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Chapter 2: Pnyn (The Initials)

To be read with the video Chinese with Mike: Lesson 2 Hello again! The next five chapters will cover every sound you need to know to pronounce any word in Mandarin. The sounds are categorized in a Romanization system called pnyn. Knowing the pronunciation of each of these sounds is the basis for speaking Mandarin, as well as transcribing (or writing) characters using the Latin alphabet. Sound complicated? Im sure it might, but what is more important is that you can pronounce the sounds, which you will be able to do shortly. What is a Romanization system? A Romanization, or latinization system, is a way for us to take spoken or written words from other languages and convert them into words using the Latin alphabet, which is the alphabet we use in English and in several other languages around the world. Languages such as Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Hebrew, Arabic, Russian, and many others have systems of Romanization, thus making them easier for people who use the Latin alphabet to learn. Romanization systems for Mandarin Chinese: Chinese has several Romanization systems, but there are three that are worth mentioning:

Pnyn -Developed by a government committee in 1958, pnyn became the official system used to write Chinese characters in mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, and Malaysia in 1979. It is also the standard Romanization system for teaching Chinese. Wade-Giles- developed in the late 19th Century, it was the most widely used Romanization system for much of the 20th Century. Yale Romanization-developed at Yale University during World War II for soldiers to better communicate with the Chinese, this system has not been used for over thirty years.



Pnyn: In this textbook and in the video series Chinese with Mike, we will use pnyn to speak and write Chinese characters. Why? As I mentioned previously, pnyn is the standard system used throughout the Chinese-speaking world, and it was adopted by the International Organization for Standardization as the international standard in 1982. Pn means to spell and yn means sound. Think of using pnyn as spelling (in the Latin alphabet) the sound of a Chinese character so that you can read it using letters and sounds with which youre more familiar. How does pnyn work? Simple. There are two categories to pinyin soundsInitials (21 total) and finals (37-39 total, depending how much you want to argue about it). Basically, an initial is combined with a final to create a word. For example, the initial n combines with i to make ni and h combines with ao to make hao. Then you have Ni hao, which means hi, or hello. Pinyin: The Initials In Chapter 2 in this textbook, as well as Lesson 2 in Chinese with Mike, pnyn initials are introduced. Since I am a native (my first language) English speaker, and I assume most of my readers speak English proficiently, I will use English words/sounds as examples for how to pronounce the initials in pinyin. Here we go: The Initials: (21 total) The first 11 initials sound just like the English sounds. I will provide a word with the sound highlighted in red as examples:












Here is a more difficult set. These are not perfect equivalents, (especially c) but its the best I can do. Listening to my pronunciation in the video Chinese with Mike: Lesson 2 should help supplement this practice. Also, notice the ee sound at the end of j, q, and x, and the r sound at the end of zh, ch, and sh. That is because if these initials stand alone with just an i (see parentheses), that is the sound they would make. This will make a lot more sense later, so for now, just practice the sounds using the example words below!











In the next few chapters, I will introduce to you the pnyn finals, using an order I think is most logical for beginners. For now, think of the 21 sounds youve just learned as similar to consonants in Englishas opposed to vowels. Another

important point to consider is that these 21 sounds can only begin words! They can never appear at the end, which also makes Chinese less difficult than you may have previously thought. Great work so far, and if youre ready for Chapter 3, move along. See you there.