Arabic transliteration of Chinese words

Discussion in 'العربية (Arabic)' started by Anatoli, Nov 4, 2009.

  1. Anatoli Senior Member

    Melbourne, Australia
    Native: русский (Russian), home country: English

    I was going to post a small spreadsheet but I can't right now, so I am just going to describe a very small project of mine and will post the table later.

    Here's what it is about.

    Chinese Mandarin is written, as you know in Chinese characters but is romanised in different ways, the most standard method is called pinyin (بنين or بينين) or hanyu pinyin. Most place names in mainland China are now officially written in this system. It's not so phonetic from an average English speaker but it wasn't designed for English.

    Anyway, I noticed that Chinese names, when written in Arabic, don't follow standards and there are too many patterns, similarly to pre-pinyin ways of romanising standard Chinese (Mandarin).

    There are a few challenges:
    1. Arabic and Mandarin have very different set of consonants and vowels, despite the richness of Arabic, a few duplications can't be avoided.
    Mandarin doesn't distinguish between voiced/unvoiced consonants but unaspirated/aspirated. b/p, g/k, d/t, z/c, zh/ch, j/q only differ in unaspirated/aspirated.
    2. Like with other languages, non-vowelled Arabic doesn't write short vowels, so long vowels can be used to render short vowels, but it's still impossible to distinguish between o, u, uo and ou; e, i and ie, which can be written only one way in Arabic.
    3. When writing Chinese geographical names, different approaches were taken, which created a mess.
    For example, when writing zh ([tʂ] - a retroflex, sounds like tsh), one approach is to write ج (English j) or to write تش but this is also used for "ch" ([tʂʰ]), which is also pronounced as tsh but with strong aspiration. We have also palatalised versions of the same sounds - j and q ([tɕ] and [tɕʰ]), which will have to transcribed with the same Arabic letters - ج and تش, at least this would be consistent and would not required an additional letter to make them sound aspirated.

    4. There are traditional and settled spellings of Chinese names in Arabic, which differ are different from any suggested methods, e.g. بكين Beijing. For example, there are at least 4 way to write Chinese G in Arabic.

    I am going to post some examples later. We have at least one other person who is familiar with phonology of both languages - Ghabi. I am hoping he and others will be able to contribute.

    I was inspired by the Arabic article on pinyin in Wikipedia, which seems to be wrong and I'd like to suggest a new version after some discussion.بن-ين
    Last edited: Nov 4, 2009
  2. Anatoli Senior Member

    Melbourne, Australia
    Native: русский (Russian), home country: English
    I promise it will make more sense when I post more examples:

    Let's start with letter H in Pinyin. It's closer to Arabic خ in pronunciation than ه, so to write the following names: Anhui, Hainan (Chinese provinces), I suggest to use خ

    آنخوي, not آنهوي
    خاينان, not هينان
    These are only examples, of course the traditional spellings should take a precedence and it seems that ه is used more commonly, despite being an incorrect choice.

    But look at Hefei (a city in China):
    خفي , letter خ is used, which is inconsistent with the above examples. I would write it as خيفي to make it even less ambiguous.
  3. Anatoli Senior Member

    Melbourne, Australia
    Native: русский (Russian), home country: English
    Attached is a draft of "Arabic pinyin", please have a look, if you have any interest.

    It's not to teach how to pronounce but for practical purposes only - if you say a Chinese name in pinyin, how would I write it in Arabic. Again, this is only a suggestion based on what I was able to check so far. Disclaimer: my Arabic is poor but I am familiar with its phonology and writing.

    The good side is, if you can see, there is only a limited set of syllables possible in Mandarin (although they may be pronounced in different tones), so if a syllable is described to spelled one way, no need to change anything.

    Attached Files:

  4. Ghabi

    Ghabi AL/OL/Ar/Zh mod

    Hong Kong
    Before commenting on Anatoli's system:thumbsup:, perhaps we should first ask a more general question: are there official guidelines for transliterating foreign proper names into Arabic?

    What would you do, our dear Arab friends, if you've to transliterate a foreign name (Chinese or Thai or Greek whatever) into Arabic, trying your luck on google or go to check some official guideline?

