Word Division in Romanized Chinese
This page makes suggestions for handling polysyllabic words and phrases in romanized Chinese, a matter on which scholarly practice is currently still evolving.
Our recommendations have in view maximum intelligibility for scholarly writing about the classic period. Practice for modern Chinese may respond to different linguistic facts and different desiderata. We here attempt to provide a working set of guidelines for the classical context, which take some note of pressure from the contemporary context.
Some General Principles
Monosyllabicity is indeed a myth in modern Chinese, but it is not entirely a delusion for the ancient language, where the elements of compounds often exist as separate words. Actual disyllables (such as hudye "butterfly" are few. To write the elements of compounds as separate items does not reflect the local relationship, and tends to convey a feeling of caricature To The Wes Tern Rea Der. The hyphenated compound, noting the grammatical linkage but leaving the components recognizable, will sometimes be the best compromise in the kind of writing with which we are here concerned.
Coordinate Compounds may usefully be separated by a slash (yin/yang, "Yin and Yang" or Chun/Chyou "Springs and Autumns"), to distinguish them from the more usual subordinating compounds (wu-sying, "The Five Planets").
Personal Names. Close up disyllabic surnames, but hyphenate elements of personal names: Gungsun Chou, Szma Tan, Lw Bu-wei. Respect the preference of Cantonese speakers for separating syllables in personal names, eg HK concordance editor Ho Che Wah, and accept other known author preferences. Further exceptions are permissible for forms of names which have become independently familiar within English usage (Peking, Lin Yutang).
Book Titles. The modern tendency is to run these together because of their familiarity. Logic and prosodic analysis tend to support greater separation of elements, hence Han Shu, and on that model Hou Han Shu. Subordinating hyphens may cancel a capital, eg Jan-gwo Tsv. For titles of modern books or articles, a greater degree of closing-up is appropriate, thus Gu Shr Byen (a "classical style" title given to a recent book) but Junggwo Wvnsywe Shr (a markedly "modern style" title given to an equally recent book). Note that these recommended forms, though at variance with French-derived bibliographic preferences, are largely followed by real-world American publishers, who for the most part capitalize all major words in book titles.
Suffixed Official Titles or quasi-titles may be attached by hyphens to a single-syllable posthumous epithet (Mu-gung, Wvn-wang), but are better closed up after a surname or quasi-surname (Mwodz, Dzvngdz). It does not avail, in the case of Kungdz, that the -dz element occurs elsewhere in free form (Dz ywe "the Master said," wu dz "our Master"). With tonemarks, and Chinese should always be written with tonemarks, the syllabic stress on suffixed -dz [with tone] "Master [So-and-so]" is visually distinct from the modern noun-forming suffix -dz [no tonemark]. The information burden is thus not carried only by word spacing/closure; part of it is carried by tone. This simplifies rule statements, and also makes them more realistic.
When the previous element is already compound, complete separation will normally be easier to decipher by eye, thus: Mvng-chang Jywn, Hvshang Gung. Similarly Wu-di "Emperor Wu" but Syau-wu Di.
Modern Terms in bibliographic references may follow the modern tendency toward longer unhyphenated stretches (fachyw "excavated," jvngjr "government," jrdu "system," jyeshau "introduction," Junghwa "[name of a publisher]." Modern provinces (Hvbei, Shandung) and cities (Nanjing, Yangjou) may be written together. For smaller units, hyphenate if the head is a monosyllable (Ding-syen) but not otherwise (Jungmou Syen). The wide familiarity of a term within our field will tend to justify unhyphenated forms (Gwodyen, Mawangdwei). What is "familiar" is likely to change with time, and this rule must be applied with appropriate flexibility.
Judgement Calls. Our final rule must always be that the application of any rule is to be suspended where it produces a form which is somehow odd or unintelligible. Exceptions to rules, as they occur in practice, will be added to this list for future guidance.
