Google Doodle has used its homepage to celebrate what would have been the 112th birthday of Zhou Youguang – the creator of the spelling system of Chinese Pinyin. Sunday marks the first anniversary of Zhou’s death as the world has been remembering and paying more tributes to honor the renowned Chinese linguist.
Known as the "father of Pinyin" who developed the Romanization of Mandarin Chinese characters, Zhou Youguang was born in Changzhou City of east China's Jiangsu Province on January 13, 1906. He spent his early years studying economics and used to work on Wall Street as an economist before starting his career as a linguist.
It wasn’t until 1955 when he truly began to work on the reform of Pinyin – a phonetic translation of Chinese characters using the Roman alphabets. Zhou was appointed as the head of the Chinese Commission for Language Reform to develop the spelling system of Pinyin. After three years of hard work, the committee completed the project, and Pinyin was officially adopted by the Chinese government in 1958, and the United Nations in 1986.
"Pinyin is not to replace Chinese characters; it is a help to Chinese characters," Zhou explained in an interview with The Guardian. "Without an alphabet you had to learn mouth to mouth, ear to ear."
With the help of Pinyin, China’s literacy rate saw drastic increase starting form the early 20th century. Zhou once said the speed of the popularization of Pinyin was incredible, because it was not only used in education but also in industry and commerce. According to The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), China’s current literacy rate hovers at about 95 percent.
Today, Pinyin is adopted by hundreds of millions of Chinese people. Schoolchildren in China are first taught to learn Pinyin as a predecessor to studying the complex Chinese characters. It is also most frequently used on smartphones and computers as a way to input characters.
The Pinyin spelling system has become a key for the world to better understand China and its rich culture and heritage. Without Zhou’s efforts and great contributions, the international standard for Romanized Chinese would never have come to life. "The world would still be referring to Beijing as Peking," Google Doodle wrote on its blog on Saturday. "The new system transformed China’s literacy rate, providing more natural passage into the written language, which requires mastering thousands of characters. It bridged multiple Chinese dialects with its shared designations of sound."
Google also honored Zhou’s accomplishment by changing its logo to the animated doodle – it shows Google’s name in Pinyin characters (Gǔgē) flipping to Chinese characters (谷歌) and also leads to a search of the storied linguist.
In addition to Pinyin, Zhou continued to pursue his love and passion of language throughout his life. After 1980, Zhou worked on translating the Encyclopedia Britannica into Chinese, earning him the nickname "Encyclopedia Zhou." He has also authored over 40 books, and more than 10 of them were published after he turned 100 years old in 2005.
The creator of Chinese Pinyin passed away on January 14, 2017 at his home in Beijing, a day after his 111th birthday.