A Comment on the Use of Hyphens to Aggregate Pinyin Syllables

Karl Lo
University of California, San Diego

Using hyphens to aggregate syllables is redundant, and probably not allowed by Chinese rules. In most cases, aggregated compounds without hyphens can be re-divided mechanically back into single syllables. For example, even a long name such as "zhong guo ke xue yuan wu li yan jiu suo" may be aggregated without hyphens in any manner and can still be systematically and accurately separated into single syllables.

In case of ambiguity, apostrophes, not hyphens, should be used as division marks. Examples are piao or pi'ao; Xian or Xi'an; Changan or Chang'an; etc. The rule is in the Hanyu pinyin fang'an (Scheme for the Chnese Phonetic Alphabet) as found in dictionaries such as the Pinyin Chinese-English Dictionary, edited by Beijing Waiguoyu Xueyuan Yingyuxi. 1978.

There may be an issue of the ease of reading. Whether "Hanyu pinyin fang'an" is easier to read than "Han-yu pin-yin fang-an" or "Hanyupinyin fang'an" is probably a matter of personal choices.

The accuracy in the separation of non-hyphenated compounds into single syllables is not an issue. Hyphens, therefore in my opinion, should not be used as division marks.

Copyright © 1996 Karl Lo.
Originally posted on EastLib. Republished in CLIEJ on October 21, 1996.