liou liao lin lian ling liang lüe        
G ~   ge ga gei gai gou gao gen gan geng gang gu guo gua guei guai gun guan gung guang                              
K ~   ke ka kei kai kou kao ken kan keng kang ku kuo kua kuei kuai kun kuan kung kuang                              
H ~   he ha hei hai hou hao hen han heng hang hu huo hua huei huai hun huan hung huang                              
ZH zhi   zhe zha zhei zhai zhou zhao zhen zhan zheng zhang zhu zhuo zhua zhuei zhuai zhun zhuan zhung zhuang                              
CH chi   che cha   chai chou chao chen chan cheng chang chu chuo chua chuei chuai chun chuan chung chuang                              
SH shi   she sha shei shai shou shao shen shan sheng shang shu shuo shua shuei shuai shun shuan   shuang                              
R ri   re       rou rao ren ran reng rang ru ruo   ruei   run ruan rung                                
Z zi   ze za zei zai zou zao zen zan zeng zang zu zuo   zuei   zun zuan zung                                
C ci   ce ca   cai cou cao cen can ceng cang cu cuo   cuei   cun cuan cung                                
S si   se sa   sai sou sao sen san seng sang su suo   suei   sun suan sung                                
J ~                                         ji jie jia jiou jiao jin jian jing jiang jüe jün jüan jüng  
Q ~                                         qi qie qia qiou qiao qin qian qing qiang qüe qün qüan qüng  
X ~                                         xi xie xia xiou xiao xin xian xing xiang xüe xün xüan xüng  

NOTES: I follow Duanmu and/or Lin (see below) with regard to what counts as a full syllable. For example, me does not count, nor do some interjections (o, ê, etc.) and dialectal syllables (dia, rua, etc.).

Linguistics and the IPA

My goal here has been to make Pinyin and Zhuyin consistent, no more. This is not hard because, despite outward appearances, Pinyin and Zhuyin mostly agree on the phonetic structure of the standard language. There is one point where they seem to diverge: Zhuyin ㄩㄥ versus Pinyin yong, -iong, as in 用, 炯, 窮, 胸. This inconsistency is resolved in Reformed Pinyin as yüng, -üng. The issue is complicated by the fact that linguists today consider these syllables to be part of the -i- [ㄧ] sequence, and not part of the -ü- [ㄩ] sequence. [Duanmu 2007, Lin 2007] Thus, ji, jin, jing, jiung, not jü, jün, jüng. I wonder if this might be unique to the Beijing dialect (the basis for Standard Chinese), and within the context of the Chinese language as a whole Zhuyin has it right. Such things are beyond my ken, however, having no knowledge of their place in other dialect families, let alone other dialects within the Northern, Mandarin family.

"Reformed Pinyin" is actually a bit of a misnomer for what I've done, because true reform would go further, changing both Pinyin and Zhuyin. For example, linguists today would certainly agree that bo [ㄅㄛ], po [ㄆㄛ], mo [ㄇㄛ], fo [ㄈㄛ] should be spelled buo [ㄅㄨㄛ], puo [ㄆㄨㄛ], muo [ㄇㄨㄛ], fuo [ㄈㄨㄛ]. In the above table, the O column would merge into the UO column. That is, o [ㄛ] would be like ê [ㄝ], without a column of its own.

When linguists discuss these matters, they use the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) to communicate. The IPA is a flexible scientific tool, not a romanization system. Each scholar uses it differently, even when they agree. For example, compare the following tables:

