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Yale Romanization

The Yale Romanizations are 4 systems created in late 1940s during World War II by the United States for its soldiers. They romanize the 4 East Asian languages of Mandarin Chinese, Cantonese Chinese, Japanese, and Korean. The 4 romanizations, however, are unrelated in the sense that the same letter from one Romanization may not represent the same sound in another.

They were once used in the US for teaching these Asian languages to civilian students, but are now mostly obscure and only sometimes used by academic linguists. Teaching Mandarin, for example, virtually always employs Hanyu Pinyin. And McCune-Reischauer has dominated the Korean Romanization field for several decades.

Table of contents
1 Mandarin Chinese
2 Cantonese Chinese
3 References
4 External Links

Mandarin Chinese

Mandarin Yale Romanization was developed to prepare American soldiers to communicate with their Chinese allies on the battlefield. Rather than try to teach recruits to interpret the linguistically accurate but somewhat counter-intuitive standard romanization of the time, the Wade-Giles system, a new system was invented that utilized the decoding skills that recruits would already know from having learned to read English. It avoided the main problems that the Wade-Giles system presented to the uninitiated student or news announcer trying to get somebody's name right in a public forum, because it did not use the "rough breathing mark" (which looks like an apostrophe) to distinguish between sounds like "gee" and "chee(se)". In Wade-Giles the first of those would be written "chi" and the second would be written "ch'i". In Yale romanization they would be written "ji" and "chi." The Yale system also avoids the difficulties faced by the beginner trying to read pinyin romanization because it uses certain roman letters and combinations of letters in such a way that they no longer carry their expected values. For instance, "q" in pinyin is pronounced something like the "ch" in "chicken" and is written as "ch" in Yale romanization. "Xi" in pinyin is pronounced something like the "sh" in "sheep," but it Yale it is written as "syi." "Zh" in pinyin sounds something like the "ger" in "gerbil," and is written as "jr" in Yale romanization. In Wade-Giles, knowledge is "chi-shih", in pinyin it is written "zhishi", but in Yale romanization it is written "jr-shr", and only the latter will get the unprepared reader anywhere near to pronouncing the Chinese word correctly.

If an American soldier, speaking "Wade-Giles" asked, "Where is the Japanese guys' machine gun?" He would perhaps utter something like "Jippen jenty cheekwan chong tsai nay pien?" A Chinese soldier with a little English might strain something like this out of the question: "Jipping Jenny! Habitually chooses which cheat?!?" Reciting something from a sheet of emergency sentences written in Yale romanization he would say, "R ben ren di jigwan chyang dzai nei byan?" Even if it were not read perfectly, given the social context a speaker of Mandarin probably would get the idea pretty quickly. The pinyin version, "Riben ren di jiguan qiang zai nei bian?" wouldn't be too bad if the soldier could pronounce "qiang."

Cantonese Chinese

Unlike the Mandarin Yale transliteration, Cantonese Yale is still widely used in books and dictionaries for Cantonese. Developed by Parker Po-fei Huang and Gerald P. Kok, it shares some similarities with Hanyu Pinyin in that unvoiced, unaspirated consonants are represented by letters traditionally used in English and other European languages to represent voiced sounds. For example, IPA /p/ is represented as b in Yale, whereas its aspirated counterpart, /ph/ is represented as p. Because of this and other factors, Yale romanization is usually held to be easy for American English speakers to pronounce without much training.

Yale represents its tones using tone marks and the letter h, as shown below:

Cantonese Yale Tones:
Tone No. Description Yale representation
1 High-flat sīn sīk
1 High-falling s sn
2 Mid-rising s sn
3 Mid-flat si sin sik
4 Low-falling sh shn
5 Low-rising sh shn
6 Low-flat sih sihn sihk

Initials b p m f d t l g k h j ch s y w gw kw
aa finals a aai aau aam aan aang aap aat aak
a finals ai au am an ang ap at ak
o finals o oi ou on ong ot ok
e finals e ei eng ek
i finals i iu im in ing ip it ik
eu finals eu eui eun eung eut euk
u finals u ui un ung ut uk
finals yu yun yut
nasal finals m ng

(N.B. Like Hanyu Pinyin, not every consonant is pronounced as it would be in English or other European languages. For instance, j is pronounced /ts/.)


External Links