Computer-assisted teaching of Pinyin orthography

Peter Leimbigler, Ph.D.

Facilitating compliance with Pinyin orthography (中文拼音正词法) for teachers and learners is a main task for Chinese language teachers and software designers. This article introduces algorithmic self-correcting software solutions for Pinyin Input with non-standard spacing. Focus is on four aspects of Pinyin orthography in a computerized learning environment: 1) spacing rules for modal particles, 2) orthography of four-syllable fixed expressions, 3) number/measure-word combinations, and 4) an option for tone changes ("sandhi") being reflected in the Pinyin rendering.

Reflect tone sandhi in Pinyin text (on the KEY 5.1 "Language Properties" panel)

This new feature solves a problem encountered by all learners and teachers of Chinese: the tonal changes that happen when, for example, two or more third-tone syllables follow one another. Further, the two characters bu4 ("not") and yi1 ("one") change their tones depending on the tone of the character that follows. Here are the rules with examples:

  1. When there are two 3rd tones in a row, the first one becomes 2nd tone. Examples: 你好 (nǐ + hǎo = n hǎo), 很好 (hěn + hǎo = hn hǎo), 好懂 (hǎo + dǒng = hodǒng).
  2. b 不 is 4th tone except when followed by another 4th tone, when it becomes second tone. Examples: 不对 (b + du = bdu), 不去 (b + q = b q), 不错 (b + cu = bcu).
  3. yī is 1st tone when alone, 2nd tone when followed by a 4th tone, and 4th tone when followed by any other tone. Examples: 一个 (yī + g = y g), 一次 (yī + c = y c), 一半 (yī + bn = ybn), 一般 (yī + bān = ybān), 一毛 (yī + mo = y mo), 一会儿 (yī + huǐr = y huǐr). [Note the exception: 一 yī remains first tone in purely numeric expressions, like when followed by another digit.]

Note: According to the Pinyin standard (1996) these tone changes should, by default, not be reflected in the Pinyin tone marks we have kept to this rule in KEY 5.1. However, with the new feature on the Language Properties panel we have given the user a tool to set the system to showing the tone sandhi in Hanzi with Pinyin mode (to toggle, use the new H/P button on the KEY5.1 toolbar). The words/characters subject to tone change have a grey background when the feature is turned on.

In summary, it should be our goal to strive for the implementation of the Pinyin orthography standards. After all it was Confucius who warned "Mng b zhng z yn b shun, yn b shn z sh b chng 名不正则言不順, 言不順则事不成" if the words are not clear theres no communication, and without communication things dont get done.


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中华人民共和国国家标准 汉语拼音正词法基本规则
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国家技术监督局 1996-01-22 批准、发布 1996-07-01 实施, at