14 January: Tribute to Zhou Youguang
Image Courtesy: Google Doodle
Zhou Youguang (13 January 1906 – 14 January 2017) was a Chinese linguist and sinologist who is known as the “father of Pinyin,” the official romanization system for Standard Chinese. He developed the system in the 1950s and it was later adopted by the government as the official method for transcribing Chinese characters into the Latin alphabet. It was officially adopted by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) in 1982, and the United Nations in 1986. Zhou’s work on Pinyin greatly helped to promote the widespread use of written Chinese and Chinese education.
Life and Career
Zhou Youguang was born in Changzhou, China on 13 January 1906 and studied economics at Shanghai University. After graduation, he worked in various jobs in the banking and finance sector. He later went to the United States to study at the University of London and Columbia University, where he earned a Ph.D. in economics.
In the 1950s, Zhou was asked to participate in a government project to create a new system for transcribing Chinese characters into the Latin alphabet. He took on the role of chief editor for the project, which resulted in the development of Pinyin. Pinyin was officially adopted by the Chinese government as the official romanization system for Standard Chinese in 1958.
Pinyin greatly helped to promote the widespread use of written Chinese, and Chinese education. Zhou’s work on Pinyin greatly contributed to the promotion of literacy in China and the teaching of Chinese as a second language.
After the development of Pinyin, Zhou continued to work as a linguist and sinologist, writing more than 40 books on various topics related to language, culture, and history. He was also a leading advocate for language reform in China, and later in life became a vocal critic of the Chinese government’s censorship policies. He passed away on 14 January 2017 at the age of 111.
Award and Legacy
Zhou Youguang received many awards and honors for his contributions to the field of linguistics and sinology. In 1984, he was awarded the title of “Outstanding Scientist” by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and in 1986 he received the “Special Contribution Award” from the International Phonetic Association. In 2001, he was awarded the “Linguapax Prize” for his contributions to the promotion of linguistic and cultural diversity.
His legacy is the Pinyin system, which is now widely used in China and around the world as the standard method for romanizing Chinese characters. It has been instrumental in promoting literacy and education in China, and in making the Chinese language more accessible to non-native speakers. Pinyin has also been adopted by the United Nations and many other international organizations as the standard for transcribing Chinese. Zhou’s work on Pinyin has helped to bridge the gap between different cultures and languages and has greatly contributed to the understanding and study of Chinese culture and history.
On 13 January 2018, Google Doodle celebrated Zhou Youguang’s 112th Birthday.