|Go to Home Page||概要||Acknowledgement|
(GR), literally National Language Romanization, is an alphabetic scheme for the Chinese language promulgated by the government of Republic of China (ROC) in 1928. It was officially repealed in 1986 by the same government. (PinYin), or Scheme for the Chinese Phonetic Alphabet, is another alphabetic scheme adopted by the government of the People's Republic of China (PRC) in 1958, and has since been the official system in China. The principal difference between these two designs is that tones are represented by letter spellings in the GR, but indicated by diacritic marks in PinYin. Spelling examples from the GR and PinYin in Table I demonstrate the difference.
|a1 a2 a3 a4||a ar aa ah|
|ai1 ai2 ai3 ai4||ai air ae ay|
|ma1 ma2 ma3 ma4||mha ma maa mah|
II. Tonal Absurdity of the GR
The phoneme and tone of a language have different properties. The tone is a prosodic feature associated with syllable or larger units. Yuen Ren Chao, the designer of the GR, correctly describes the relationship between phoneme and tone in his Language and Symbolic Systems:
The usual vocalic and consonantal phonemes are known as segmental phonemes, since they occur segment by segment in temporal succession, while the elements which occur simultaneously with the segmental phonemes, such as stress and intonation, which do not occupy extra time in speech (nor usually space on paper while written), are known as suprasegmental phonemes (Chao 1968b:38).
Chao's observation on the relationship between the segmental phoneme and suprasegmental phoneme can be exemplified by the following diagrams of waveform and pitch contour for the tonal syllable /zhang1/.
|← Tone →|
In the diagram, the syllable /zhang1/ consists of three phonemes: /zh/, /a/, /ng/(ng=ŋ), and a tone. The whole syllable lasts 0.358 seconds. Each phoneme takes certain period of time. But the tone does not take any time by itself. In Chinese phonology, the /zh/ is the initial, and /ang/ is the final, of the syllable. Both initial and final consist of phonemes. The tone is not a phoneme, but a prosodic feature of the syllable. With a diagram, Chen Ping illustrates the general relationship between initial, final and tone (Chen:34), as displayed at the right side of this paragraph.
However, Chao continues to say that tones, though being suprasegmental phonemes in nature, must be treated as segmental phonemes, because in tonal languages the tone is lexical, that is, altering tone usually changes the meaning, whereas other prosodic features, such as stress and intonation, are not lexical, at least not that much:
[T]he pitch pattern of a word in Chinese, and in other tonal languages, is thus as much as a part of the make-up of words as the consonants and vowels and should be put on a par with the segmental phonemes, even though it occupied no additional time and exists simultaneously over and above whatever is the voiced part of the syllable (Chao 1968b:39).
This is an erroneous concept. When reading, the reader only spells the phonemes, that is, the consonants and vowels, but not the tones. As Chao says, the phonemes occur one after another in temporal succession, and the tones are not part of it. In other words, the phonemes are spelling elements, but tones are non-spelling elements, of the language. Writing the spelling and non-spelling elements with one set of symbols would confuse the reader, and make it impossible for the spelling process to occur. In the PinYin, phonemes and tones are written with two different sets of symbols, which unambiguously indicates what to spell and what not to. The spelling process is thus not thwarted. This type of writing complies with native speakers' instinct for the relationship between phonemes and tones.
Before the GR was promulgated in 1928, the ROC government adopted another phonetic system, the(ZhuYin) or Sound-Annotating Symbols in 1918. Until 1986 when the GR was repealed, both the GR and ZhuYin were official phonetic systems under the same government. The ZhuYin consists of a few dozen letters that are modified from the Chinese characters, such as ㄅ, ㄆ, ㄇ, ㄈ, etc. Tones in ZhuYin are marked with diacritics, similar to those in the PinYin. As a matter of fact, ZhuYin's tone marks are the predecessor of those in PinYin.
The alphabet of ZhuYin is obviously less convenient than the Latin alphabet used for GR. But for so many years, the ZhuYin has been widely employed in education, sound indication for Chinese characters and coding Chinese characters for the computer. The GR has not been used in any field. In 1986, the GR was officially abandoned, but the ZhuYin was kept, and still is the most popular phonetic system nowadays in Taiwan. In most dictionaries published in Mainland China, the PinYin and ZhuYin spellings are listed side by side as cross reference. The GR has been de facto obsolete since it offical adoption. The reason for the popularity of ZhuYin is exactly that the spelling and non-spelling elements are written with different sets of symbols, which facilitates instinctive spelling process and tone identification, is thus preferred by native speakers of Chinese.
