I am working on an art project that I would like to collect the hundreds of different transliterations of 「中文」 zhōng wén in Mandarin Chinese. (Pronunciation available here: https://translate.google.com/#zh-CN/de/中文)

How can I transliterate zhōng wén in Esperanto? (For example, "zhong wen" would be the closest pronunciation in English.)

3 Answers 3


The IPA pronunciation seems to be /ʈ͡ʂʊ˥ŋwə˧˥n/. I will have to ignore the tones, since I don't see any way to clearly transliterate these.

The first sound /ʈ͡ʂ/ is closest to /t͡ʃ/, so this would be ⟨ĉ⟩. The vowel /ʊ/ is closest to /u/ in Esperanto, so ⟨u⟩. Since /ŋ/ only could occur before /ɡ/ or /k/ in Esperanto you can choose to transliterate it as ⟨ng⟩, which would be pronounced /nɡ~ŋɡ/, or ⟨n⟩, which would become /n/. Then /w/ corresponds to ⟨ŭ⟩, and, even though it normally wouldn't come at the start of a syllable, it is the closest thing we have; /v/ really would not fit as well. Then /ə/ also does not exist in Esperanto, but I reckon /ɛ~e/ (⟨e⟩) is the closest thing we have. Finally /n/ is just /n/ in Esperanto as well.

Putting this all together we'd get ‘ĉung ŭen’ (/t͡ʃunɡ we̞n ~ t͡ʃuŋɡ we̞n/) or ‘ĉun ŭen’ (/t͡ʃun we̞n/). So that seems reasonably close.


This one is really easy. As Tomaso Alexander would say, Esperanto Wasn't Born Yesterday™.

From 1950 onwards, the monthly magazine El Popola Ĉinio provided transliterations of scores of Chinese names in every issue, using an own system which was very close to pinyin.

Nowadays it exists only as a website and pinyin is used instead of Esperanto transliterations. The paper magazine switched between pinyin and its own system several times through the decades, so the latter is well documented. There is also a page in Vikipedio: Esperantigo de vortoj el ĉina fonto (“Esperantization of Words from Chinese sources”), which isn’t presently 100% correct, but is nonetheless very informative, and mostly correct.

A little-known curiosity is that the linguists who devised pinyin were well aware of the existence of Esperanto, and they even proposed the Esperanto-inspired letters ĉ, ẑ, ŝ as admissible variants of the pinyin digraphs ch, zh, sh: they are official to this day, but in fact they are never used (and never were.)

The Esperantization system which El Popola Ĉinio used before finally switching to pinyin is based on the same principles as pinyin and does not attempt to have Esperantists mimick the Chinese pronunciation, but to have them use a system with regular sound correspondences with the indigenous Mandarin one, at least theoretically, and disregarding tones. It is the only non-pinyin system with a place in Esperanto history.

In short, in that system 中文 is ĝong ŭen, or possibly ĝongŭen if you write zhōngwén as one word in pinyin (it is somewhat subjective: but the rule for the EPĈ system is clear: just divide the words as in pinyin.)

  • Haha - I didn't notice the reference to my slogan till just now. Thanks for thinking of me. You're right. Esperanto Wasn't Born Yesterday™. Some objections are not new. Many problems have already been considered. Aug 6, 2017 at 19:11

I like the thought of transliterating things here, but there are a lot of conventions that will need to be kept. Of course, where there are j's in Mandarin making ĝ sounds, we should use ĝ; but zh, which a similar but not the same sound would not really be transliterated any differently than it already is. Of course the letter y would also become a j in this instance as well. The letter ŭ would also take the place of the w.

That's the biggest issue. Ch can become ĉ, but q cannot because it is effectively a different sound. Same goes with a lot of other letters like sh VS x.

As for the tones, you can use either the diacritical marks as is the convention or use the numbers 1 through 5, which also works fine (although it isn't as nice to read).

In all honesty though, other than the changes I made above (unless I am forgetting something critical), there won't be a big difference between modern pinyin and Esperanta pinyin--and nor should there be.

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