Did you know that Zhou Youguang was born today in 1906? He was an economist, author, and linguist. A linguist studies language. The written Chinese language uses logographs where one character represents a word, instead of phonographs where a character represents a sound. From 1955-1958, Zhou Youguang developed Pinyin, a system or guidelines on how to ‘write’ the sounds a Chinese character makes using a western alphabet. In the 1980’s Zhou Youguang worked to translate the Encyclopedia Britannica into Chinese. Zhou Youguang wrote more than 40 books about the Chinese language and culture, at least 10 of them were written after he turned 100. He lived to be 111 years old.
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During his university studies and later for work Zhou Youguang lived in Japan, England, and the United States.
While in the United States, Zhou Youguang met Albert Einstein twice.
Zhou Youguang studied Esperanto.
Zhou Youguang was friends with Zhou Enlai.
In 1955 Zhou Youguang was asked to lead a committee to improve literacy in the China. Initially Zhou Youguang was tasked with updating or reforming the written Chinese language. One method was to try to develop a new alphabet for the Chinese language.
Zhou Youguang is sometimes called the “Father of Pinyin”. It took about 3 years to develop. For his work translating the Encyclopedia Britannica, he is also known as “Encyclopedia Zhou”.
Zhou Youguang’s pinyin is not the first romanization system. Another is the Wade-Giles system developed in the 1800s.
During the Cultural Revolution, Zhou Youguang was sent to a ‘re-education’ camp. He spent two years working in a labor camp along with other intellectuals.
The written English languages uses phonograms, where each character generally represents a sound. Each character does not represent a word, but when combined with other characters, forms a word that has meaning.