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Pŭtōnghuà (Mandarin)   Mandarin (pŭtōnghuà/huáyŭ/guóyŭ)

Mandarin is the main language of government, the media and education in China and Taiwan, and one of the four official languages in Singapore. There are approximately 870 million Mandarin speakers.

Mandarin is known as pŭtōnghuà (common language) or bĕijīnghuà (Beijing language) in China, guóyŭ (national language) in Taiwan, and huáyŭ (Chinese language) in Singapore and Malaysia.

Today Mandarin is the main language of government, the media and education in China and Taiwan, and one of the four official languages in Singapore. There are approximately 870 million Mandarin speakers.

Just over 53% of the population of China or 690 million people are able to speak Mandarin, according to the Xinhua news agency. In China's cities, about 66% speak Mandarin, while only 45% speak it in the countryside. Around 70% of people between the ages of 15 and 29 speak the language, while only 30% of those over 60 can speak it.

There ares at least a further 25 million or so Mandarin speakers elsewhere, especially in Taiwan (20 million) and Singapore (1.5 million), and also in Malaysia, Indonesia, Mongolia, Brunei, Thailand, the Philippines, Russia, the USA, Vietnam, Laos, UK and Mauritius.

Written Chinese is based on spoken Mandarin and is known as hànyŭ or zhōngwén. Speakers of other varieties of Chinese have to learn the grammar and vocabulary of Mandarin in order to read and write in Chinese.

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Phonetic transcription systems for Mandarin

    Hànyŭ Pīnyīn
    Bopomofo/zhùyīn fúhào
    Gwoyeu Romatzyh
    Palladius (Палла́дий)
    Comparison of all these systems

Hànyŭ Pīnyīn

The official romanization system used in China and in Western publications about China is hànyŭ pīnyīn (Chinese phonetic spelling) or simply pīnyīn. It was developed in the Soviet Union in 1931 for use by Chinese immigrants living there. A slightly revised version was adopted in China in 1958.

In China pīnyīn is used for road signs, maps, brand names, computer input, Chinese Braille, telegrams, semaphore and for many other purposes. It also appears in books for children and foreign learners of Chinese. The United Nations and the International Standards Organisation (ISO) both recognise pīnyīn as the standard romanization for Mandarin.

Pīnyīn uses all the letters of the Latin alphabet (except v) in the following order:

    a b c ch d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s sh t u w x y z zh

Comparison of pīnyīn and other transcription systems
Bopomofo / Zhùyīn fúhào zhuyin fuhao

This system was devised by the Commission on the Unification of Pronunciation (讀音統一會) between 1912 and 1913. It was adopted as the official transcription system for Mandarin in China in 1928, though was abandoned in favour of Hànyŭ Pīnyīn after 1949, and has been used in Taiwan since then.

Zhùyīn fúhào, which is more popularly known as bopomofo (after the names of the first 4 symbols), is used in Taiwan in dictionaries, children's books, text books for foreigners and some newspapers and magazines to show the pronunciation of characters. It is also used to show the Taiwanese pronunciation of characters and to write Taiwanese words for which no characters exist.

Bopomofo consists of 37 symbols derived from Chinese characters: 21 initials (consonants) and 16 finals (vowels, diphthongs, triphthongs or vowels + n or ng). Finals can stand alone and some initials can as well.

When combined with characters, Bopomofo is usually written on the right of each character.

    More information about Zhuyin
    Comparison of zhùyīn fúhào and other transcription systems


The Wades-Giles romanization was devised by Thomas Francis Wade (1818-1895), a British ambassador in China and Chinese scholar who was the first professor of Chinese at Cambridge University. Wade published the first ever Chinese textbook in English in 1867. The system was refined in 1912 by Herbert Allen Giles (1845-1935), a British diplomat in China.

Until 1998, Wade-Giles was the main romanization system used to represent the sounds of Mandarin in Western publications. It is still used in Taiwan for transliterating place names, street names and people's names. However, as it is not taught in schools, few people know how to use it properly. For example, in Wade-Giles Taipei should be written T'ai-Pei or T'ai²-Pei³ (Táibĕi in pīnyīn). Without the apostophe, the t is pronounced like "d".

In 1998 Taipei City government adopted a modified version of pīnyīn to write the names of streets, districts, etc, in Taipei City. In this new system, Taipei is written TaiBei. The Wades-Giles system is still used elsewhere in Taiwan.

Comparison of Wade-Giles and other transcription systems

The Yale romanization system was developed by Yale University in the 1950s and 60s as an aid to teaching Mandarin and Cantonese to Americans. Today it used mainly for romanizing Cantonese, though it does appear in some Mandarin dictionaries and textbooks.

Comparison of Yale and other transcription systems
Gwoyeu Romatzyh

Gwoyeu Romatzyh was devised by the Committee for National Language Romanization between 1926 and 1928, when it was adopted as the official romanization system of Mandarin in China. It was first used in Gwoin Charnyonq Tzyhuey (Gúoyīn Chángyòng Zìhuì - "Glossary of Frequently Used Chinese") published in 1932.

Gwoyeu Romatzyh is still used in Mandarin textbooks published by the Mandarin Daily News (Gwoyeu Ryhbaw) in Taipei. The Mandarin Daily News is also the only Chinese newspaper I have come across which includes bopomofo transcriptions of characters.

Gwoyeu Romatzyh uses differences in spelling to indicate different tones.

Comparison of Gwoyeu Romatzyh and other transcription systems
Palladius (Палла́дий)

The Palladius system for transcribing Chinese using the Cyrillic alphabet was devised by Pyotr Ivanovich Kafarov (Пётр Ива́нович Кафа́ров) (1817 – 1878), a Russian sinologist and monk who spent 30 years in China with the Russian Orthodox Mission. Palladius (Палла́дий), which was his monastic name, published many manuscripts about China, and also compiled a Russian-Chinese dictionary.

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