CIS Professor Jonathan Stalling Awarded Chinese Patent for Interlanguage Algorithm


The College of International Studies is pleased to announce that IAS Professor Jonathan Stalling was recently awarded a Chinese Patent for his invention that uses Chinese characters to encode English speech sounds without disruptive effects. The newly patented algorithm recovers a 1,500-year-old Chinese linguistic method known as “fan-qie” (反切) which “cuts” Chinese characters into “consonants and vowels.” Stalling updated and applied this technique to create an algorithm that uses a simple set of 42 common Chinese characters to transcribe every phoneme (smallest speech sound) of over 120,000 English words and phrases.


With the support of OU's Innovation Ecosystem, including the Ronnie K. Irani Center for the Creation of Economic Wealth (I-CCEW), Innovation Hub, OU Libraries, OTC and multiple colleges, the algorithm was used to create an English learning app for Chinese speakers called Pinying. Stalling developed the app through rapid prototyping and testing in OU’s Innovation Hub and Edge creative labs, and a team of I-CCEW student interns assisted with market research and the commercialization process. Pinying was patented and launched by the University of Oklahoma in 2016, and is currently available on the Apple App Store. In 2017, the I-CCEW presented Stalling with their annual Best Inventor Award for the project.

The story of Stalling's invention, which uses ancient technologies to bridge the world's two most popular languages, became the subject of a traveling art exhibition, “Poetics of Invention,” which ran from 2017-2018 on the main floor of Bizzell Memorial Library at OU, and is currently on display at the University of Missouri – Kansas City. It is also the subject of a forthcoming art book, edited by California State University, Fullerton Professor Chen Wang. The book is under contract with Hong Kong University Art Museum Press. (See below for a selection of photos from the book.)

Jonathan Stalling is Professor of International Studies and Harold J. and Ruth Newman Chair in US-China Issues in the Department of International & Area Studies. He is also Co-Director of the Institute for US-China Issues at OU, which seeks to enhance the understanding and management of US-China relations, a founding editor of Chinese Literature Today magazine and book series, and the Curator of the Chinese Literature Translation Archive at the University of Oklahoma Library.

To learn more about the newly patented algorithm and the Pinying app, visit the Poetics of Invention page on the OU Libraries website. To dig deeper into Stalling’s work, you can watch his TEDxOU Talk, “How Chinese Characters Can Change Language Education.”



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