Chinese is a tonal language. Each syllable has four possible tones, referred to as Tone 1 through Tone 4. The most natural order of the tonal syllables in the dictionary is to list the entries in alphabetic order first, and further in the sub-order of four tones of each syllable, such as in:
a1 a2 a3 a4 . . . ai1 ai2 ai3 ai4 . . . ma1 ma2 ma3 ma4 . . .
Since the adoption of pinyin in 1958, entries in most dictionaries published in China are arranged in this order. This is the optimum order for entries in Chinese dictionaries and other information database. In contrast, when listed with the GR spellings, the above optimal order is violated in two ways, as demonstrated in Table II:
|Natural Tonal Order||Alphabetic Order|
|GR Spellings||Tone order||GR Spellings||Tone order|
|a ar aa ah||1 2 3 4||a aa ↓ ah ↓ ar||1 3 4 2|
|ai air ae ay||1 2 3 4||ae ↓ ai air ↓ ay||3 1 2 4|
|mha ma maa mah||1 2 3 4||ma maa ↓ mah ↓ mha||2 3 4 1|
In the table, when the GR spellings are alphabetically listed, the natural order of Tone 1 through Tone 4 is always not observed. And the order of tones varies on different syllables. For instance, the tonal sequence is 1, 3, 4, 2 for syllable 'a', but 3, 1, 2, 4 for syllable 'ae'. Furthermore, the four tonal spellings of many syllables are always not listed together. Instead, they are separated by other syllables. The downwards arrows between spellings on the right-side part in Table II demonstrate this phenomenon. For example, the spelling 'ae' (=ai3) must stand between 'aa'(=a3) and 'ah'(=a4), and the spellings 'ai', 'an', 'ang', 'au', etc., must jump in between 'ah'(=a4) and 'ar'(=a2), when these spellings are listed alphabetically.
Words in a non-tonal language are listed in a linear dimension, such as from A through Z of the Latin alphabet. But the Chinese words must be listed in a two-dimensional matrix, as shown in Table III:
|a1, a2, a3, a4|
|ai1, ai2, ai3, ai4|
|• • • •|
|ma1, ma2, ma3, ma4|
|• • • •|
This optimum order of Chinese syllables exemplified in Table III is perfectly achieved with the PinYin. After adoption of PinYin in 1958, the most popular Xinhua dictionary started to list entries in this alphabetic-tonemic order in its new edition of early 1959. This is an epoch-making, though quiet and natural, event in Chinese lexicography. It was the first time that Chinese words were organized in the most natural phonetic order in a Chinese-Chinese dictionary. Because of the great convenience of this alphabetic-tonemic order, other dictionaries soon followed suit. As of today, entries in most, probably all, dictionaries published in China are listed in this order.
In contrast, with the GR, the two-dimensional organization of Chinese syllables is forcibly stretched along a linear order, as it were a non-tonal language. As result, superficially arranged in the alphabetic order, entries in the dictionary are organized in a substantial disorder. Yuen Ren Chao, designer of the GR, co-authored a Chinese-English dictionary, the Concise Dictionary of Spoken Chinese, in 1947 (Chao & Yang). The version in my hand is the fifth printing of 1962, three years after the publication of aforementioned Xinhua Dictionary. The entries in Chao and Yang's dictionary were still listed by the awkward 214 radicals of Chinese characters, but not alphabetically.
Two forms of romanization, the GR and Wade-Giles, are used in Chao and Yang's dictionary. In the Wade-Giles system, the phonemes are rendered in alphabetic letters and tones are marked by superscript numerals. It is much more effective for indicating the tonal sound. This is an interesting phenomenon, because it is not the GR, but the Wade-Giles, that is the genuine transcription system in the dictionary. The WG is indispensable, but GR is at best optional for this dictionary. The WG does not only indicate the sound of Chinese characters, but also of the GR spellings. Furthermore, if the WG is used as the primary system of romanization, optimum phonetic order will be achieved.
Tone transcendence refers to the situation in which syllables in a tonal language do not carry particular tones. They must be assumed as non-tonal sounds. Chinese is a tonal language. But the tones must be ignored in a number of situations. Figure I presents an example:
All PinYin spellings in the figure on the left are tone transcendent. They do not represent any tonal syllables, but syllables in all four tones. When used in non-tonal languages, Chinese tonal sounds are tone transcendent, too. For example, Bei3jing1 becomes Beijing, Mao2 Ze2dong1 becomes Mao Zedong, etc. Sometimes syllables in Chinese must be distinguished from one another as non-tonal ones. For instance, when discussing the difference between the sounds /an/ and /ang/, the tones are not taken into account. It is not convenient if the non-tonal situation is not represented in the writing system.