    In China, there're official guidelines as to how to transliterate foreign proper names, which all serious translators (who are of course the minority;)) follow. I wonder what's the normal practice in the Arab world? I think some collegues here are highly experienced in translation, and can help answering this question.:)

    Note: The thread title seems a bit ... um, non-straight forward:rolleyes: to me. I guess it should at least contain the word "transliteration".
  5. Mahaodeh Senior Member

    Arabic and English
    since l don't know any Chinese, l'll reply to Ghabi's question:

    We must first distinguish between translitration and Arabization. The example of Bejin is an Arabization, so the word does not have to be pronounced in Arabic in the same way it would be in Chinese. Translitration, on the other hand, needs to be much more accurate since the point is to show the original pronnounciation in the original language (in this case, Chinese). l know that there indeed are some rules for Arabization, but l don't know whether there are any rules for translitration. l think that most people just write it as they think they hear it.
  6. Anatoli Senior Member

    Melbourne, Australia
    Native: русский (Russian), home country: English
    Thanks, guys.

    It seems there is no official guide and since the sounds of one language can be heard differently and written by different speakers of another, then there is a need for some kind of a guide. Also, the transliteration may be created not based solely on the sounds but on the spelling, like in my post #2 where letter هـ is often used over خـ (a closer equivalent) because it is spelled "H" in Chinese Pinyin and in English.

    Also, some conventions can't be avoided, otherwise the result can be similar to the current situation in Taiwan where multiple romanisation system still coexist, confusing the visitors (see point 3 in my first post for an example) + whether spaces or hyphens are used between syllables, etc.

    The confusion does exist in the Arabic transliteration, for example the city of Changchun (长春) is written both as تشانج شون and as تشانغتشون, the 2nd is closer to the pronunciation, more consistent (two occasions of ch- spelled differently) and to the way the original Pinyin is written - in one word.

    I prefer to use غـ not جـ to transliterate G (even if it's part of the -ng, not a separate sound), using the all Arabic spelling, not just Egyptian, reserving letter جـ for Pinyin "zh" ([tʂ]) and "j" ([tɕ]). What do you think? In some cases the final -g in -ng is ignored but not always, for consistency, I suggest to use ـنغ for the final -ng (pronounced similarly to the English "ng" as "song") in شينجيانغ (Xinjiang).

    If some Pinyin letters' usage seems strange (especially x, c, q, please refer to this table, which describes approximate pronunciation of Pinyin letters in English):
    Last edited: Nov 4, 2009
  7. Anatoli Senior Member

    Melbourne, Australia
    Native: русский (Russian), home country: English
    I made an error in Y row. Initial ye and yi should become إيـ, IMHO but not sure if it's in the middle of the word after a vowel? Should a hamza be inserted? If I were to transliterate 介意 (jieyi) would it be جيئي? The only proper name I can think of would be Chiayi, Taiwan, written as Jiayi in standard pinyin (many Taiwanese proper names don't follow standard pinyin but Wade-Giles). What would it be in Arabic (if using standard pinyin as a base)? جياي or جيائي? I like the 2nd choice more, it creates two syllables.

    I'll make changes to the file and reattach. Have to decide how to treat syllable starting with a vowel - differently at the beginning of a word and in the middle, e.g. آنخوي Anhui and Xi'an - شيئان (also شيان)?
    Last edited: Nov 4, 2009
  8. Ghabi

    Ghabi AL/OL/Ar/Zh mod

    Hong Kong
    I think we're on the same wave-length, dear Maha.:D It's only that what you call "Arabization", I call it "transliteration", and what you call "transliteration", I call it "transcription".

