has studied Mandarin in the past half-century will have learnt
their Chinese ABC with the help of pinyin,
the system for expressing Chinese characters in the Roman alphabet.
thanks to pinyin, which literally
means 'spell sound', that we know that 你好 is pronounced nǐ hǎo and that 马 is mǎ (horse), while
The creater of pinyin, Zhou
Youguang, died in Beijing on Saturday at the age of 111. Although one
of the most influential figures in recent Chinese history, there's still little known about the Beijinger. Here are five facts you probably didn’t know about the man who has made learning Chinese a whole lot easier.
Zhou Youguang studied economics at St John’s University in Shanghai
before going to work on Wall Street in New York as a trader for three years in
the 1940s. Linguistics was a pet hobby of his that came to define his career
when Zhou Enlai asked him to lead a committee to create an alphabetic
system for Mandarin.
When Zhou started in his project to make Mandarin more comprehensible to
beginners, illiteracy in China was over 85 percent. Now, thanks in part to the fact
that 26 letters can be used to learn thousands of characters, illiteracy in
China is only around 5 percent.
the man who turned a complicated language into a handful of letters, age was
clearly just a number. He earned the nickname 'Encyclopaedia Zhou' for his work
on translating Encyclopaedia Britannica into
Chinese, and continued to write well into his old age, including many books
that are banned in China.
Until pinyin, the most popular system for writing Chinese characters in the Roman alphabet was Wade-Giles, named after the two British diplomats who designed it in the 19th century. It's Wade-Giles you're reading when you look at old maps that say 'Peking' rather than Beijing. Linguists agree that the Wade-Giles system is rather unwieldy, and isn't as faithful to Chinese pronunciation as pinyin.
Elias Wen (left), another of China's supercentenarians
or chāojí rén, is a person who
reaches the grand old age of 110. Zhou reached this landmark on 13 January
2016, one year and one day before he passed away at the age of 111. There are
only 10 Chinese supercentenarians in recorded history (according to Wikipedia).
On behalf of primary school students across the country, we say Xièxiè, Mr Zhou!