In the PinYin, written form of tone transcendence can be obtained by removing the tone mark from the spelling. A spelling without tone mark also represents the neutral-tone syllable. But there is no conflict between these two concepts. In Table IV, PinYin spellings for the syllable /ma/ and their GR counterparts are compared with each other.
In the PinYin, a spelling without tone mark is able to stand for both the neutral tone syllable and tone-transcendent syllable, because these two concepts share the notion of not carrying any particular tone. In the GR, the spelling '.ma' is for neutral-tone syllable only. With the dot (.) removed, 'ma' becomes the syllable in the second tone, hence cannot represent the phenomenon of tone transcendence. All spellings in the GR are tone specific. In short, there is no tone transcendent spellings in the GR. Every spelling carries a particular tone. When tone transcendence is in need, the GR simply cannot provide aunambiguous written form.
V. Pedagogical Absurdity of the GR
With the PinYin, Chinese children learn to spell the sounds of Chinese language in a process consisting of two levels, which can be exemplified by the pronunciation of tonal syllable da4. At the first level the tone is not involved, or the sound is treated as tone transcendent. The kid spells: de-a, de-a-da. The second level is to reach the sound in destination by following the order of the tones. The kid continues to say: da1, da2, da3, da4. The reader is invited to listen to the pronunciations of these two levels by clicking this icon . The sequence is: de-a, de-a-da. da1, da2, da3, da4.
This two-level learning process is simple, easy, and naturally abstract and analytic, and conforms to the instinct of native speakers for the language. It is the optimal process for children, and adults too, to learn how to spell, and understand the relationship between the phonetic elements, i.e., phonemes and tones, of their language. The PinYin follows this due process for teaching and learning, which is clearly demonstrated in this page from a textbook published in China. Before PinYin was adopted, the tool for education was the ZhuYin. As discussed in Section II, different sets of written symbols are also used for phonemes and tones in ZhuYin, which makes the system equally efficient for teaching and learning.
In contrast, because phonetic elements of different nature are written with same symbols in the GR, the two-level learning process becomes impossible. There is no conception for tone transcendence. Segments and prosodic features of the language are delusively alloyed together. As discussed in Section II, the spelling process ceases to occur. Cognitive distress and loathing are consequently caused. Since appearance in 1928, the GR must have been very rarely, if ever, used in schools in China. And both the teachers' and students' experience with it must have been nothing but frustration. Were the GR forcibly driven into the Chinese classroom, it would be the most miserable, absurd, and devastating event in the history of Chinese education.
VI. Prosodic and Grammatical Absurdities of the GR
In his A Grammar of Spoken Chinese (1968a), Ruen Ren Chao defines polysyllabic words and compounds in the Chinese language, and renders the examples with both HanZi and GR writing. In sentences written in GR, the polysyllabic items are separated by blank space, but not in the HanZi writing. The discrepancy is not discussed, even though the two scripts look like grammatically representing entirely different languages. Please click here to see a page from the book. Purpose of this section is to point out rationales of the HanZi writing, and mistakes of the GR.
First, the HanZi writing does not inherently prohibit grouping characters or tonal syllables, and spacing polysyllabic items in the sentence. It can be achieved as easily as in the alphabetic writing. The writer is free to insert blank space anywhere he/she likes or feels necessary to. Please click here to see an example of spacing groups of Chinese characters in a Chinese article. It can be seen from the page that how orthographically feasible it is to group Chinese characters and then separate the groups with blank space in the HanZi writing. I must add in haste that though the two scripts in that page look consistent grammatically, they neither represent the Chinese language, no matter what the author claims it to be.
In Chinese, each syllable carries one of the four complete tones (and occasionally, with a fifth, neutral tone). Tones have distinctive pitch contours. Syllables of consisting same phonemes but different tones usually carry different meanings. In the speech, every syllable must be articulated in the tone. Syllables in such a speech are thus more insulated from one another, that is, with more distanced junctures between them. Because of this feature, utterance of Chinese language is a movement from one distinctive syllabic slot to the next, until the end of sentence. Syllables in the sentence are evenly stressed and connected. In the HanZi writing, the characters are lined up one after another and evenly spaced, which adequately represents the prosodic relationships in the language.
Because of the prosodic features of Chinese language, within a semantically polysyllabic item, the phonetic relationship between syllables is of also evenly tone-stressed and connected. This relationship is different from that of polysyllabic items in non-tonal languages. To demonstrate the prosodic difference between tonal and non-tonal languages, sound files are provided for the Chinese words in Table V, but not for the English words, as I think it's better for the reader to pronounce them by themselves.
