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Chinese language romanization


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Zhyīn Fho (注音符號), or "Symbols for Annotating Sounds", often abbreviated as Zhuyin, or known as Bopomofo (ㄅㄆㄇㄈ) after the first four letters of this Chinese phonemic alphabet, is the national phonetic system of the Republic of China for teaching the Chinese languages, especially Standard Mandarin, to people learning to read and write and/or to people learning to speak Mandarin. (See Uses). The system uses 37 special symbols to represent the Mandarin sounds: 21 consonants and 16 vowels. Each symbol represents a group of sounds without much ambiguity.



The Commission on the Unification of Pronunciation, led by Woo Tsin-hang from 1912 to 13, created a system called Guoyin Zimu (國音字母 "National Pronunciation Letters") or Zhuyin Zimu (註音字母 or 注音字母 "Sound-annotating Letters") which is based on Zhang Binglin's shorthands. (For differences with the Zhang system, see Commission on the Unification of Pronunciation#Phonetic symbols.) A draft was released on July 11, 1913 by the Republic of China National Ministry of Education, but it was not officially proclaimed until November 23, 1918. Zhuyin Zimu was renamed to Zhuyin Fuhao in April 1930. The use of Zhuyin Fuhao has continued after 1949 on Taiwan and its outlying islands under ROC sovereignty. On the Chinese mainland, Zhuyin Fuhao was superseded by the pinyin system promulgated by the People's Republic of China.

The ROC Education Ministry has attempted for many years to phase out the use of Zhuyin in favor of a system based on Roman characters (see MPS II). However, this transition has been extremely slow due to the difficulty in teaching elementary school teachers a new Roman-based system.

Keyboard layout

Missing image
A typical keyboard layout for Zhuyin

Symbol origins

There was no official document explaining the details of the origins of the characters, but they are apparent if you understand some basic Chinese characters. The zhuyin symbols are mainly fragments of characters that contain the sound that each symbol represents. For example:

  • ㄅ (b) ← 包 (bāo)
  • ㄋ (n) ← 乃 (nǎi)
  • ㄒ (x) ← 下 (xi)
  • ㄙ (s) ← 私 (sī)
  • ㄝ () ← 也 (yě)
  • ㄞ (ai) ← 亥 (hi)
  • ㄟ (ei) ← 飛 (fēi)
  • ㄦ (er) ← 兒 (r)

A few were made by adding additional strokes, for example:

  • ㄉ (d) ← 刀 (dāo)
  • ㄌ (l) ← 力 (l)
  • ㄘ (c) ← 七 (ci, now pronounced )

A few are virtually identical to Chinese characters still in use, for example:

  • ㄧ (i) ← 一 (yī)
  • ㄚ (a) ← 丫 (yā)

Many are nearly entirely identical to radicals with the same sounds, for example:

  • ㄆ (p) ← 攵 (pū)
  • ㄇ (m) ← 冂 (jiōng) which does not have the same sound, but it exists in 冒 (mu) and 冪 (m)
  • ㄈ (f) ← 匚 (fāng)
  • ㄎ (k) ← 丂 (kǎo)
  • ㄏ (h) ← 厂 (hǎn)
  • ㄗ (z) ← 卩 (zi, now pronounced ji)
  • ㄕ (sh) ← 尸 (shī)
  • ㄤ (ang) ← 尢 (wāng)
  • ㄩ () ← 凵 (qū)
  • ㄡ (ou) ← 又 (yu)
  • ㄖ (r) ← 日 (r)
  • ㄔ (chi) ← 彳 (ch)

Other symbols, mostly vowel symbols, are based entirely or partly on obsolete variants of characters, for example:

  • ㄅ (b) ← 勹 (bāo); old form of 包
  • ㄨ (u) ← 五 (wǔ); likely a derivative of the seal script Missing image

  • ㄓ (zh) ← 之 (zhī); also a derivative of the character's seal script variant.
  • ㄠ (ao) ← 么 (yāo); an entirely obsolete character, root of 麼

There are still others that are totally unlike any known symbols, but were designed to look like, and be written in the same style as, Chinese characters. The zhuyin characters usually are represented in typographic fonts as if drawn with an ink brush (as in Regular Script).


