I mentioned 注(ㄓㄨˋ)音(ㄧㄣ)符(ㄈㄨˊ)號(ㄏㄠˋ) in a previous post. Now I’ll take the time to explain. 注音符號 is sort of like an alphabet (like Chinese ABC’s, I guess) that is taught to schoolchildren in Taiwan. It is a way of describing the sounds in the Chinese language. It is a simple way of learning the corresponding pronunciation to the characters. Most Chinese text aimed at elementary-school age children has 注音符號, which is written next to the character.

For some reason, I know two different orders of 注音符號. The sounds remain the same. I don’t think the order really matters, it’s knowing the corresponding sounds that matters. There are plenty of videos on YouTube that present 注音符號. I like this one because it also shows characters and the 注音符號 next to it.

Note: in this case, the characters are written left to right, as in English.

I’ve written the sound symbols again, in the same order in the video. But this time, they are written right to left, and read from top to bottom.

Besides the sound symbols, there are also five tonal symbols. The first tone is represented by no symbol. The four symbols shown on the right are the second, third, and fourth tones. The last symbol represents a short tone, which can be heard in some of the words in the YouTube video.

Each character can be represented by one to three sound symbols and one tonal symbol. The tone symbols are written next to the character symbols. I have never seen Chinese written in just 注音符號, except on SAT II practice test questions. 注音符號 should be used as a tool to learn new characters, not to be used alone. When only sounds and tones are used, the meanings of the characters are lost.


6 thoughts on “注(ㄓㄨˋ)音(ㄧㄣ)符(ㄈㄨˊ)號(ㄏㄠˋ)

  1. Interesting. Is this the Taiwanese version of Hanyu Pinyin? I do feel hanyu pinyin would be easier for most learners, simply because it builds on symbols that they already know.
    On the other hand, it can be confusing, because e.g. the ‘q’ in hanyu pinyin has a very different pronunciation from the ‘q’ in English and other languages.

    • 注音符號 is sort of like hanyu pinyin, except it was developed much earlier – in the 1940s. I liken it more to Japanese furigana, where hiragana is on the side of kanji to help children read. I forgot to add that 注音符號 is also an entry method for typing in Chinese. Similar to typing in hanyu pinyin, different characters corresponding to the same sound will show up.

      I agree with the confusion of hanyu pinyin. I think it’s also misleading because characters are grouped together. One that always gets me is the spelling of ‘Xian.’ It looks like it is one word (due to vowels being pronounced together in English). But it’s really Xi An – two characters.

  2. Pingback: Resources for learning 注音符號 | Thinking About Languages

  3. Pingback: Do you know the World Cup country names in Chinese? | 思想語言 | Thinking About Languages

    • The Taiwan Ministry of Education started using an extended 注音符號, called 臺灣方音符號 (also known as 臺語注音符號) in 1998 for Taiwanese and Hakka. At that time both languages were beginning to be introduced in elementary schools. It’s probably easier for students who already know 注音符號 to learn 臺灣方音符號 rather than another pronunciation system or none at all.

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