Old National Pronunciation

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The Old National Pronunciation (simplified Chinese: 老国音; traditional Chinese: 老國音; pinyin: lǎo guóyīn) was the system established for the phonology of standard Chinese as decided by the Commission on the Unification of Pronunciation from 1913 onwards, and published in the 1919 edition of the Dictionary of National Pronunciation. Although it was mainly based on the phonology of the Beijing dialect, it was also influenced by historical forms of northern Mandarin as well as other varieties of Mandarin and even some varieties of Wu Chinese. The artificial nature of the system caused some debate among intellectuals after its publication, and in 1926 a decision was made to normalize the pronunciations to the natural pronunciations found in Beijing, which resulted in a revised Vocabulary of National Pronunciation for Everyday Use published in 1932.[1]


There are three features of the Old National Pronunciation that would distinguish it from the Beijing dialect:

  1. Three more initials, derived from the initials of Middle Chinese: /v/, as two initials, /ŋ/ and /ɲ/.
  2. The preservation of the "round-sharp distinction" (simplified Chinese: 尖团音; traditional Chinese: 尖團音; pinyin: jiān-tuán yīn) as a phonemic contrast in front of the front vowels /i/ and /y/ between affricates and sibilant fricatives of the alveolo-palatal series (/tɕ, tɕʰ, ɕ/) and an alveolar (/ts, tsʰ, s/) series, respectively.
  3. The preservation of the checked tone (simplified Chinese: 入声; traditional Chinese: 入聲; pinyin: rùshēng); although how it was to be realized was not specifically detailed in the original dictionary, it was often given the form that the Nanjing dialect of Mandarin had at the time.


First the zhuyin fuhao is given, followed by the IPA symbol, then the modern pinyin equivalent where applicable.

Chart of Initials
Bilabial Alveolar Retroflex (Alveolo)-
Voiceless Voiced Voiceless Voiced
Nasal [m] m [n] n [ɲ] [ŋ]
Stop Unaspirated [p] b [t] d [k] g
Aspirated [pʰ] p [tʰ] t [kʰ] k
Affricate Unaspirated [ts] z [ʈʂ] zh [] j
Aspirated [tsʰ] c [ʈʂʰ] ch [tɕʰ] q
Fricative [f] f| [v] [s] s [ʂ] sh [ʐ] r [ɕ] x [x] h
Lateral [l] l


Simple finals
Zhuyin Fuhao
IPA [i] [u] [y] [a] [ɔ] [ɤ] [ɛ] [aɪ] [eɪ] [ɑʊ] [oʊ] [an] [ən] [ɑŋ] [əŋ] [əɻ]
Pinyin equivalent i u ü a o e ê ai ei au ou an en ang eng er
Compound Finals
ㄧㄚ ㄧㄛ ㄧㄝ ㄧㄞ ㄧㄠ ㄧㄡ ㄧㄢ ㄧㄣ ㄧㄤ ㄧㄥ
[ia] [iɔ] [iɛ] [iaɪ] [iɑʊ] [iɔʊ] [iɛn] [in] [iɑŋ] [iŋ]
ia (io) ie (iai) iau iu ian in iang ing
ㄨㄚ ㄨㄛ ㄨㄞ ㄨㄟ ㄨㄢ ㄨㄣ ㄨㄤ ㄨㄥ
[ua] [uɔ] [uaɪ] [ueɪ] [uan] [uən] [uɑŋ] [uɤŋ]
ua uo/o uai ui/wei uan un uang ong
ㄩㄛ ㄩㄝ ㄩㄢ ㄩㄣ ㄩㄥ
[yɔ] [yœ̜] [yœ̜n] [yn] [iʊŋ]
(üo) üe üan ün iong


There are five tones in the Old National Pronunciation, which are classified thus according to their descent from the four tones of Middle Chinese: dark level (陰平), light level (陽平), rising (), departing (), entering (). Though there are exceptions, these correspond to the four tones as found in Middle Chinese rime tables, dependent on the nature of the initial:

Initial in Middle Chinese Tone in Old National Pronunciation
Voiceless consonants: 見、溪、端、透、知、徹、幫、滂、非、敷、精、清、心、照、穿、審、影、曉 In the level tone (), these become dark level (陰平). Those in the rising, departing and entering tones do not change.
Voiced sonorants: 疑、泥、娘、明、微、喻、匣、來、日 In the level tone (), these become light level (陽平). Those in the rising, departing and entering tones do not change.
Voiced obstruents: 羣、定、澄、並、奉、從、邪、牀、禪 In the level tone (), these become light level (陽平). In the rising tone (), these become departing (). Those already in the departing tone as well as those in the entering tone do not change.

The actual phonetic values of these tones were not prescribed in the 1919 edition of the Dictionary of National Pronunciation. Although various proposals of merging values from different areas of China were raised, the de facto standard was to use the tonal system of Beijing, and to simply read the entering tone (which the Beijing dialect lacked as a distinctive tone) as a shortened departing tone, falling in nature, as shown from sets of gramophone recordings of Wang Pu, a member of the Commission, and of noted linguist Yuen Ren Chao.[2]

Phonetic Symbols

The notation utilized to indicate the prescribed pronunciation was zhuyin fuhao, as adopted by the Commission on the Unification of Pronunciation. The tone system used at the time was different to the modern version, however: the dark level tone was unmarked, and the light level, rising, departing and entering tone each had a single dot marked at the bottom left, top left, top right and bottom right corners respectively.

海納百川有容乃大 老國音.svg


  1. Chen, Ping (1999). Modern Chinese: History and Sociolinguistics (1st ed.). Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press. pp. 16–19. ISBN 9780521645720.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Ramsey, S. Robert (1989). The languages of China (2nd print., with revisions, and 1st Princeton pbk. print.. ed.). Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press. p. 9. ISBN 9780691014685.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links