Pinyin as a guide to English pronunciation

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Benjamin Hull shared a unique application of Hanyu Pinyin that he noticed on a Pizza Hut (Bìshèng Kè) menu in Ānhūi Shěng Wúhú Shì (where he is currently studying Pǔtōnghùa) — see photos below.  Ben notes:

…the use of Pīnyīn as a guide to English pronunciation is new for me. For a moment I thought it was Yīngyǔ yīnbiāo ("English phonetic symbols") as taught in schools, but I have never seen [ou] used to transcribe the relevant vowel in Chinese pedagogical usage (/əʊ/ is listed as the appropriate transcription in the Bǎidù entry for yīnbiāo). It must be Pīnyīn, which leads to a few interesting notes.

  • It seems quite warranted, given that the pronunciation of the English <dough> is far from self-evident.
  • It imbues a level of sophistication for the audience–the English word is not merely decoration, but something that might actually be pronounced by the customer (although it is the only word annotated in this way).
  • The Pīnyīn corresponds quite nicely for this English word. Any attempt to do this with a wider sample of words would break down quickly.
  • The Pīnyīn, like the English word, is capitalized.
  • There is no tone, which for once is appropriate.

Here are the photographs of the menu:


  1. Frédéric Grosshans said,

    June 17, 2019 @ 9:31 am

    Do you have any details about «Yīngyǔ yīnbiāo ("English phonetic symbols") »? Are these symbols based on IPA, the latin alphabet, Chinese characters or other symbols ?

  2. John said,

    June 17, 2019 @ 11:21 am

    @Frédéric may be this

    Of course, he could mean the Pronunciation Guide from Teach your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons ( which would be cool, but probably not.

  3. Philip Taylor said,

    June 17, 2019 @ 4:00 pm

    I adopted much the same approach when helping Polish friends to pronounce the names of some difficult British place names : Rutm, Mółgaj, Lułyszm (Wrotham, Milngavie, Lewisham). Couldn't help them with "Thurrock", though — nothing even close to /θ/ in Polish, unfortunately.

  4. Chris Button said,

    June 17, 2019 @ 4:06 pm

    but I have never seen [ou] used to transcribe the relevant vowel in Chinese pedagogical usage (/əʊ/ is listed as the appropriate transcription in the Bǎidù entry for yīnbiāo)

    It might be due to the fact that/dəʊ/ is the standard RP transcription in IPA, but /doʊ/ is the standard GenAm transcription in IPA (needless to say there is often overlap in the realizations)

  5. Thomas Rees said,

    June 17, 2019 @ 4:44 pm

    @Philip Taylor: This map
    has “Grejz Ferek”. /f/ for /θ/ is not unknown in English, bruv!

  6. Philip Taylor said,

    June 17, 2019 @ 5:20 pm

    Hmmm, not over-impressed with their fidelity, but I cannot deny that "Saufend-on-sji" made me laugh !

  7. John Ebi said,

    June 18, 2019 @ 12:49 am

    This observation is good. I am in search of similar contents for Ghanaians.

  8. Frédéric Grosshans said,

    June 18, 2019 @ 4:07 am

    @John Thanks, especially for the second link!
    I thought Benjamin Hull meant phonetic symbols designed for Chinese native speaker learning English, and I was curious. I imagined it like a Chinese analogue of the system used in the Polish map shared by @ThomasRees .

  9. Tom Miller said,

    June 18, 2019 @ 9:43 am

    I had a girlfriend in Beijing back in 2002 who had Chinese-English learner books entirely written in pinyin to approximate English sounds. Something along the lines of: "Yu er nei me yin ying li shi yi si tu ha de tu si ei." (Your name in English is too hard to say.) They included hanzi, too. Imagine being confronted with this: 鱼儿内么因英里是意思土哈德土死欸!!

  10. Victor Mair said,

    June 18, 2019 @ 10:52 am

    "Sinographically transcribed English" (12/26/10)

  11. John Rohsenow said,

    June 18, 2019 @ 11:00 am

    Tom Miller's comment on spelling out the sounds of English words in Chinese characters reminds me of the opening pages of DeFrancis' book
    "The Chinese Language: Fact and Fancy" in which he straight-facedly described a proposed WW II plan (designed by one "Ono Kanji"(sic)) to use kanji (Chinese characters used in Japanese) to spell out English. The best part was that several readers took him seriously.

  12. Ajax said,

    June 18, 2019 @ 8:44 pm

    An eight-year-old I know does this with zhuyin. Smart kid.

  13. George said,

    June 19, 2019 @ 12:51 am

    @Tom Miller

    The great Myles na gCopaleen (Brian O'Nolan, aka Flann O'Brien) wrote a few entire newspaper columns in English using the rules of Irish orthography.

  14. Tom Miller said,

    June 20, 2019 @ 4:55 am

    @Victor Thanks. I haven't seen "Sinographically transcribed" English for a while, though it must still be out there in the sticks, I suspect.

    I actually came to your blog, which I'd never seen before, when I googled "how to pronounce Ossetia"…

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