Examples of Word Division
- Ai-gung [posthumous title and rank]
- ai/wu [coordinate compound "love and hate"]
- Anhwei [modern province]
- Anyang [well-known archaeological site]
- bai-sying [normal compound phrase in WS usage], cf next
- baisying [modern term for "common people," sometimes seen as laubaisying]
- bawang [unless you analyze a given occurrence as ba/wang; your call]
- Bwo-yi [and Shu-chi, both personal names]
- Chun/Chyou [Lu text; coordinate compound, but cf next]
- chunchyou "chronicle" or "almanac," a noun derived from the above title, thus
- Lw-shr Chunchyou "The Almanac of Mr Lw" [book title]
- Chvng-wang [Jou king]
- Dau/Dv Jing [the Book of Dau and Dv, whatever exactly those two things are]
- Ding-syen [an archaeological site, but the "syen" rule may still be allowed to govern]
- dung-mvn [phrase "eastern gate"], but cf next
- Dungmvn [disyllabic surname]
- Dzwo Jwan
- -gung [normally hyphenate following surname or posthumous epithet]
- Gulyang Jwan [based on an unanalyzable disyllabic surname]
- Gungsun Chou [disciple of Mencius]
- Gungyang Jwan
- Guwutu [name in the Chu language; meaning "suckling = cub tiger"]
- Gwodyen [archaeological site]
- Han Wu-di [cf Wu-di]
- Hvshang Gung [alleged DDJ commentator; cf introductory matter]
- hudye [unanalyzable compound "butterfly"]
- Jing [normally separate as last element in book titles]
- -jou [in general, close up place names ending in this element, eg Sywjou]
- Judz [Ju Syi referred to as a master in his own right]
- ju-dz [subordinating compound "the classical philosophers"}
- jung-gwo [DJ term, "the central states"], cf next:
- Junggwo [modern term "China"]
- Jung-ni [by rule, though this is a very familiar name]
- Laudz [with tonemark on -dz to distinguish it from the unstressed noun-forming suffix]
- ling-yin [Chu official title; capitalized if it follows the surname of an incumbent]
- Lw Bu-wei
- Lw-shr Chun/Chyou [book partly compiled under the patronage of the preceding]
- Mawangdwei [familiar archaeological site]
- Mwodz (cf Dz Mwodz, "Our Master Mwodz")
- r-shu [whatever the structure of the compound, it would be unintelligible if closed up]
- sanbai "three hundred"
- sanbai-shou "three hundred" [plus a measure word, LY 2:2]
- Shan/Hai Jing [includes a coordinate noun phrase]
- Shr [the performance collection, as referred to in the WS period], cf
- Shr Jing [following its canonization in Han]
- shr-san "thirteen" (cf sanshr "thirty")
- Shu Jing
- Shweihudi [familiar archaeological site]
- -syen [hyphenate place names with a monosyllable plus -syen; cf Jungmou Syen]
- syen-Chin [modern term for the period of the classical philosophers]
- Syen-Chin Ju-dz Syi'nyen [modern book on the chronology of the classical philosophers]
- Use an apostrophe to divide any syllables which are ambiguous if written together
- sz ma [sentence: "had charge of the horses"], cf
- szma [term "marshal," from "the officer in charge of the horses"] and
- Szma [disyllabic surname]
- Tyen-dau, "the Way of Heaven," but cf next
- Tyen Dau [capitalized if you feel it is treated numinously]
- wvnsywe [modern term "literature"]
- Wu-di [cf Han Wu-di; Syau-wu Di]
- wu-sying "five elements" [modifier plus head]
- wutu [the disyllabic word "tiger" in the Chu language]
- Wvn-wang [a Jou king]
- yin/yang "Yin and Yang" [coordinate compound], but
- yinyang/wusying "cosmological thought in general"
We will appreciate references to lists or examples of good practice in this difficult area.
6 March 2001 / Contact The Project / Exit to Reference Page