TABLE: Duanmu 2007

        ə a əi ai əu au ən an əŋ u ua uəi uai uən uan uaŋ i ia iəu iau in ian iəŋ iaŋ y yin yan iuŋ ər
        ɤɤ aa əi ai əu au ən æn ~ uu woo waa wəi wai wən wæn wəŋ waŋ ii jee jaa jəu jau in jæn jəŋ jaŋ yy ɥee ɥin ɥæn jʷuŋ ər
        ㄨㄛ ㄨㄚ ㄨㄟ ㄨㄞ ㄨㄣ ㄨㄢ ㄨㄥ ㄨㄤ ㄧㄝ ㄧㄚ ㄧㄡ ㄧㄠ ㄧㄣ ㄧㄢ ㄧㄥ ㄧㄤ ㄩㄝ ㄩㄣ ㄩㄢ ㄩㄥ
B p ~   paa pəi pai   pau pən pæn pəŋ paŋ pʷuu pʷoo               pʲii pʲee     pʲau pʲin pʲæn pʲəŋ              
P ~   pʰaa pʰəi pʰai pʰəu pʰau pʰən pʰæn pʰəŋ pʰaŋ pʰʷuu pʰʷoo               pʰʲii pʰʲee     pʰʲau pʰʲin pʰʲæn pʰʲəŋ              
M m ~   maa məi mai məu mau mən mæn məŋ maŋ mʷuu mʷoo               mʲii mʲee   mʲəu mʲau mʲin mʲæn mʲəŋ              
F f ~   faa fəi   fəu   fən fæn fəŋ faŋ fʷuu fʷoo                                            
D t ~ tɤɤ taa təi tai təu tau tən tæn təŋ taŋ tʷuu tʷoo   tʷəi   tʷən tʷæn tʷuŋ   tʲii tʲee   tʲəu tʲau   tʲæn tʲəŋ              
T ~ tʰɤɤ tʰaa tʰəi tʰai tʰəu tʰau   tʰæn tʰəŋ tʰaŋ tʰʷuu tʰʷoo   tʰʷəi   tʰʷən tʰʷæn tʰʷuŋ   tʰʲii tʰʲee     tʰʲau   tʰʲæn tʰʲəŋ              
N n ~ nɤɤ naa nəi nai nəu nau nən næn nəŋ naŋ nʷuu nʷoo       nʷən nʷæn nʷuŋ   nʲii nʲee nʲaa nʲəu nʲau nʲin nʲæn nʲəŋ nʲaŋ nᶣyy nᶣee        
L l ~ lɤɤ laa ləi lai ləu lau   læn ləŋ laŋ lʷuu lʷoo       lʷən lʷæn lʷuŋ   lʲii lʲee lʲaa lʲəu lʲau lʲin lʲæn lʲəŋ lʲaŋ lᶣyy lᶣee        
G k ~ kɤɤ kaa kəi kai kəu kau kən kæn kəŋ kaŋ kʷuu kʷoo kʷaa kʷəi kʷai kʷən kʷæn kʷuŋ kʷaŋ                              
K ~ kʰɤɤ kʰaa kʰəi kʰai kʰəu kʰau kʰən kʰæn kʰəŋ kʰaŋ kʰʷuu kʰʷoo kʰʷaa kʰʷəi kʰʷai kʰʷən kʰʷæn kʰʷuŋ kʰʷaŋ                              
H x ~ xɤɤ xaa xəi xai xəu xau xən xæn xəŋ xaŋ xʷuu xʷoo xʷaa xʷəi xʷai xʷən xʷæn xʷuŋ xʷaŋ                              
ZH ʈʂ ʈʂʐʐ ʈʂɤɤ ʈʂaa ʈʂəi ʈʂai ʈʂəu ʈʂau ʈʂən ʈʂæn ʈʂəŋ ʈʂaŋ ʈʂʷuu ʈʂʷoo ʈʂʷaa ʈʂʷəi ʈʂʷai ʈʂʷən ʈʂʷæn ʈʂʷuŋ ʈʂʷaŋ                              
CH ʈʂʰ ʈʂʰʐʐ ʈʂʰɤɤ ʈʂʰaa ʈʂʰəi ʈʂʰai ʈʂʰəu ʈʂʰau ʈʂʰən ʈʂʰæn ʈʂʰəŋ ʈʂʰaŋ ʈʂʰʷuu ʈʂʰʷoo ʈʂʰʷaa ʈʂʰʷəi ʈʂʰʷai ʈʂʰʷən ʈʂʰʷæn ʈʂʰʷuŋ ʈʂʰʷaŋ                              
SH ʂ ʂʐʐ ʂɤɤ ʂaa ʂəi ʂai ʂəu ʂau ʂən ʂæn ʂəŋ ʂaŋ ʂʷuu ʂʷoo ʂʷaa ʂʷəi ʂʷai ʂʷən ʂʷæn   ʂʷaŋ                              
R ʐ ʐʐʐ ʐɤɤ       ʐəu ʐau ʐən ʐæn ʐəŋ ʐaŋ ʐʷuu ʐʷoo   ʐʷəi   ʐʷən ʐʷæn ʐʷuŋ                                
Z ts tszz tsɤ tsaa tsəi tsai tsəu tsau tsən tsæn tsəŋ tsaŋ tsʷuu tsʷoo   tsʷəi   tsʷən tsʷæn tsʷuŋ                                
C tsʰ tsʰzz tsʰɤ tsʰaa   tsʰai tsʰəu tsʰau tsʰən tsʰæn tsʰəŋ tsʰaŋ tsʰʷuu tsʰʷoo   tsʰʷəi   tsʰʷən tsʰʷæn tsʰʷuŋ                                
S s szz saa   sai səu sau sən sæn səŋ saŋ sʷuu sʷoo   sʷəi   sʷən sʷæn sʷuŋ                                
J ts                                       tɕii tɕee tɕaa tɕəu tɕau tɕin tɕæn tɕəŋ tɕaŋ tɕʷyy tɕʷee tɕʷin tɕʷæn tɕʷuŋ  
Q tsʰ                                       tɕʰii tɕʰee tɕʰaa tɕʰəu tɕʰau tɕʰin tɕʰæn tɕʰəŋ tɕʰaŋ tɕʰʷyy tɕʰʷee tɕʰʷin tɕʰʷæn tɕʰʷuŋ  
X s                                       ɕii ɕee ɕaa ɕəu ɕau ɕin ɕæn ɕəŋ ɕaŋ ɕʷyy ɕʷee ɕʷin ɕʷæn ɕʷuŋ  

