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The(PinYin hereafter), or Scheme for the Chinese Phonetic Alphabet, was adopted in China in 1958. It is the best among all alphabetic systems for Chinese, because distinct sounds of the language are represented more accurately and explicitly. Also, the spelling elements, or segmental phonemes, and non-spelling elements, or suprasegmental phonemes or tones, are represented by different sets of symbols, which is essentially the correct way to write a tonal language. In dictionaries and other databases, words in PinYin spellings can be listed in the optimal alphabetic-tonal order.
In 1988, the(ZhengCiFa in short), or Basic Spelling Rules for PinYin Orthography, was jointly promulgated by the State Education Commission and State Language Commission of China. By the spelling rules, the syllables are conjoined as polysyllabic words or compounds, which are further separated by space in longer units, such as the sentence. Following is an example of the spelling rules:
In above table, writing in the spelling rules is completely incorrect for Chinese language, because some vitally significant features of a tonal language is ignored. In essence, the spelling rules are to write a tonal language as non-tonal one.
The English word 'China' consists of two syllables, chi•na. Of the two, the first one is stressed, but the second is not. The prosodic relationship between syllables in other disyllabic English words, such as the 'people' in above example, usually also takes this stress/non-stress pattern. English words consisting of three syllables also have stressful and non-stressful syllables. For example, the second syllable of the 're•pub•lic', is stressed, but the first and last ones are not. Of the 'syl•la•ble', the stress on the first syllable, but the second and third ones are non-stressful.
Chinese is a tonal language in which prosodic relationship between syllables is even in terms of stress and juncture. In above table, the two syllables of first unit, zhōng•húa, are evenly stressed, because each one has a tone. The prosodic relationship is not same as that of stress and non-stress as in the non-tonal language. This is also the case for second and third units in the example. This prosodic feature has profound impact on the language. In fact, the Chinese grammar is largely based on the flexibility of Individual tonal syllables.
Please note, last syllable of a unit is phonetically associated with the syllable in front of it so evenly as with the one after it, that is, the first syllable of next unit. In above table, the tonal association between the last syllable of the first unit, húa, is so strong as that between it and the next one, rén. To make a long story short, all the syllables in above example, zhōng, húa, rén, mín, gòng, hé, gúo, are evenly stressed, thus must be written as:
|No spelling rules:||zhōng húa rén mín gòng hé gúo|
|English:||China people republic|
The above writing is correct because it represents correct phonetic relations between tonal syllables. Its rationale is proved by the writing system of Chinese characters (HanZi), in which syllables are evenly spaced. HanZi writing does not inherently forbid the spelling rules. The characters can be grouped and separated in the sentence as easily as in the alphabetic writing. If proponents of the spelling rules for PinYin insist on the feasibility of this style of separating and conjoining words for the Chinese writing, they should first apply them to the HanZi script.
Korean is a non-tonal polysyllabic language, entirely different from Chinese. Its writing is in the Korean alphabet. But the letters in a syllable do not run only linearly one-dimensional as do the Latin letters, but can also run two-dimensional, similar to the graphs of HanZi. The letters of a syllable are stacked in a square. Following is an example:
Please note the space between the words. The Korean script demonstrates that the graph of syllabic square does not prohibit separating and conjoining words or syllable groups.
The balanced relationship between syllables in Chinese also extends to transliteration of foreign words. For example, the English word 'Washington' has three syllables, wash•ing•ton. The stress is on the first syllable, and the other two syllables are non-stressful. Chinese translation of this word also consists of three syllables, hua2•sheng4•dun4. These three syllables are equally stressed. It is not possible to make one syllable more stressful than the other, as they are isolated from each other by their respective tones.
Spelling sequence of tonal language is more distinct, or less smooth than that of non-tonal language. For example, the English word 'building' consists of two syllables, build•ing. To spell this word, the last sound of first syllable, that is, the consonant d, spells, in fact must spell, with the first letter of next syllable, that is, the vowel i.