    A transliteration system aims to create a one-to-one mapping between the graphs of the two writing systems in question. If this job is done, then the system is good. That's why I'd say the system on the Arabic wiki page is perfect: each pinyin letter is represented by a different Arabic letter/letter-cluster. I understand why you don't like it, dear Anatoli: because the Arabic sounds don't match the Chinese sounds in some cases. But they're not supposed to, since they belong to a transliteration system, which is not responsible for teaching Chinese pronunciation (leave the vacancy to the Chinese teachers!). I remember what I read in the Alice books:

    We don't want to make a transliteration system do so much work, do we? We have to pay it extra!;):D

    As to the system suggested by Anatoli: strictly speaking it's not a transliteration system, since there're cases where different pinyin letters are represented by the same Arabic letter/letter-cluster, thus failing to fulfil a one-to-one mapping. But of course we understand that the rationale behind this system is to approximate the Chinese pronunciations in question whenever possible, and I see that it's practical and I'm sure it will be useful for many people.:)

    As to the linguistic details, why, you need a linguist! Although I'm a Chinese (guilty;)), I've never learnt pinyin, and the quaint IPA symbol are making me dizzy.:eek:
  9. Anatoli Senior Member

    Melbourne, Australia
    Native: русский (Russian), home country: English
    Thanks, Ghabi :) but I disagree about the Wikipage (post#1) being perfect. It may work as transliteration only, if the rules are explained in advance (e.g. 1=A, 2=B, 3=C, etc.).

    My reasons:
    Unlike Pinyin where a convention may work - c=ts, q=ch, x=sh (where the right part is an approximate equivalent of the English reading), in Arabic, you can't just say - see this letter but you have to read it differently. So ص is an emphatic "S" and will always be pronounced as such, it's a bad example of transliterating "x". So are the other examples of emphatic letters. In my opinion, they achieve the opposite pronunciation to the intended (e.g. si and xi, chi and qi).

    It's never used practically. So it may a transcription but never used as a transliteration Persian letters are used very seldom in Arabic, although, they would be ideal for G and P.

    The Wiki table is full of digraphs (even trigraphs!), which will be misread. That's why I prefer to use the same approach as it was taken in pinyin - use b/p, g/k, d/t, not p/ph, k/kh, t/th to show aspiration or its absence. I used the digraphs in my table, which are already in use in Arabic - e.g. سندويتش sandwich, تسونامي tsunami.

    No, I don't mean it as a teaching tool for Mandarin either. Standard Pinyin itself (for students) or IPA (for linguists or scientists) would serve better, whatever your original language is. This is now used in Japan, Korea and Russia, universities around the world and, of course dictionaries.

    I already said, I wish it for practical purposes, that is as a guide to write Chinese personal or geographical names.
    Apart from a couple of small fixes, I see the Arabic syllables from my table can be read without much knowledge of Chinese or other language, are similar to how other foreign names are transcribed into Arabic. The exceptions are a few digraphs, can't see how to do without some of them but they are already used in Arabic to write the sound "ch" as in "chess".

    My suggested list also meant to be quite readable, no foreign letters.

    I don't blame you, you are from Hong Kong, where pinyin and northern Mandarin were not so popular until recently :) but you can't deny the system being the most commonly used and standardised. It has even affected how English now spells Chinese names - Peking-Beijing, Tsingtao - Qingdao, Szechuan-Sichuan, Sian-Xi'an, etc.
    Last edited: Nov 5, 2009
  10. Ghabi

    Ghabi AL/OL/Ar/Zh mod

    Hong Kong
    It hardly matters how ص is pronounced, as long as it is a different letter from the other letters employed.

    In a transliteration system, what we need is only difference, from which we can restore the original writing system and thus the original language. That's why the one-to-one mapping is important, and what letters are actually employed for the mapping (as long as each one is different from the other) hardly matters.

    But I must be, again, talking about things that I don't understand.:confused::eek: Better leave this learned topic to the more informed collegues.;)
  11. Anatoli Senior Member

    Melbourne, Australia
    Native: русский (Russian), home country: English
    For transliteration yes, perhaps but maybe not as a practical guide. Example,the city of Xi'an is better transcribed as شيئان not صيأن and Xinhua agency as شينخوا, which reflects the pronunciation and the current Arabic spelling. Do you agree? (not sure if hamza is appropriate here but has to be read separately - as Shii-aan.

    Please don't think I am stubborn, Ghabi, :) I collected examples of Chinese syllable spellings in Arabic to make this guide, selecting those, which closer reflect the pronunciation. My feeling is that in Arabic letters are not used by convention, although Arabic script is shared by different languages, I mean, you can't assign a different reading to a letter, IMHO.

