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Bopomofo

Bopomofo, aka Zhuyin, is a writing system sometimes used for Chinese languages in order to write the sounds phonetically. While first introduced in the 1910s, it is now more commonly used in Taiwan than in mainland China. The core alphabet (covering all the sounds used in Mandarin) includes 37 letters and 5 tone markers, while there is also an extended set incorporating sounds used in other Chinese languages. The name “Bopomofo” derives from the first four letters of the Bopomofo alphabet (the letters for /b/, /p/, /m/ and /f/).

Bopomofo is widely used as an aid in teaching children how to read in Taiwan. It’s also widely used to write Taiwanese Hokkien words, with an extra 23 letters and 2 tone markers. It’s extremely useful for that purpose due to the high number of Hokkien words (one estimate is 15%) that don’t have an associated Chinese character. The version of Bopomofo used for Taiwanese is also called Taiwanese Phonetic Symbols.

Bopomofo was once used sometimes for writing Cantonese, too, but the system fell into use in the 1950s. When it was used for writing Cantonese, tones were not marked.

Bopomofo is widely supported as an input method for Chinese, but is used primarily in Taiwan; in mainland China pinyin is preferred instead.

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