Different Ways to Spell China

By | May 26, 2022


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February 4, 1979



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The New York Times is preparing to adopt a new system for spelling most Chinese place names and personal names.

The change, effective in the paper of March 5, follows the adoption of the syv tern by the Chinese Government for news reports sent abroad. Since Jan. 1, the system has been consistently used in press dispatches and Government pronouncements originating in China and trantmit% ted in English through the official New China News Agency and other publications. These now refer to Teng Hsiaoping, the Deputy Prime Minister, as Deng Xiaoping, and to Mao Tse‐tung a Mao Zedong. ‐0

The new system, known as Pinyin, for the Chinese word meaning “transcription,” has been adopted in the United Na: tions and by the United States Board on Geographic Names, which determines the spelling of place names for Government use.

The Times delayed adoption to allow cross‐referencing of names in its clipping, picture and map files and in its computerized Information Bank.

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Closer to Chinese Sounds

Although it is difficult for any system to render the sounds of Chinese in the Roman alphabet, Pinyin in most cases comes closer than other forms. Deng, for instance, is a better approximation of the family name of the Deputy Prime Minister than Teng.

But the system also uses some letters. such as “q” and “x,” in ways that are not readily interpreted by the English speaker. “Q” is used for a “ch” sound, and “x” represents a hissing sound rendered traditionally as “hs.” As a result a Polite bum member whose name used to be spelled Hsu Hsiang‐chien will now be known as Xu Xiangqian; the form is unlikely to ease pronunciation for those unfamiliar with the new style.

The rendering of Chinese names in otherlanguages has long posed a problem because the Chinese language is not written with an alphabetic script. It uses ideOgrams — in effect, drawings — that convey meaning but do not express sound. As many as 20 systems have been devised to convert the characters phonetically into the sounds of English, French, German and other languages.

A common system in English has been the Wade‐Giles system. It was designed around 1860 by Sir Thomas Wade, a British diplomat and professor of Chinese at Cambridge University, and was applied by Herbert A. Giles, another Cambridge scholar, in a basic Chinese‐English dictionary. The system found its way into English‐language reference books, mapand atlases. In spelling Chinese personal names, The Times has been using a moth lied version of it that omits apostrophes.

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Post Office Place Names

As for the place names of China, the spellings most familiar to Western read ers evolved in the 19th century for international postal use and are known as “conventional forms.” The city of Nanking, a former capital of China, owes its spelling to the post office style: the WadeGiles form is Nan‐ching, and the Pinyin form, which The Times will now use, is Nanjing.

The Times and other English‐languag0 publications have been using these traditional forms in spelling Chinese geographic names. In switching to the Pinyin style, The Times will retain a handful Of well‐known conventional names, such as Peking and Canton, because they are deeply rooted in English usage. For some names the various spelling systems coincide, as in Shanghai.

The Chinese introduced the Pinyin system in 1958 for two purposes. It was to serve as a teaching aid in studying the characters, which continue to be the basic form of writing, and in fostering the standard spoken language, known historically as Mandarin. Pinyin was also intended to provide a unified system of rendering Chinese names in Western languages, eliminating the various existing styles. Since it is written in the Roman alphabet, it is not suitable for languages using other scripts such as Russian, Greek, Hebrew or Arabic.

After having applied Pinyin for teach, ing over the last 20 years, the Chines• Government decreed last September that the system be extended to communica. Lion with foreigners. As of Jan. 1, both the Foreign Ministry and the official press agency were instructed to adopt the sys tem in contacts with other countries.

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Even before this action. Pinyin had been adopted abroad by some publishers A dictionaries and maps. An English‐lan guage world atlas published in Moscow in 1967 used the system on its maps of China.

Different Ways to Spell China

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/1979/02/04/archives/times-due-to-revise-its-chinese-spelling-adoption-of-new-system.html