On Thursday, September 2, 2004, at 09:38 , Mark Reed wrote:

> But who in the heck designed Pinyin?

A committee of the People's Republic of China (it was approved by the
Communist National Assembly in 1958).

But they didn't start from scratch. It is derived ultimately from the
Western traditions of transcription which began with Matteo Ricci in 1605
and reached its peak in the 19th century with various western 'standards'
such as the Wade-Giles system in the anglophone world. The latter was
still the normal in Anglophonia when I was a youngster.

With the coming of the 20th century, the Chinese decided they should
determine their own Romanization. Several Chinese scholars, including Yuen
Ren Chao (whom I've mentioned before on this list), devised a scheme known
as Gwoyeu Romatzyh (in Pinyin that would be written: guóyŭ luómăzi) which
was adopted by the Nationalist government in 1928. The distinguishing
feature of this scheme is that the Roman letters are used not only for
transcribing segmental phonemes but also the tones. Thus every syllable
had a unique spelling.

GR was, however, attacked by intellectuals on the extreme left. Working
with Soviet sinologs such as A. A. Dragunov, they devised a scheme called
Latinxua (in Pinyin it would be written: lādinghuà).

WWII and its aftermath put all such schemes on hold - the Chinese had more
pressing concerns. It was not till after the stablishment of the People's
Republic in 1949 that attention was turned again to the question of
Romanization. This led to the Pinyin system which is largely the earlier
Latinxua but also uses elements from GR.

> Some of those assignments make
> no sense - |r| for /z`/?

Except that in the Bejing dialect the sound is retroflex [ʐ]. |r| was used
this way in GY also (I'm not sure about Ladinxua).

> Given |sh| for /s`/, I would have used |zh|
> for /z`/, but no, |zh| is used for /ts`/, while |ch| is used for the
> aspirated version /ts`_h/.

Yes - we can all come up with our own schemes - I've done it myself many
times. But I do think one ought to leave it to the Chinese.

The use of |q| BTW for [tɕh] comes from Latinxua and was adopted because
lower case |q| looks vaguely like Cyrillic Ч.

>  I think I'd have better luck learning
> Maggel. :)

Rather unfair IMO - Pinyin is systematic & regular in itself.

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"A mind which thinks at its own expense will always
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"A mind which thinks at its own expense will always
interfere with language."         J.G. Hamann, 1760