Back to Index

Pandas and Pinyin Xiongmao



Bill Ratliff usually writes explicit scholarly messages, wo I was shocked to receive one that simply said "xiongmao.", I thought he was cursing me, but, since I had done nothing to offend him, I decided he must be talking about John Mao, some relative of Mao. I asked him : "What does this Delphic word mean? Your messages are usually longer". Bill explained: "Ah ha, so Chinese is Greek to you! Yep, I usually go on. That is the answer to your question, how to you say panda in Chinese: xiongmao. And it is an illustration of how little use critical parts of the pinyin romanization system are as a pronunciation guide for those who don't already know the language and/or the specific and unexpected pronunciation rules. If I had to "spell" it more phonetically, it would be roughly sheyoung mao, which doesn't quite get it either but comes a lot closer. In initial sounds conveyed by pinyin, for example, are roughly as follows:

c = "ts" in cats
Paul earlier mentioned a historical figure, Cao Cao in pinyin, more phonetically (and formerly) romanized Tsao Tsao

q = "ch" in cheese
as in Qin dynasty, when Terracotta soldier emperor lived

x = "shey" in banshee with a yeh at the end
xiongmao

z = "dz" in cards
Mao Zedong

zh = dg in fudge
Zhou Enlai

So why didn't pinyin use Ts, ch, shey, dz and dg, which would immediately convey much more nearly the sound to most westerners who must rely on a romanization? Ask the Great Helmsman."

My reply: He is, thank heaven, swimming in heavenly waters, or stuck permanently in the Yennan of hell. The word "panda" apparently comes from Nepal, where they speak Indo-European dialects.

Ronald Hilton - 12/24/01


Webmaster