These phonetic symbols sometimes appear as ruby characters printed next to the Chinese characters in young children's books, and in editions of classical texts (which frequently use characters that appear at very low frequency rates in newspapers and other such daily fare). In advertisements, these phonetic symbols are sometimes used to write certain particles (e.g., ㄉ instead of 的); other than this, one seldom sees these symbols used in mass media adult publications except as a pronunciation guide (or index system) in dictionary entries. Bopomofo symbols are also mapped to the ordinary Roman character keyboard (1 = bo, q = po, a = mo, and so forth) used in one method for inputting Chinese text when using the computer.

Unlike pinyin, the sole purpose for zhuyin in elementary education is to teach Standard Mandarin pronunciation to children. Grade one textbooks of all subjects (including Mandarin) are entirely in zhuyin. After that year, Chinese character texts are given in annotated form. Around grade four, presence of zhuyin annotation is greatly reduced, remaining only in the new character section. School children learn the symbols so that they can decode pronunciations given in a Chinese dictionary, and also so that they can find how to write words for which they know only the sounds.

Pinyin, on the other hand, is dual-purpose. Besides being a pronunciation notation, pinyin is used widely in publications in mainland China. Some books from mainland China are published purely in pinyin with not even a single Chinese character. Those books are targeted to minority tribal groups or Westerners who know spoken Mandarin but have not yet learned written Chinese characters.

Zhuyin will probably never replace Traditional Chinese just as hiragana has never replaced characters in Japanese texts even though substituting hiragana for characters is always an option. Not only are the characters valued for esthetic and other axiological reasons, but (once they have been learned) reading characters required fewer eye fixations and eliminates the ambiguities in any alphabetic or syllabic writing system caused by the immense number of homonyms in Chinese. (Reading Chinese in a phonetic representation is like trying to understand a spoken English sentence containing a string of homonyms such as: "For afore Forry called four 'Fores!'..." because almost any spelled-out "word" maps to more than one Chinese character. In English, we use different spellings of one sound such as "for" to differentiate the intended meanings. In zhuyin -- minus the word "called" -- that would look something like the following ㄈㄡㄦ ㄚㄈㄡㄦㄈㄡㄦㄧ... ㄈㄡㄦ ㄈㄡㄦㄗ.)

Zhuyin is also used to write some of the aboriginal languages of Taiwan. For these it is a primary writing system, not an ancillary system as it is for Chinese.


Missing image
The boxes represent the outermost extent of the Zhuyin and Hanzi.

graphic version of the tone marks

Zhuyin symbols are written like Chinese characters, including the general order of strokes and positioning. They are always placed to the right of the Chinese characters, whether the characters are arranged vertically or horizontally. Technically, these are Ruby characters. Very rarely do they appear on top of Chinese characters when written horizontally as furigana would be written above kanji in a Japanese text. Because a syllable block contains usually two or three Zhuyin symbols (which themselves fit in a square format) stacked on top of each other, the blocks are rectangular.

The tone marks are similar to the later developed Pinyin tone symbols, except that the first tone has no symbolization at all, and the neutral tone appears as a black dot. The neutral dot is the only mark to be placed on top of the vertical Zhuyin syllable block, the remaining three are in a vertical strip to the right of the character.

The tone marks are sometimes given in Regular Script style, matching the associated Chinese characters, and have the same basic shape as do those of the pinyin tone symbols. However, they vary in detail. The thickened end of Zhuyin's second (rising) tone is always at the lower left, whereas the second tone mark in the pinyin system is a straight line of uniform width. The third tone mark displays the greatest variation.

Zhuyin's tone symbolization was used in the ROC-sponsored romanizations created by the Mandarin Promotion Council. The tone symbols in that system were identical with the zhuyin tone symbols, except that they were not in Regular Style calligraphy, but in a Western font face and so resemble the tone symbols used in pinyin.

Zhuyin vs. Tongyong Pinyin & Hanyu Pinyin

Zhuyin and Pinyin are based on the same Mandarin pronunciations, hence there is a mostly 1-to-1 mapping between the two systems. In the table below, the 'zhuyin' and 'pinyin' columns show equivalency.

