Chinese Character Hanyu Pinyin

The pronunciation of Chinese Mandarin characters follows the official phonetic system called Pinyin which transcribes characters into the Latin alphabet.

By defining the rules for Pinyin, the pronunciation of Chinese characters become less mysterious to learners.

  Foreign learners of Chinese always start with the step of memorizing the rules of Pinyin. It might be a little bit tedious to introduce the rule of Pinyin, but it is important to distinguish their pronunciations in Chinese from that of their pronunciation in the Latin alphabet. For example, we have the letter K in Pinyin, which can be combined with many other letters just as in English. In Pinyin, the letter K is pronounced just as in English: “kay”. On the other hand, the letter C in PinYin is pronounced as the underlined part of the English word hats. You may find some Pinyin words are pronounced in a way that is highly like their pronunciation in English, such as the common Chinese last name Mao, pronounced the same as an English speaker would, because the rules for pronouncing are highly similar. What about the current chairman's last name, Chairman Xi? Do you find it difficult to pronounce it based on the English pronunciation rules you are familiar with? Well, that's a situation where Chinese has a different rule for Pinyin, as mentioned earlier. It is pronounced as the underlined letters in the English word push, so the correct pronunciation is chairman Xi ( -sh y-).

  Some people may be curious how many Pinyin are there and what the rules are. There are 412 possible combination of sound for Pinyin, and they stand for over 8,000 characters. A Pinyin combination includes two parts, the initials and finals; there are 21 initials and 37 finals. As their names suggest, the initials are the beginning part of a Pinyin and the finals are the last part of a Pinyin. By combing the initials and finals together using an alphabet of 26 letters, the pronunciation becomes more readable for people who understand English prior to learning Chinese Mandarin.

  The fact that we have 412 possible combination sound of Pinyin does not mean that the 412 sounds stand for all sound of Chinese Mandarin. Because in Pinyin, pronunciation effected by another factor: tones. There are as many as five tones for each of the Mandarin


Mandarin Chinese words Pronunciation:

  1. The first tone (Flat or High Level Tone) is represented by a macron (ˉ), which is added to the pinyin vowel: mā
  2. The second tone (Rising or High-Rising Tone) is denoted by an acute accent (ˊ) : má.
  3. The third tone (Falling-Rising or Low Tone) is marked by a caron/háček (ˇ) : mă. It is not the rounded breve ( ˘ ), though a breve is sometimes substituted due to font limitations.
  4. The fourth tone (Falling or High-Falling Tone) is represented by a grave accent (ˋ) : mà.
  5. Neutral tone is short, and the pitch depends on the previous syllable. In pinyin, the neutral tone is indicated by having no symbol above the vowel, like the second ma in the colloquial word for “mom”: māma markings, this would be written as “nǐ h2o”.

Another way to represent the tones is to use numbers after each syllable instead of a symbol over the vowel. For example, the phrase “nĭhăo” means hello. Using numbers instead of tone markings, this would be written as “ni3 hao3”.