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The spelling of Gwoyeu Romatzyh (GR) can be divided into its treatment of initials, finals and tones. GR uses contrasting unvoiced/voiced pairs of consonants to represent aspirated and unaspirated initials in Chinese: for example b and p represent IPA [p] and [pʰ]. The letters j, ch and sh represent two different series of initials: the alveolo-palatal and the retroflex sounds. Although these spellings create no ambiguity in practice, readers more familiar with Pinyin should pay particular attention to them: GR ju, for example, corresponds to Pinyin zhu, not ju (which is spelled jiu in GR).
|Romanization of Chinese|
Many of the finals in GR are similar to those used in other romanizations. Distinctive features of GR include the use of iu for the close front rounded vowel spelled ü or simply u in Pinyin. Final -y represents certain allophones of i: GR shy and sy correspond to Pinyin shi and si respectively.
The most striking feature of GR is its treatment of tones. The first tone is represented by the basic form of each syllable, the spelling being modified according to precise but complex rules for the other three tones. For example the syllable spelled ai (first tone) becomes air, ae and ay in the other tones. A neutral (unstressed) tone can optionally be indicated by preceding it with a dot or full stop: for example perng.yeou "friend".
Rhotacization, a common feature of Mandarin (especially Beijing) Chinese, is marked in GR by the suffix -l. Owing to the rather complex orthographical details, a given rhotacized form may correspond to more than one non-rhotacized syllable: for example, jiel can mean either "today" (from jin) or "chick" (from ji).
A number of frequently-occurring morphemes have abbreviated spellings in GR. The most common of these, followed by their Pinyin equivalents, are: -g (-ge), -j (-zhe), -m (-me), sh (shi) and -tz (-zi).
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