    I suspect nobody looks at that Wikipage to write Chinese names, the only thing I found interesting there, was using خ for H.

    Sorry for somewhat taking the focus off vocabulary questions, I am almost done!
    Last edited: Nov 5, 2009
  12. Ghabi

    Ghabi AL/OL/Ar/Zh mod

    Hong Kong
    And I don't mean otherwise. My point is only that in a transliteration system, the actual letter choices are not that important. Apparently we're not on the same wave-length, aren't we?;):D

    If I'm told to transcribe Mandarin into Arabic for pramagtic reasons, that's what I'd do:

    j, q, z, c=تس
    zh, ch=تش
    x, s=س
    b, p=ب
    and etc etc

    -Personally I don't connect the pinyin "j-q-x" with the "ch/sh" sounds in English. That's not what I hear, although I'm aware that the Russian Ч/Щ and the Japanese / are transliterated as "ch/sh/shch etc". (Historically, the "j-q-x" series in northern Chinese dialects is only palatalized "z-c-s" and "k-g-h".)
    -There's very little friction when one pronounces the pinyin "h", and some people just pronounce it as an English "h". In Arabic, the friction in خ is sometimes light (as far as I hear), and that may have something to do with syllable structure (whatchamacallit "phonotatics", I don't know:confused:), but the fricative nature of خ seems to me never as weak as the pinyin "h". So I prefer using ه.

    I can't really defend my choices, which are based on real-life experience and gut feelings, not on any linguistic considerations (my linguistic knowledge tends to be nil:eek:). They're not even worth two cents (in yuan, not USD:D), just take them as the prejudice of an undereducated Chinese.;)
    Last edited: Nov 9, 2009
  13. Anatoli Senior Member

    Melbourne, Australia
    Native: русский (Russian), home country: English
    Thanks, Ghabi. This is not so scientific, so don't worry, you don't have to have a linguistic degree. :)

    I have finished translating all provinces, their capitals and major Chinese cities into Arabic using the search + the same patterns.

    You must be right about H, at least, ه is used more often than خ but it is still used in some cases or there are variants. Perhaps, I will change my file to ه.

    For "X" letter ش is used most of the times in real examples, so I'd stick to ش. It's also a recommended pronunciation for pinyinised words in English like Xinjiang (read: Shinjyang). Arabic spelling شينجيانغ is quite established and matches my list.

    تس seems to be always used for c and occasionally for "z". So, Mao Zedong can be written as ماو تسي تونغ or ماو زيدونغ The latter makes c and z different (aspirated/unaspirated), why not use ز, which is not taken? It would be similar to the pinyin way c/z (ts'/ts) and تس/ز (<-)? :)
    I disagree about j, q. Are you sure you are referring to standard Mandarin, not Cantonese or southern dialects?
    Currently for J the most common letter is ج, a few provinces start with J - Jiangsu, Jilin, etc. All transcribed with ج.
    For Q digraph تش is used.


    Basically, ch/zh, q/j pairs are treated as تش and ج but zh is often (not always) is transcribed also as تش.

    Chongqing (read: Choongching in English) - تشونغتشينغ
    The examples with q and ch are real and they don't contradict my table.

    To be consistent I would use تش and ج for ch/zh pair but the trouble is that ZH is occasionally transcribed as تش, perhaps because of the old Wade-Giles system's influence.

    So we have Suzhou - سوجو (agrees with my table) but Guangzhou - قوانغتشو (really old style?) but غوانغجو is also used (agrees with my table).
    Would you agree to have ج to transliterate ZH in place names?
    Last edited: Nov 9, 2009
  14. Ghabi

    Ghabi AL/OL/Ar/Zh mod

    Hong Kong
    I don't really mean some letter choices are better are the others. My stand is actually quite simple (as is fitting to a simpleton:cool:):

    -for a transliteration system, the one on the Arabic Wiki page is good enough for me, because it has a one-to-one mapping between the graphs of the two writing systems in question

