A new phonetic writing systemWritten by Julen Madariaga on September 26th, 2009
The other day I saw a tourist bus from Nanjing that caught my eye. On one side the name of the travel company was written in Chinese characters, and below it there was a text written in a mysterious language:
“ISGNOG NAIXUOY EHCIQ UOYVL NAITGNEH GNIJ NAN”
Initially I thought it must be Uyghur, but then I realized the combination of letters was bizarre even for that language, and it led to some diabolical phonetics. A satanic chant? A magic formula? After a while I was too curious to leave, so I had to ask the tour guide who was sitting inside.
Can you guess the language before you continue?
It is easier to see with the picture. Simple: it is just a new brand of phonetic writing called reverse pinyin. It is used with characters when they are written right to left, usually for coolness, or else for easy reading when on the side of a public transport. In the boring, out-dated pinyin that they teach in school, it looks something like this:
“Nanjing hengtian lvyou youxian gongsi”
(Nanjing Hengtian travel Co. Ltd.)
What I found most interesting is that to the guide, and also to my Chinese friend, it didn’t look weird at all. It was unusual perhaps, like right to left characters, but not striking to the eye.
Which made me think that people brought up in Chinese characters must read letters in a different way than us. We see “Ehciq” and picture it as a whole, very weird word that is even scary to pronounce. The Chinese read that rather as 5 separate characters E-H-C-I-Q, which can be mentally processed without difficulty no matter the direction of the text…