【】represents the form used in combination with other symbols.
Zhuyin vs. Pinyin
ZhuyinTongyong PinyinHanyu PinyinWade-GilesExample(Zhuyin,Tongyong)
b b p   八 (ㄅㄚ, ba)
p p p' 杷 (ㄆㄚˊ, pa)
m m m 馬 (ㄇㄚˇ, ma)
f f f 法 (ㄈㄚˋ, fa)
d d t 地 (ㄉㄧˋ, di)
t t t' 提 (ㄊㄧˊ, ti)
n n n 你 (ㄋㄧˇ, ni)
l l l 利 (ㄌㄧˋ, li)
g g k 告 (ㄍㄠˋ, gao)
k k k' 考 (ㄎㄠˇ, kao)
h h h 好 (ㄏㄠˇ, hao)
j j ch 叫 (ㄐㄧㄠˋ, jiao)
c q ch' 巧 (ㄑㄧㄠˇ, ciao)
s x hs 小 (ㄒㄧㄠˇ, siao)
jhih 【jh】 zhi 【zh】 chih 【ch】  主 (ㄓㄨˇ, jhu)      
chih 【ch】 chi 【ch】 ch'ih 【ch'】 出 (ㄔㄨ, chu)
shih 【sh】 shi 【sh】 shih 【sh】 束 (ㄕㄨˋ, shu)
rih 【r】 ri 【r】 jih 【j】 入 (ㄖㄨˋ, ru)
zih 【z】 zi 【z】 tz 【ts】 在 (ㄗㄞˋ, zai)
cih 【c】 ci 【c】 tz' 【ts'】 才 (ㄘㄞˊ, cai)
sih 【s】 si 【s】 ss 【s】 塞 (ㄙㄞ, sai)
yi 【i】 yi 【i】 yi 【i】 逆 (ㄋㄧˋ, ni)
wu 【u】 wu 【u】 wu 【u】 努 (ㄋㄨˇ, nu)
yu 【u, yu】 yu 【u, 】 y 【】 女 (ㄋㄩˇ, nyu)
a a a 大 (ㄉㄚˋ, da)
o o o 多 (ㄉㄨㄛ, duo)
e e e  得 (ㄉㄜˊ, de)
e ê eh 爹 (ㄉㄧㄝ, die)    
ai ai ai 晒 (ㄕㄞˋ, shai)
ei ei ei 誰 (ㄕㄟˊ, shei)
ao ao ao 少 (ㄕㄠˇ, shao)
ou ou ou 收 (ㄕㄡ, shou)
an an an 山 (ㄕㄢ, shan)
en en en 申 (ㄕㄣ, shen)
yin 【in】 yin 【in】 yin 【in】 音 (ㄧㄣ, yin)
wun 【un】 wen 【un】 wen 【un】 文 (ㄨㄣˊ, wun)
yun 【un, yun】 yun 【un】 yn 【n】 韻 (ㄩㄣˋ, yun)
ang angang 上 (ㄕㄤˋ, shang)
eng engeng 生 (ㄕㄥ, sheng)
ying 【ing】 ying 【ing】 ying 【ing】 英 (ㄧㄥ, ying)
wong 【ong】 weng 【ong】 ng 【ung】 翁 (ㄨㄥ, wong)
yong yong 【iong】 yung 【iung】 永 (ㄩㄥˇ, yong)
er er erh 而 (ㄦˊ, er)

Dialect letters used to write sounds not found in Standard Mandarin (not many web browsers can display these glyphs, see #External links for PDF pictures.) The table should be read left-to-right, row-by-row, not column-by-column.

CharName CharName CharName
V  Ng Gn

Extended Bopomofo for Min-nan and Hakka

CharName CharName CharName CharName
Bu  Oo  Im  Ong
Zi  Onn Ngg  Innn
Ji  Ir  Ainn  Final P
Gu  Ann Aunn  Final T
Ee  Inn Am  Final K
Enn Unn Om  Final H

See also

External links

eo:Bopomofo fr:Bopomofo id:Bopomofo ja:注音符号 pl:Bopomofo zh:注音符號


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