NOTES: The first and fourth row/column are Reformed Pinyin and Zhuyin. The second row/column are Duanmu's "underlying sounds." Notice that he considers j [ㄐ], q [ㄑ], x [ㄒ] and z [ㄗ], c [ㄘ], s [ㄙ] to be complimentary (thus, their underlying sounds are both rendered ts, tsʰ, s), as well as e [ㄜ], o [ㄛ], ê [ㄝ] (all are rendered ə). The third row/column and the rest of the table are his "surface sounds."

TABLE: Lin 2007

        ɤ a ei ai ou ɑu ən an əŋ ɑŋ u wo wa wei wai wən wan wɑŋ i je ja jou jɑu in jɛn jəŋ jɑŋ y ɥe yn ɥɛn juŋ əɹ
        ɤ a ei ai ou ɑu ən an ~ ɑŋ wu wo wa wei wai wən wan wəŋ wɑŋ ji je ja jou jɑu jin jɛn jəŋ jɑŋ ɥy ɥe ɥyn ɥɛn juŋ əɹ
        ㄨㄛ ㄨㄚ ㄨㄟ ㄨㄞ ㄨㄣ ㄨㄢ ㄨㄥ ㄨㄤ ㄧㄝ ㄧㄚ ㄧㄡ ㄧㄠ ㄧㄣ ㄧㄢ ㄧㄥ ㄧㄤ ㄩㄝ ㄩㄣ ㄩㄢ ㄩㄥ
B p ~   pa pei pai   pɑu pən pan pəŋ pɑŋ pu pwo               pi pje     pjɑu pin pjɛn pjəŋ              
P ~   pʰa pʰei pʰai pʰou pʰɑu pʰən pʰan pʰəŋ pʰɑŋ pʰu pʰwo               pʰi pʰje     pʰjɑu pʰin pʰjɛn pʰjəŋ              
M m ~   ma mei mai mou mɑu mən man məŋ mɑŋ mu mwo               mi mje   mjou mjɑu min mjɛn mjəŋ              
F f ~   fa fei   fou   fən fan fəŋ fɑŋ fu fwo                                            
D t ~ ta tei tai tou tɑu tən tan təŋ tɑŋ tu two   twei   twən wan tuŋ   ti tje   tjou tjɑu   tjɛn tjəŋ              
T ~ tʰɤ tʰa tʰei tʰai tʰou tʰɑu   tʰan tʰəŋ tʰɑŋ tʰu tʰwo   tʰwei   tʰwən tʰwan tʰuŋ   tʰi tʰje     tʰjɑu   tʰjɛn tʰjəŋ              
N n ~ na nei nai nou nɑu nən nan nəŋ nɑŋ nu nwo       nwən nwan nuŋ   ni nje nja njou njɑu nin njɛn njəŋ njɑŋ ny nɥe        
L l ~ la lei lai lou lɑu   lan ləŋ lɑŋ lu lwo       lwən lwan luŋ   li lje lja ljou ljɑu lin ljɛn ljəŋ ljɑŋ ly lɥe        
G k ~ ka kei kai kou kɑu kən kan kəŋ kɑŋ ku kwo kwa kwei kwai kwən kwan kuŋ kwɑŋ                              
K ~ kʰɤ kʰa kʰei kʰai kʰou kʰɑu kʰən kʰan kʰəŋ kʰɑŋ kʰu kʰwo kʰwa kʰwei kʰwai kʰwən kʰwan kʰuŋ kʰwɑŋ                              
H x ~ xa xei xai xou xɑu xən xan xəŋ xɑŋ xu xwo xwa xwei xwai xwən xwan xuŋ xwɑŋ                              
ZH tʂɹ̩ tʂɤ tʂa tʂei tʂai tʂou tʂɑu tʂən tʂan tʂəŋ tʂɑŋ tʂu tʂwo tʂwa tʂwei tʂwai tʂwən tʂwan tʂuŋ tʂwɑŋ                              