This spelling manner does not occur in Chinese. Spelling Chinese is not a process of spelling a sequence of all phonemes throughout, but spelling one syllables after another distinctly. Liaison between last letter of a syllable and first letter of following syllable is barred by the tone on each syllable. For example, in wǎnān, split as wǎn•ān, the last phoneme of first syllable, that is, the consonant n, cannot spell with the first phoneme of next syllable, that is, the vowel a, because each is associated with the tone of the syllable to which it belongs. So the wǎnān must be read separately as wǎn ān.
The non-liaison rule also applies to situations where two syllables carry same tone. For example, [i] and [a] are two different vowels, and [ia] is a diphthong in Chinese. But the pronunciation of xīān must be xī ān. The last letter ī of the first syllable and the first letter ā of the second syllable cannot associate to become a diphthong. It's worth mentioning that these two syllables carry same tone.
As said, tone is non-spelling element in the syllable. When reading, the reader spells the segmental phonemes only, but not the suprasegmental phonemes or tones. Therefore, syllable boundaries in the text of tonal language must be prominent and explicit, so that the reader will be able to associate a tone mark with a particular group of letters for which it is working. With the spelling rules, syllables are conjoined, but the tone mark and syllable boundary are usually located at different places. Thereafter, The tone mark is misleading the eye in locating syllable boundaries. On the other hand, the Example 2 is doing a perfect job.
The spelling rules are also inconvenient for writing. In Chinese language, the tone is an integral part of a syllable in speech, so is the tone mark for writing. The status of tone mark in the writing is same as a letter. The writing process of a syllable is not complete until its tone is marked. Therefore, the writer must stop in the middle of a ZhengCiFa-ed 'word', return the pen to the designated vowel and mark the tone above it. For example, when writing the zhōnghúa, the most natural sequence is not writing all the letters for zhonghua first, and then marks the two tones. Instead, the sequence is: zhong → tone mark above the o → hua → tone mark above the u.
In the ZhengCiFa script, three such "U" turns must be made for the gònghégúo, four for fólúolǐdá (Florida), five for jíalìfóníyà (California), six for jíekèsīlùofákè (Czechoslovakia), and seven for bùyínùosīāilìsī (Buenos Aires). Writers of this script must stagger back and forth between letters and tone marks.
This section discusses that what individuals or governments have to provide in order to substantiate their allegation of a particular design being writing system for Chinese. First of all, they must provide a sufficient amount of literature in that script, to demonstrate its adequacy and efficiency in representing the language. The 'literature' includes all types of formal writings, such as newspapers, magazines, journals, books of fiction and non-fiction, scripts for drama and movies, and so forth. It is nobody but those individuals or governments who have to produce this literature.
With respect to script evolution, it is necessary to review the history of vernacular writing replacing classical writing as dominant literary style taking place about a century ago in China. During a short period of time, a great number of people abandoned the classical style and switched to the vernacular writing. As the result, a huge amount of vernacular literature were produced. At culmination of the movement, quite a few masterpieces in vernacular style were published, by well-known authors such as, , , , etc. These writings convincingly demonstrated the advantage of the new style, and set up the standard as well. The classical writing style was replaced primarily by massive participation of millions of native writers, but not legislation or administrative orders of the government. Therefore, the Chinese government should not have promulgated the spelling rules for PinYin until it had seen a similar literate movement emulating that for the vernacular writing.
Secondly, the individual or government must provide a dictionary in PinYin, in which not only the entries, but also explanations, are in the script. In other words, they must demonstrate that PinYin can work as an independent script, thus able to define the language by itself. When readers encouner new words and want to find the definitions, they will look them up in this dictionary.
There are dictionaries in English, German, French and so forth for native speakers of those languages. There are numerous dictionaries in Chinese characters. Without a dictionary in PinYin, it make no sense for PinYin to be a writing system. If readers encounter new words in the literature in PinYin, but cannot look them up in a dictionary in PinYin, but have to go to dictionaries in Chinese charaters, there is no reason why they learn Chinese charaters from the very beginning.
Since the promulgation of the ZhengCiFa, the government has never published any document, legislative papers or other printed matters in it. The fragmentary and ephemeral literature in ZhengCiFa by individual authors, if there is any, has only attested to its awkwardness and inconvenience. Nor has any pinyin-pinyin dictionary been published. The ZhengCiFa is a full-time dependent on the HanZi dictionary for definition of the language. The ZhengCiFa is merely a parasite on the HanZi, therefore a complete failure as a writing system.
