10. Writing Chinese in IPA and
International Phonetic Association

Writing Mandarin, Taiwanese, Hakka and Cantonese in IPA

     In this course, we concentrate on the IPA symbols needed to represent the sounds of English, but you should also learn the symbols used to represent Mandarin. One problem you will find as soon as you try to find solid information on writing Mandarin in IPA is that different sources use different symbols for the same sounds. We suggest familiarizing yourself with the various schemes, and then make your own choices after careful thought and consultation. Make sure you are ready to defend your particular choices!

     Here is one set of options:


     Wikipedia offers this scheme:


     Go to this page to see how tone is represented in IPA:


     Also for your reference, here is a tutorial to help you learn Hanyu Pinyin 漢語拼音 if you don't already know it, or would like a review:

http://www.svcs-us.org/docs/academics/2012-2013/HanYuPinYin.pdf         local copy

     Wikipedia has a page with the IPA symbols for the consonants and vowels of Southern Min or the 'Taiwanese' dialect 閩南語. This and the next sites are here just for reference – don't worry about them now if you're feeling overwhelmed:    


     The IPA symbols for the 梅縣 Moiyan dialect of Hakka 客家話 on Wikipedia:


     How to write Cantonese 粵語/廣東話 in Romanization and IPA:


Entering tone syllables 入聲字 in Chinese

You may have noticed that many dialects of Chinese, including Southern Min, Hakka and Cantonese, have syllables ending in the final stops /p/, /t/, /k/ or /ʔ/, something Mandarin no longer has. In Chinese these are called 'entering tone' words 入聲字ru4sheng1zi4. You may someday want to cite examples of entering tone words to illustrate a phonetic point. But how can you identify 'entering tone' words if you don't speak one of these dialects? Actually, words that once ended in a consonant stop generally have a distinctive syllable structure in Mandarin. By finding syllables with this distinctive structure, you can in a large number of cases identify syllables that once belonged to the 'entering tone' category, although the original consonant finals themselves are now gone. Here is a page in Chinese (html .doc) based on notes from a Chinese historical phonology class that tells you how to do it! (With thanks to Prof. Chen Hsin-hsiung 陳新雄教授 of National Taiwan Normal University)

International Phonetic Association (IPA)

     You've already visited the International Phonetic Association (IPA; the 'A' can mean both 'Association' and 'Alphabet') site for the Mandarin tone symbols; you should have a look at some of the other things they offer. The IPA (Association) sets the standards for phonetic transcription in IPA (Alphabet), among other things:


    You will find full and partial charts of the IPA alphabet, IPA computer fonts, and recordings of the IPA sounds, which can be downloaded by language. You can also link to the homepages of IPA Council members; these are mostly rather famous phoneticians, and their sites are good resources to tap.

     The IPA is designed for use by linguists and language learners, not the general public. A simpler transcription system 轉寫系統 is needed so non-Chinese can read and write, for example, Chinese personal and place names they see in the news or while traveling. Ideally this transcription system should avoid the use of a lot of special characters. Romanization is the use of Latin letters to create such a system. Many efforts have been made to come up with a good way to Romanize standard Chinese or Mandarin; but people (especially in Taiwan) are having a good bit of difficulty deciding what 'a good way' to Romanize Chinese is.
You can read all about it, in English and Chinese, in the next three pages.

       Next: Romanization I

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