Gwoyeu Romatzyh

Gwoyeu Romatzyh (Chinese: 国语罗马字; pinyin: Guóyǔ Luómǎzì; lit. 'National Language Romanization'),[1] abbreviated GR, is a system for writing Mandarin Chinese in the Latin alphabet. The system was conceived by Yuen Ren Chao and developed by a group of linguists including Chao and Lin Yutang from 1925 to 1926. Chao himself later published influential works in linguistics using GR. In addition a small number of other textbooks and dictionaries in GR were published in Hong Kong and overseas from 1942 to 2000.

Gwoyeu Romatzyh in use on a park sign in Taipei. Taytzyy = 太子 = Tàizǐ

Gwoyeu Romatzyh
国语罗马字, 國語羅馬字
Script type romanization
Time period
  • Republic of China (1912–1949) 1928–1986
  • China 1949–1987
  • United Nations 1945–1971
LanguagesStandard Chinese
 This article contains phonetic transcriptions in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA. For the distinction between [ ], / / and  , see IPA § Brackets and transcription delimiters.
Gwoyeu Romatzyh
Traditional Chinese國語羅馬字
Simplified Chinese国语罗马字
Literal meaning"Standard Chinese Romanization"

GR is the better known of the two romanization systems which indicate the four tones of Mandarin by varying the spelling of syllables ("tonal spelling").[2] These tones are fundamental to the Chinese language; their presence lets speakers discriminate between otherwise identical syllables and words.[3] Other systems indicate the tones with either diacritics (for example Pinyin: āi, ái, ǎi and ài) or numbers (Wade–Giles: ai1, ai2, etc.). GR spells the four tones of the same vowel, ai, air, ae and ay.[4] These spellings, which follow specific rules, indicate the tones while retaining the pronunciation of the syllable ai.

Chao claimed that, because GR embeds the tone of each syllable in its spelling,[5] it may help students to master Chinese tones. One study of GR, however, comparing students' ability to dictate a romanized text in GR versus pinyin, found that the use of GR resulted in slightly lower accuracy in tonal production.[6] GR uses a complicated system of tonal spelling that obscures the basic relationship between spelling and tone; for example, the difference between tones 1 and 2 is variously indicated as mha vs. ma, ching vs. chyng, chang vs. charng, etc. Although tonal spelling has been adopted as part of the normal romanization of a number of Asian languages (e.g. Hmong and Zhuang), all such systems indicate different tones in a simple and consistent fashion by adding letters to the end of a syllable (e.g. in Hmong, -b indicates high tone, -s indicates low tone, -j indicates high-falling tone, etc.).

In September 1928, China adopted GR as the nation's official romanization system.[7] GR was used to indicate pronunciations in dictionaries of the National (Mandarin-based) Language. Its proponents hoped one day to establish it as a writing system for a reformed Chinese script. But despite support from a small number of trained linguists in China and overseas, GR met with public indifference and even hostility due to its complexity.[8] Another obstacle preventing its widespread adoption was its narrow basis on the Beijing dialect, in a period lacking a strong centralized government to enforce its use. Eventually GR lost ground to Pinyin and other later romanization systems. However, its influence is still evident, as several of the principles introduced by its creators have been used in romanization systems that followed it. Its pattern of tone spelling was retained in the standard spelling of the Chinese province of Shaanxi (shǎnxī, 陕西), which cannot be distinguished from Shanxi (shānxī, 山西) when written in pinyin without diacritics.

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