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LETTERS TO THE EDITORS

A Chinese Hangul?

To the Editors:

In response to Howard Wainer’s “Why is a Raven Like a Writing Desk?” Macroscope (November–December 2008): Since the early 20th century, there has been a system for the representation of spoken Chinese that is very much like the Korean Hangul alphabet Wainer describes. It is called Zhuyin Fuhao or, more popularly, Bopomofo, and features 37 letters and 4 tone marks. Of these, 21 are consonants, while the others represent vowels, diphthongs and final consonants. It is one of the few input methods that can be found on most modern personal computers without the user having to download or install any additional software. It is also one of the few methods that can be used for inputting Chinese characters on certain cell phones. In mainland China, Bopomofo has been superseded by the Hanyu Pinyin system of romanization promulgated by the People’s Republic of China, although the pronunciations of words in standard dictionaries are sometimes given in both. Taiwan’s Education Ministry has attempted for many years to phase out the use of Bopomofo in favor of a system based on Latin characters (such as Hanyu Pinyin, which will be the only legal standard starting this year). However, this transition has been extremely slow due to the difficulty in teaching elementary school teachers a new Latin-based system. The inertia of convention prevails, but in this single instance in the favor of a system with much to recommend it.

Michael L. Wonio
Galveston, TX

 

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