Standard pinyin differences

For the sake of our sound mnemonics, the pinyin system we use at HanziHero differs slightly from standard pinyin.

Specifically, the set of initials and finals we use are slightly different.

Our differences are heavily inspired by the work outlined in the blog post Mnemonics for Pronouncing Chinese Characters (the Marilyn Method), to which we are indebted.

It should be noted that most of these differences are primarily of academic interest. You do not need to be understand, or even be aware of, these differences to use the app.

Rationale

At HanziHero, we have tailor made Chinese character mnemonics to help you easily remember the sounds that are contained within a character. To use this system, we needed to assign a mnemonic association to each sound.

Standard pinyin has a large set of finals that are difficult to differentiate for English speakers, are lack any sort of phonetic or written element that makes them easily associable. For example, -ia, -ian, -iang, -iao are four finals included in standard pinyin that may seem similar to an English speaker.

However, most English speakers have an easier time differentiating between the various pinyin initials. This is because many of the pinyin initials contain letters that are read and pronounced the same in Chinese as they are in English. For example, b-, p-, m- and so on.

To leverage this, we simply reduced the number of finals and increased the number of initials. This way a greater portion of the total number of pinyin parts (i.e., initials and finals) are easier to remember.

More initials, less finals

To illustrate how we “converted” finals into initials, consider the earlier example of ia-, -ian, -iang, -iao. Lets look at a subset of standard pinyin syllables that contain those finals and begin with the standard pinyin initial l-:

  • l- + -ia = lia
  • l- + -ian = lian
  • l- + -iang = liang
  • l- + -iao = liao

As you can see, all of the finals begin with an i character that we can move over to the initial instead. Here is what the same four syllables would look like in HanziHero pinyin.

  • li- + -a = lia
  • li- + -an = lian
  • li- + -ang = liang
  • li- + -ao = liao

We think that this new initial li- is easier to remember, read, and pronounce than the previous set of finals that began with i.

Initials

Some of the intermediary vowels like i or u we moved from the finals over to the initials, forming new initials in the process like bi- or zhu-.

Standard pinyin may have a syllable that has NO pinyin initial, like a which consists only of the standard pinyin a. In HanziHero pinyin, the absence of an initial is represented by a special null initial _-. To illustrate:

  • Standard pinyin: a = NONE + -a
  • HanziHero pinyin: a = _- + -a

This way ALL pinyin syllables always have an initial, even if it is just a representative one that has no pronunciation.

Standard pinyin initials

Standard pinyin has 21 initials, listed below:

  • b-
  • p-
  • m-
  • f-
  • d-
  • t-
  • n-
  • l-
  • g-
  • k-
  • h-
  • z-
  • c-
  • s-
  • zh-
  • ch-
  • sh-
  • r-
  • j-
  • q-
  • x-

HanziHero pinyin initials

HanziHero pinyin has 55 initial, listed below. The ones that are additions to standard pinyin are marked with an asterisk (*).

  • _-*
  • b-
  • bi-*
  • bu-*
  • p-
  • pi-*
  • pu-*
  • m-
  • mi-*
  • mu-*
  • f-
  • fu-*
  • d-
  • di-*
  • du-*
  • t-
  • ti-*
  • tu-*
  • n-
  • ni-*
  • nu-*
  • nü-*
  • l-
  • li-*
  • lu-*
  • lü-*
  • g-
  • gu-*
  • k-
  • ku-*
  • z-
  • zu-*
  • c-
  • cu-*
  • s-
  • su-*
  • h-
  • hu-*
  • zh-
  • zhu-*
  • ch-
  • chu-*
  • sh-
  • shu-*
  • r-
  • ru-*
  • y-*
  • yu-*
  • ji-*
  • qi-*
  • xi-*
  • w-*
  • ju-*
  • qu-*
  • xu-*

Finals

Most of the intermediary vowels like u or i were moved from the finals over to newly formed initials. This also resulted in us needing to introduce a “null final” similar to the standard pinyin “null initial”. To illustrate:

  • Standard pinyin: bi = b- + -i
  • HanziHero pinyin: bi = bi- + -_

Standard pinyin finals

Standard pinyin has 36 finals, listed below. The ones that are NOT in HanziHero pinyin are marked with an asterisk (*).

  • -i*
  • -a
  • -ai
  • -an
  • -ang
  • -ao
  • -e
  • -ei
  • -en
  • -eng
  • -er
  • -ia*
  • -ian*
  • -iang*
  • -iao*
  • -ie*
  • -in*
  • -ing*
  • -iong*
  • -iou*
  • -o
  • -ong*
  • -ou
  • -u*
  • -ua*
  • -uai*
  • -uan*
  • -uang*
  • -uei*
  • -uen*
  • -ueng*
  • -uo*
  • -ü*
  • -üan*
  • -üe*
  • -ün*

HanziHero pinyin finals

HanziHero pinyin has 12 finals, listed below. They are a subset of the standard pinyin finals, with the exception of the null final, marked with an asterisk (*).

  • -_*
  • -a
  • -o
  • -e
  • -ai
  • -ei
  • -ao
  • -ou
  • -an
  • -ang
  • -en
  • -eng
  • -er