I found out this really cool way to write Pinyin while browsing the Chinese Stack Exchange (ps. which you guys must join!). It’s called Tonally Orthographic Pinyin. Its main aim is to make tone marks redundant. The creator said this:

The TOP system is redundantly marked for tones: with colors, with capital and small letters, and with the standard Hanyu Pinyin tone marks.

So, where you would get “Nǐ huì shuō yīngwén ma?” in TOP it would be “ Huì SHUŌ YĪNGwéN ma*?”

Now at first it might seem a bit messy and crazy. All over the place. BUT, I think this is clever idea to some extent. I might not be a fan of the redundancy, but the capital letters is so genius actually. In fact, you could write Pinyin without tone marks, without colors, with numbers just by capitalization!

Take that above example: ”Nǐ huì shuō yīngwén ma?”

This would be: “ni Hui SHUO YINGweN ma*? (I marked the neutral tone with a asterisk).

This is useful, because it allows conveying tone without any other additional markings/colors, but in facts takes traits of normal English/Alphabetic Orthographic behaviour and utilizes that. This means, that I could also write this using a normal keyboard or on my phone that does not support Chinese characters (or Pinyin).

Another benefit is the fact that according to the creator, capitalization creates a mnemonic effect for tones levels.

  • First tone is "high", thus all is capitalized: SHUO
  • Second tone is "going up", this the last letter is capitalized: weN
  • Third tone is "low", this nothing is capitalized: ni
  • Fourth tone is "going down", thus the first letter is capitalized: Hui

Not everyone will like this, and I’ve had my gripes with Pinyin before, but this is an interesting adaptation (I won’t say solution) to reading tones in an alphabetic script.

What do you think?