Billions of more items can be added to Table V. But the prosodic characteristics of Chinese language are already exemplified by these few examples. The purpose of these sound files is to show the difference in stress and juncture patterns between tonal Chinese and non-tonal English. The polysyllabic words and compounds in Chinese are not prosodic equivalents of non-tonal languages. At best, those polysyllabic units in Chinese are similar to phrases in the non-tonal languages, but with more distinctive juncture between the tonal syllables.
The GR writing does not represent the prosodic and grammatical relationship of natural Chinese language. Polysyllabic items are separated with blank space in it. Though tones are marked on the syllables, the language is written as a non-tonal language at grammatical levels. As said, the HanZi writing virtually fits the Chinese language, except it is not a phonetic writing.
The Korean hangul writing provides another piece of evidence for the feasibility of spacing polysyllabic words in a script consisting of syllabic blocks. Korean is a non-tonal multi-syllabic language. In the hangul writing, letters for a syllable are assembled in a block. The sentence consists of a number of syllabic blocks, with words or compounds being separated from one another by blank space. Please click to see a page in the Hangul script. The hangul syllabic block and Chinese character share the same shape. If Chinese were also a non-tonal multi-syllabic language, there would be no problem to space polysyllabic words and compounds. But it is unnecessary to do so, because Chinese is a tonal and monosyllabic language. The tonal syllables are the basic units for linguistic creativity of native speakers of Chinese.
Unfortunately, the GR's prosodic and grammatical absurdities are succeeded by the PinYin writing. In 1986, the Chinese government published the Basic Rules for Word Spelling of HanYu PinYin (ZhengCiFa). With it, tonal syllables are conjoined with one another as they were of a non-tonal language. This is a devastating document for Chinese romanization. Since the adoption of PinYin in 1958, the cause of Chinese romanization has not made any progress towards an alphabetic writing system. The chief culprit for the stagnation is the misconception of the spelling rules.
The PinYin is superior over the GR in many aspects. Since its promulgation, PinYin has been used in indicating the sounds of HanZi and the standard language, in alphabetically listing entries in dictionaries, in education, and since the appearance of computer, in coding the HanZi for computation. There is an opinion that the failure of GR is not due to its linguistic or orthographic defects, but lack of official support (Norman:259). This page argues that the GR's failure comes completely from its linguistic defects. It incorrectly represents the relationship between phonemes and tones, thus is in contradiction with native speakers' instinct about the language. It cannot organize Chinese information alphabetically, nor has written forms for tone transcendence. It received due support from the government for more than half a century. Its unpopularity is not because of lack of official support, but because it is completely useless for native speakers of Chinese. In 1986, the GR was replaced by another alphabetic system in Taiwan, in which tones are also represented by diacritical marks, but slightly different from those in PinYin.
Since the GR has never been popular, what sense does it make to discuss it in such a detailed manner as what has been done in this page? There are several reasons for the careful examination. First, though the decision of repealing the GR in 1986 was correct, obviously it came from the language instinct of native speakers, including that of the government leaders. Theoretical discussion, if there was any, must have been fragmentary and non-systematic. People knew what they had to do, and did it, but didn't know why they had to it. This page was intended to provide some theoretical explanations.
Secondly, the internal spelling style of GR is not continued in the PinYin. Instead, different sets of symbols are used for different types of phonetic elements. This is a correct decision in principle. However, it seems the right decision was made by chance, rather than earnest consideration. Some people don't know why the decision was a right one. For instance, Zhou Youguang, the chief inventor of the PinYin system, says: "If the 'simplified' National Language Romanization had been popularized, it could already have become the prevailing system." (Zhou:16-17) The 'simplified' National Language Romanization(GR) refers to a system designed by Chinese scholar Lin Yu Tang (Zhou:23), in which the tones are indicated by alphabetic letters, too, but not diacritic marks. It carries all of the GR's absurdities, a little simpler than the latter though.
The system is used in Lin's dictionary (1972). Lin annotates the sounds of Chinese characters, but not organize the entries in alphabetic order. Instead, the entries are ordered by a system Therefore, it in necessary to discuss this issue in depth, as has been done in above sections.
Most importantly, the prosodic and grammatical mistakes of the GR are not corrected in the PinYin, but continued, and taken to extremes by the government policy of spelling rules, which places Chinese romanization into a dead lane. Even though the PinYin is in general better and more useful than the GR, it is not a writing system. In this respect, the PinYin is a failure as the GR is. And its failure is a solid and indisputable reality. It is intended to point out in this page that the Chinese romanization is destined to fail without correcting these mistakes.
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