CH tʂʰ tʂʰɹ̩ tʂʰɤ tʂʰa   tʂʰai tʂʰou tʂʰɑu tʂʰən tʂʰan tʂʰəŋ tʂʰɑŋ tʂʰu tʂʰwo tʂʰwa tʂʰwei tʂʰwai tʂʰwən tʂʰwan tʂʰuŋ tʂʰwɑŋ                              
SH ʂ ʂɹ̩ ʂɤ ʂa ʂei ʂai ʂou ʂɑu ʂən ʂan ʂəŋ ʂɑŋ ʂu ʂwo ʂwa ʂwei ʂwai ʂwən ʂwan   ʂwɑŋ                              
R ɹ ɹɹ̩ ɹɤ       ɹou ɹɑu ɹən ɹan ɹəŋ ɹɑŋ ɹu ɹwo   ɹwei   ɹwən ɹwan ɹuŋ                                
Z ts tsɹ̩ tsɤ tsa tsei tsai tsou tsɑu tsən tsan tsəŋ tsɑŋ tsu tswo   tswei   tswən tswan tsuŋ                                
C tsʰ tsʰɹ̩ tsʰɤ tsʰa   tsʰai tsʰou tsʰɑu tsʰən tsʰan tsʰəŋ tsʰɑŋ tsʰu tsʰwo   tsʰwei   tsʰwən tsʰwan tsʰuŋ                                
S s sɹ̩ sa   sai sou sɑu sən san səŋ sɑŋ su swo   swei   swən swan suŋ                                
J ~                                       tɕi tɕje tɕja tɕjou tɕjɑu tɕin tɕjɛn tɕjəŋ tɕjɑŋ tɕy tɕɥe tɕyn tɕɥɛn tɕjuŋ  
Q tɕʰ ~                                       tɕʰi tɕʰje tɕʰja tɕʰjou tɕʰjɑu tɕʰin tɕʰjɛn tɕʰjəŋ tɕʰjɑŋ tɕʰy tɕʰɥe tɕʰyn tɕʰɥɛn tɕʰjuŋ  
X ɕ ~                                       ɕi ɕje ɕja ɕjou ɕjɑu ɕin ɕjɛn ɕjəŋ ɕjɑŋ ɕy ɕɥe ɕyn ɕɥɛn ɕjuŋ  

NOTES: The first and fourth row/column are Reformed Pinyin and Zhuyin. The second row/column are Lin's base orthography, while the third row/column and the rest of the table are surface sounds. Unlike Duanmu, there is little difference between her base orthography and the surface sounds. Only weng versus -ung stands out, a distinction Duanmu also makes.

As you can see, these are rather different approaches to the IPA, but they convey similar information. For example, the O column is gone in both, and bo, po, mo, fo is indeed buo, puo, muo, fuo. There are not many substantive differences between the two systems, but there are enough to illustrate the reality that a perfect romanization system for Standard Chinese, one that every linguist concurs with, is never going to happen.

List of Citations

  • Duanmu, San. The Phonology of Standard Chinese. Second Edition. Oxford Univeristy Press, 2007.
  • Lin, Yen-hwei. The Sounds of Chinese. Cambridge Univeristy Press, 2007.