    -for pragmatic reasons (say, an Arabic news reporter, who doesn't know Chinese, needs to report a piece of news that contains many Chinese names, and I'm somehow:confused: asked to transcribe the names for him), it's everybody's game. No one is really more correct than another. Just personal preferences. In my last post, I just tried to tell you what I might do, and I didn't mean my choices are "better" than yours in any sense of the word. Others would have their own choices, which are equally valid.:)

    Do I agree with your choices? مئة مئة Is my knowledge of Chinese so bad that I've messed up everything? غالباً لكن الله اعلم ;)
    Last edited: Nov 9, 2009
  15. lietus

    lietus Member

    American English
  16. Maayan Senior Member

    Hi Anatoli,
    The reason for the difference in this example is not a problem with transliteration, but a historical reason: Pekin (or: Peking) بكين is the old name of Beijin (or: Beijing) بيجين
  17. clevermizo Senior Member

    San Diego, CA
    English (USA), Spanish
    It is still most certainly a difference in transliteration. The city has always been pronounced the same in Mandarin (well perhaps not in Middle Chinese:D). Peking is a different transliteration system to render the same name as Beijing, both pronounced [pei.tɕiŋ]. The city was not "renamed."

    The Arabic looks based off the original transliteration in Latin characters. The discrepancy is due to an old transliteration not an old name.
  18. Ghabi

    Ghabi AL/OL/Ar/Zh mod

    Hong Kong
    I believe the name "Peking" came to the Western world when the word 京 was still pronounced as [kiŋ] in the northern dialects. The palatalization of [k], [kʰ], [x] is a rather recent thing, and 京 is still pronounced as [kiŋ] in the southern dialects.

    In Ibn Battuta's work, Beijing is known as خان بالق, which is Mongolian, not Chinese (the Chinese equivalent is 大都).;)
  19. Ah Kwan New Member

    Chinese - China
    This is really an old thread, but let me explain something.

    As Ghabi mentioned, there is absolutely a guideline to transcript Chinese in to Arabic. You can find it easily on a Chinese-Arabic dictionary.

    This guideline is not completely based on the exact pronunciation. One example is the consonant h. Mandarin's h is pronounced as Arabic's خ, but the official guideline usually (not always) uses ه to represent h. I don't know the actual reason for this, but خ doesn't sound really good to my ears, as in خشن، خسارة، خلل. Besides, Chinese people don't really distinguish between خ and ه. For Ghabi's mother tongue, which is Cantonese, people say ه instead of خ.
    Thus geographical names which enjoy the same consonant in Chinese have different transcripts. هاينان is for Hainan (hai-nan), but خنان for Henan (he-nan). In fact, the guideline for he is خه, but the ه is dropped when in the middle of the word.

    Transcripts for places are put together without spaces, but for people there are two systems of transcription. The Chinese foreign ministry's system is to put a space between the family name and the given name (remember that Chinese family names come before given names), and the Xinhua (شينخوا) news agency's system is to put a space between different syllables. For example the Chinese-born-but-now-American singer and star Liu Yifei (who is really pretty by the way) can spelled both ليو يي في and ليو ييفي.

    There are also proper nouns which are not transcripted from Chinese Mandarin. One example is the name of the capital city of Inner Mongolia, Hohhot (by the way once again, how do you read it in French?). It is advised as هوهيهوت by the official guideline which bases this proper noun on Mongolian pronunciation, but it would be هوخهاوته (hu-he-hao-te) if you read it in Mandarin. Similar goes for places in Uyghur-spoken Xinjiang, Tibetan-spoken Tibet, and Cantonese-spoken Hong Kong (and maybe Macao, which is much smaller than many other Chinese cities).

    Another notice is the tone in Chinese Language. There are two provinces which are pronounced exactly the same except for their tones, Shanxi (山西) and Shaanxi (陕西). The former is transcripted as شانشي while the latter is شنشي. (I'm not wrong. I don't know why the English name for 山西, which you can notice it by the first character being like mountains and in fact it means mountain(s), is Shanxi with one a and Shaanxi for 陕西 with a double a, but the Arabic transcription just drops the ا in the latter and adds one in the former.)

    So, go for the official guideline. Hope this will help.

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