Interesting phonetic transcription for the PLA

A handful of people on Twitter (@raykwong @TomLasseter @hancocktom @kinablog) posted a link to a “Military English Learning” page. It’s essentially questions for interrogations. Other than useful questions like “Do you know our lenient policy towards POWs?” (你知道我们宽待俘虏的政策吗), I noticed an interesting phonetic transcription system at the bottom of the page. The sample terms are as follows:

belong to /bI5lCN tu/ 属于
enlist v. /In5lIst/ 参军,报名
interrogation n. /In7terE5^eIFEn/ 审问
nationality n. /7nAFE5nAlEtI/ 国籍
occupation n. [7CkjJ5peIFEn/ 职业
post n./pEJst/ 职务
rank n./rANk/ 军衔
strength n./streNW/ 军力,兵力
vanguard n./5vAn^B:d/ 先头部队

I was confused by the 5’s at first, but then realised it was marking the primary stress, wile 7 marks the secondary stress. It’s pretty great actually, if all you have is a typewriter or the kind of computer systems admins that think using IE6 is even remotely acceptable.

D-Day n. /5di:deI/ 预定进攻发起日
follower n. /5fClEJE/ 追随者;信徒
highlight vt. /5haIlaIt/ 使突出;强调

The thing I immediately thought of was Arabic as it’s often typed with Latin letters. That’s the only other place I’m used to seeing 5s and 7s mixed in. For Arabic, 7 stands in for ħ and 5 for ṣ for a similar appearance to ح and ص.

If anyone knows what this system is called or has any more information about it, I’d love to know.

It’s a PLA-run website, so expect the usual broken links and server side errors.

Update: jdmartinsen pointed out that it’s not a system but instead is something much more boring. I feel a little like the guy who stares at newspapers trying to pick out the secret code left by the shadow government. Oh well. Nothing to see here folks, move along.

Enjoy the contents of PLA interrogation methods instead.

2 responses to “Interesting phonetic transcription for the PLA”

  1. jdmartinsen says:

    I don’t think this is a system, really. It’s just a pre-unicode means of displaying IPA. Looking at the source, the phonetics are wrapped in font tags specifying Kingsoft Phonetic Plain; pulling an entry at random from Kingsoft’s dictionary, the pronunciation for “nationality” is given as [ˌnæʃəˈnæləti]. With that font installed, /7nAFE5nAlEtI/ renders in nice IPA symbols. Install the font and watch the magic happen:

    • Kellen says:

      Ahh, good catch. You’re right. Thanks.

      And it’s still consistent with what I’d expect in adherence to web design standards from the PLA.

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