Original Analects Supplement
Romanization Table

General. We have been asked why we don't use either of the two currently most common romanizations, Pinyin and Wade-Giles. Our usual answer is to inquire whether the questioner actually pronounces the first Chinese Empire as "Quinn" or the famous Three Kingdoms general as Cow Cow, these being roughly the pronunciations implied by the respective Pinyin spellings. Similar questions exist for the different, but equally misleading, Wade-Giles spellings. Such unnecessary difficulties have never hampered the study of Japan, where the workmanlike Hepburn romanization has prevailed among English readers, and long ago ousted the official Japanese Kunrei system.

Classroom teachers would save much time, and their students would be spared much confusion, if a Hepburn type of convention obtained also with Chinese. We have attempted to bring this situation nearer to reality by demonstrating that it is possible.

Details. Spelling Chinese sounds presents a few difficulties that are not present in Japanese, whose vowel system fits the Latin alphabet fairly well. Chief of these difficulties is the fact that Chinese, like English, possesses a central vowel, the "uh" sound. That sound is usually spelled with letter "u" in English (as in nut, sum, run), but the letter "u" is also needed for the sound of u in such words as "nude, super, rule." Some distinctive symbol is thus needed for the "uh" sound. Previous conventions do not provide an unambiguous or umproblematic one. All the other vowel letters are already taken. We have borrowed for the purpose the letter "v." Why is this better than some other letter?

As a position mnemonic:"v" directly follows "u" in the alphabet. We remind those with a classical education that "u" and "v" are not distinguished in Roman inscriptions, so that there is really only one letter here. Linguists will recognize that the use of an inverted "v" is already standard for a version of the so-called schwa vowel. Our convention is merely that inverted "v," uninverted.

With this one crux solved, the other least worst equivalents are given by established convention or or self-evident similarity, including ae as in cat, r as in fur, and a counterpart buzzed vowel "z" as in "adz." For the "umlaut u" sound, we have borrowed the "double u" letter w, as tending to invoke by its name the primary sound u, and to suggest by its doubled form the two dots of the original umlaut mark, placed over the u.

Sinologically knowledgeable readers may also regard our convention as a Yale Romanization, but with its overlaps and phonemic shortcuts eliminated.

Advantages. One advantage of a nonphonemic spelling for Chinese is that it can in principle be used to transcribe other versions of Chinese than that of Peking, among them Cantonese. These linguistically older versions of Chinese are of great interest for students of early periods. Easier access to those lexicons is one possible benefit of a not too quirky, and not too Peking centered, spelling system.

Envoi. There are those who dislike hearing themselves say to students, year after year, "this is spelled t- but pronounced as d-" (as one must constantly do when teaching with materials in Wade-Giles romanization). Others rather enjoy the mystique which such statements create. These remarks on accessible spelling are obviously directed only to persons of Type A. We hope that such persons will find them suggestive, and will either follow our lead in practice, or come up with an improved suggestion along the same general lines. We will be glad to adopt any improvements in our own future publications. One way or another, the world needs, at least for some purposes, something better than it has presently got in this area. These suggestions are the best solution we can presently find.

This Supplement is Copyright © 2001- by E Bruce and A Taeko Brooks

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