When foreigners learn Chinese, they inevitably look for Chinese counterparts of the words of their own languages. As aid to foreigners learning Chinese, the ZhengCiFa is better than the non-ZhengCiFa style, as attested by comparing the Examples I and II:
|English:||China people republic||ZhengCiFa:||zhōnghúa rénmín gònghégúo|
|Spacing Syllables:||zhōng húa rén mín gòng hé gúo|
It can be seen that the ZhengCiFa-ed writing represents the correspondence between English and Chinese better than the non-ZhengCiFa-ed writing, therefore is more suitable for speakers of English to learn Chinese. With this respect, all inconvenience of zhengcif as discussed in preceding sections are overridden by its advantage in identifying the Chinese equivalents of the polysyllabic foreign words.
However, the ambiguity of non-ZhengCiFa-ed writing can be overcome. There are a variety of ways to achieve the lucidity. In following example, relevant syllables are connected by hyphen, to help foreigners with identifying the Chinese equivalents of English words.
The above example may be labeled as essentially an variation of ZhengCiFa. It exactly is, but for foreigners only. Native speakers of Chinese don't need the hyphen to understand the sentence. After learning a sufficient vocabulary, the foreign learners will not need the hyphens to parse the sentence, either. Furthermore, they will realize the inconvenience of ZhengCiFa in phrase construction, as native speakers of Chinese do. In short, this type of hyphening is not part of phonetic writing for Chinese, but only a makeshift aid to foreign learners.
The first sentence of the ZhengCiFa reads: 'Hanyu Pinyin Orthography is the standard for alphabetic spelling of modern Chinese using the "Scheme for the Chinese Phonetic Alphabet"'. By this statement, only the above Example I is standard pinyin, while Example II is not. This is complete nonsense. The primary functions of pinyin are to indicate the sound of HanZi, and help native speakers of Chinese to learn the standard language. The pinyin in Example II represents the language precisely, and facilitate the reading and writing more effectively, so fulfills the required functions better. It is more legitimate than the style represented by the Example I.
Furthermore, the pinyin (), as promulgated in 1958, defines the language only up to phonemic level. The zhencifa is concerned with the aspects of morphology and somewhat syntax. So the pinyin and ZhengCiFa are not the same thing. The above Example II is definitely in standard pinyin by the Scheme promulgated in 1958. On the other hand, the method of grouping syllables is also adopted by many other designs for Chinese romanization. But they are not pinyin.
ZhengCiFa is unfit for Chinese language. It is enforcing a writing style of non-tonal language to a tonal language. Superficially marking the tones, the zhencifa is actually encouraging or even forcing de-marking tones. The ZhengCiFa makes the tone marks the clumsy and misleading cosmetics. And writing Chinese without marking tones is extremely detrimental to the development of an alphabetic writing system.
Syllable boundaries in a writing for tonal language must be automatic and unambiguous, to facilitate reading and writing. The ZhengCiFa is poor with this respect. The reader must make extra efforts to locate syllable boundaries. Such attempts are always distracted by the tone marks. The writer of ZhengCiFa has to run back and forth between letters and tone marks. In short, the ZhengCiFa brings no convenience and pleasure of romanization to the readers and writers.
The conjoined syllables, with tone marks removed, can be used as a special form of abbreviation for transliteration in non-tonal languages. But it is not standard writing for a tonal language. Native speakers of Chinese don't need ZhengCiFa for the evenly-spaced script of HanZi. They are able to parse the sentence in exactly the same way, and achieve exactly same understanding. The consensus is absolute. They don't need the ZhengCiFa for the romanization, either. At the beginning, the syllable-spaced script is not as efficient. But with a proper strategy, it will improve and develop, to eventually become a genuine alphabetic writing.
For foreign learners of Chinese, the ZhengCiFa provides a convenient tool in addressing their primary concern, that is, identification of the correspondence between polysyllabic words in foreign languages and Chinese terms. However, similar segmenting can be achieved by the non-ZhengCiFa-ed writing, too, with simple mechanism.
. 1988. (ZhengCiFa). In . di807ye4-820ye4.
«» . 1989. (Cihui). Bei3jing1: .
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