Exploring Chinese History
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Pronunciation of Chinese Words and Names

The Chinese language is much too extensive to include the entire catalogue of characters on this site. Therefore, a very abbreviated explanation is included on this page.

The nature of the Chinese language is rooted in character drawings and one syllable pronunciations of those characters. When communication took place between the West and China, the need arose to develop a way in which the west would be able to understand Chinese. As not everyone could be taught Chinese, the west 'Romanized' the Chinese language.

Every character in the Chinese language has its own unique pronunciation, consisting of one syllable each. The west simply took the Chinese pronunciation and applied the Roman alphabet. In other words, Romanization takes the Chinese language and spells it phonetically using the Roman alphabet.

There have been many Roman translations throughout history; Wade- Giles, Yale and Pinyin. The Wade translation left much of the emphasis on basic Chinese literation, not taking into account that a missed accent or tone could change the entire meaning of the word group. The Yale translation was deemed too confusing for many English speakers, but served the Dutch and Portuguese well.

For the most part, these translations were inaccurate and hastily developed due to the immediate need for communication. To better prepare those who were studying or learning Chinese, a new and final translation, Pinyin, was adopted and is now the standard for translating the Chinese language.

Libraries in the West still used Wade- Giles until October 1, 1999, when Pinyin was adopted as a standard for titles, authors and text across the US and Europe. This translation is the most accurate in terms of how the Chinese language is pronounced.

Please refer to the charts below for examples of how the different translations compare with each other.

Wade-Giles to Pinyin Conversion Table- Conversion by individual syllables.

Wade-Giles Pinyin   Pinyin Wade-Giles

Yale and Wade-Giles to Pinyin Conversion Table- Conversion by general syllables.

Pinyin   Yale   Wade- Giles


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