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Early Middle Chinese pinyin (a new Romanization)

Early Middle Chinese (EMC) constitutes the pronunciation system documented in the Qieyun, an eminent rime dictionary initially published in 601 CE. It is the language of most Buddhist translations and was recognized as the standard reading pronunciation throughout the Tang Dynasty. Moreover, EMC underpins the basis of Chinese historical phonology and is acknowledged as the precursor to most modern Chinese varieties. Additionally, it serves as the parent language for many Sino-xenic borrowings found in Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese languages.

The prevailing Romanization systems for EMC predominantly utilize or resemble the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). However, through my collaborative experiences with vocalists, I perceived a need for a Romanization system that is accessible to individuals proficient in pinyin, yet unfamiliar with IPA. I seek to address this by designing a new Romanization system.

It is important to emphasize that this system is not a reconstruction, but a transcription scheme, specifically designed to facilitate sight-reading of EMC for pinyin-literate individuals. Overall, it is a relatively conservative depiction of Early Middle Chinese (EMC) phonology, with innovative reflexes being inferred from the notation. The guiding principles of this design include:

  • Retaining all distinctions inherent in the Qieyun system

  • Maintaining conciseness in representation

  • Employing existing pinyin letters for analogous sounds whenever feasible

Several key decisions incorporated in this system are as follows:

  • Type-A syllables are denoted by capitalizing the initial letter, allowing for a more streamlined realization of the rime without compromising distinctions.

  • The letter "r" has been adopted to represent reflexes of Old Chinese /r/ in division-II and chongniu type-B syllables.

  • Voiceless initial consonants align with their pinyin counterparts when possible, while voiced consonants are indicated using an underdot. For instance, the aspirated voiceless bilabial plosive is denoted by "p", the unaspirated voiceless bilabial plosive by "b", and the voiced bilabial plosive by "ḅ".

Notes on the design:

  • Dot(s) above vowels (tittle/umlaut) signifies fronted versions of back vowels: a/ä, e/ë, ı/i, u/ü.

  • Unreleased stop endings are symbolized by the letters "b", "d", and "g", aligning with their sound values as initials.

  • Glottal stops (影母) are suggested by the absence of an initial.

  • Tones are represented by diacritical marks. The level tone and entering tone remain unmarked, while the rising tone is denoted by an acute accent (e.g. á), and the falling tone by a grave accent (e.g. à).

  • The letter "o" serves as the rounded counterpart to "e". Consequently, one may interchange "ue" and "o" as deemed appropriate, with the exception of cases preceding "ng".

  • When acting as a medial, the letter "i" is omitted after letter "y" (e.g. yä).

  • The letter "r" is omitted following retroflex initials (e.g. shäng).

  • When carrying tonal marks, the letter "i" assumes the form "ï" (e.g. ḯ).

I extend my sincere gratitude to unt for her invaluable support in addressing my incessant questions, and to Dai Wei for her opinions and suggestions on improving the ease of reading.



Sample text

Click below for a side-by-side comparison table of EMC pinyin and other reconstructions/romanization schemes.

Table of EMC finals
Download PDF • 433KB

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