Fuzzy Pinyin

This is a screenshot from the Google Pinyin installer:


If you’re learning Mandarin for real, sooner or later you’re going to need to experience the rich variety in pronunciation that Greater China has to offer. This simple “fuzzy pinyin” options screen gives you an idea of what’s out there. (Speakers that can’t differentiate between z/zh, r/l, f/h, etc. typically can’t properly type the pinyin for the words that contain those sounds in standard Mandarin, so fuzzy pinyin input saves them a lot of frustration.)


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. Are those options new to the Google Pinyin tool? It looks like the version available now is new. The last time I checked it didn’t support 64-bit Vista, but it does now (a bit late IMO). At least they are keeping it somewhat up to date.

    For what it’s worth the IME that comes with Windows Vista also includes fuzzy pinyin options. I don’t recall seeing them in the IME in XP.

  2. I remember once sitting behind a Shanghainese coworker during a meeting snooping on him preparing Powerpoint slides about market research for a feminine products company. He was like ‘wei shen jin,’ didn’t find it, ‘wei shen jing,’ didn’t find it, before finally working out ‘wei sheng jin.’

    Deep down, that made me really, really happy.

  3. Another one of my favorite ‘fuzzy pinyin’ incidents was one of our mutual former coworkers that was from somewhere in central China and swapped ‘l’ and ‘n.’ We were waiting for the bathroom (of which there was only one), and he was like “不会是蓝人,肯定是绿人.” My wife and I still joke about blue and green people.

  4. I didn’t realize this was what fuzzy pinyin was for. I always thought it was a set of shortcuts, but it makes total sense.

    For me the “yes” moment came when I (in Shanghai) realized that I was differentiating between 四 and 十 based on tone rather than on s/sh. A small victory, but very satisfying.

  5. looks like it’s set for someone from Fujian

  6. Yeah, those input methods are practically made for Taiwan. The secretary at my old school had problems with every single one of those combinations. The whole z/zh, s/sh, c/ch distinction is weak even amongst Taipei city, mono-lingual Mandarin speakers. Pronouncing ng as n is also rampant. Then, as you get out of the city into areas with more Taiwanese and Hakkanese speakers, initial r sounds become l sounds and in full-blown southern “go-yu” f turns into h and the g/k distinction gets confused.

    I used to hate that when I was studying at a language center and listening to “standard” Mandarin on textbook CDs, but now I really enjoy the accent.

  7. I can definitely see how s/sh would be a problem for people from the Fujian province. I think the Fujianese accent is hilarious because I use the Chinese name “星儿,” which gets pronounced like the English word “singer.”

  8. Glad to see a post about my favorite 輸入法. Oh and I’m using it on Windows 7, works perfectly. 🙂

  9. It’s widespread enough that it’s common even in transliterations. Snape, from Harry Potter is 石內卜 (Shínèibǔ). For that matter the word “bus” is written as 巴士 (bāshì).

  10. are there any tools for firefox or chrome that give you the pinyin pronunciation of hanzi characters .. lets say by hovering the mouse on top?

  11. I think I’m pretty loyal to Sogou’s system at this point, but part of it is because of the cute skins it has: Famous people, cartoons, Chinese art, and even 囧. I think it’s also easy to use and knows what I want to type at least as often as Google did. (As it should, since Google supposedly got it’s vocab from Sogou.)

  12. Little Cheese Says: September 9, 2009 at 6:17 am

    It would be interesting if there was something similar out there for the variety of pronunciation in English… For instance: type “Birfday” or “Burfday” and get “birthday” or, “ax” and get “ask.”

  13. Lil’ Cheese, it’s called the spell check.

  14. first, exactly what micah sittig said. the past year of my left has been spent knowing that different by tone alone. it’s done wonders for my recognition of tones, though.

    second, little cheese: not sure you can compare it 1:1. if you pushed someone who says “aks” to say it ‘properly’, they could. ask a Nanjingren to say “Nanjing” instead of “Lanjing”, they’ll often still say “Lanjing” but swear they’re saying it just like you asked. that, and the fact that writing chinese in pinyin isn’t really common and a modern invention to boot. one that’s not had quite the reach that english grammar books have in the united states.

  15. […] An IME made for Jiangnan September 9 2009 0 comments John over at SInosplice recently published a screenshot of the Google Pinyin IME showing the options for the fuzzy pinyin feature. It allows Mandarin […]

  16. Not really sure how practical this is. Most of my friends in Fujian, who never distinguish between r and l, f and h, and couldn’t pronounce sh, zh, ch to save their lives, have no problem at all when it comes to typing. Just because they don’t commonly use it in everyday speech, doesn’t mean they necessarily don’t know the difference. Most of them learned it in elementary school, forgot it as they got older, then just relearned it again (without much effort) when computers and cell phones became the main avenues of communication. Plus, I’m trying to imagine the extra drag this would cause when combining say, all the “si” and “shi” together.

  17. LOL @ KP

  18. @Ben Ross: That’s true. There are so many choices for “shi” that there’s a poem that’s nothing but “shi” over and over. Add in “si” and looking for the right character would be extra time-consuming. Adding, say, “kei” and “gei” together wouldn’t be so bad, though.

  19. are there any tools for firefox or chrome that give you the pinyin pronunciation of hanzi characters .. lets say by hovering the mouse on top?

    Yes! http://perapera.wordpress.com/

  20. There are so many choices for “shi” that there’s a poem that’s nothing but “shi” over and over.


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