2017-01-15

周有光

周有光, Zhōu Yǒuguāng, passed away yesterday. He is famous for being the head of the committee which invented Hànyǔ Pīnyīn. Pīnyīn is the most widely used method of writing Standard Chinese in a Latin script alphabet, as well as the only official such system in the People's Republic of China. Pīnyīn is purely based on the sounds of the language, rather than roots or meaning. Each consonant sound is matched to a single letter or combination of letters, while each mark above a vowel represents a specific tone (tone marking is sometimes eliminated for typing convenience, but this is considered bad practice). The vowels are more complicated (see the Wikipedia page for a more accurate and expanded explanation), but there still is a one-to-one correspondence between sound and spelling. For example, Pīnyīn is actually the Pīnyīn representation of 漢語 (or 汉语 in simplified characters). 漢 is represented by "pīn", while 語 is represented by "yīn". 周有光 breaks down as 周 = "zhōu", 有 = "yǒu", 光 = "guāng".
The project of creating the script took several years before it was published by the government in 1958. This project helped 周有光 avoid being purged, but, like other intellectuals, he was sent to live in the countryside for “re-education” during the Cultural Revolution. He turned 111 the day before he died.
Pictures:
1920s With his wife in 1953
In 2012

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