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 yùnmǔ" . 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 yùnmǔ", 4 tones
and a neutral tone.