International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) transcription for Chinese

If you learn Chinese, you may have noticed how imperfect pinyin is as phonetic transcription system.

Take the syllables “qiu” and “you”, for example. The final in both syllables is exactly the same, it is pronounced the same, but they are written differently.

The same thing goes for the syllables like “wei” and “dui”.

Or why didn’t they include “w” or “u” in the syllables like “po”, “mo”?

You probably guessed where I am going. Why don’t we use a system that shows us EXACTLY how to pronounce Chinese words? Like… International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA)!

So here’s the good news.

Up until now we used the information from the book “The Phonology of Standard Chinese” by San Duanmu as the basis for our algorithm to convert pinyin to IPA transcription.

Now we are adding another system to convert pinyin to IPA – as described in the book “The Sounds of Chinese” by Yen-Hwei Lin. In my opinion the IPA transcription suggested in this second book is even better.

We are also adding a new option that allows you to choose how the tones will be displayed: as numbers (tone number or pitch contour), as diacritics or as tones letters.

If you select the tone letters or any option with pitch contour, you will even be able to see the relative pitch level for neutral tone!

This new option is called “Display tones as” and is displayed only if you choose to convert your Chinese text to International Phonetic Alphabet.

We hope you will like it!

P.S. We would like to express our gratitude to Stuart who suggested we implement this new algorithm for Chinese IPA transcription and even partially financed its development. Thank you, Stuart!! 🙂