Chinese Alphabet ?

Is there a Chinese alphabet?



Chinese Alphabet and the pinyin transcription.


There is no Chinese alphabet in the sense we understand it in the Westerner languages.

In the Western cultures the word alphabet comes from the first two letters of the Greek alphabet: alpha and beta. Each letters of our alphabet represents a sound that generally has no particular meaning.

Chinese characters are not letters. Although there are a lot of exceptions, Chinese characters represent a concept, an idea or an object.

The syllable is what gets closer to our conception of the alphabet we use for spelling words in the Westerner languages. So for the modern Chinese there is a set of about 400 syllables. These syllables are made of two elements: an initial, the sheng  "声母 shēngmǔ"  and a final the yun  " 韵母 ynmǔ" . The first part, the sheng is the consonant that begins syllable. The sheng is followed by a yun that is generally a vowel. There is the simple yun which counts only a single vowel like " a, e, o " and the compound yun like " ao and an "as examples.

By analogy one can spell a syllable that corresponds to a character in the same way as a word in English is spelt. To do this we have to know the 21 sheng and the 38 yun.

But we must remember that a character is not always equivalent to a word. A word is most of the time made of several characters in the same way as words in English count generally several syllables. Obviously we know also that there are in both cases words of a single syllable.

In 1958 the Chinese Government adopted a characters transcription named pinyin. It is a phonetic alphabet which is used to indicate the pronunciation of the Chinese characters. Each Chinese syllable consists of three parts: initial, final and tone. In the pinyin transcription, there are 21 initials "声母 shēngmǔ", 2 semi-vowels "y and w", 36 finals"韵母 ynmǔ", 4 tones and a neutral tone.