Posted on Apr 10, 2012 in Tech & internet
Don’t languages like Chinese and Japanese have thousands of characters? How in the world do people use Asian keyboards to type things, compared to English keyboards?
As English speakers, we have it pretty easy. We can make pretty much every word in our language with some combination of just 26 letters. Even the other Latin script languages use essentially the same letters, with the addition of accent marks. Pretty simple.
Even if your language uses a different script, say Russian (Cyrillic), no big deal — you just use a keyboard with that set of characters on it. Still pretty simple.
But what about languages like Japanese or Chinese, where there are literally thousands of characters to choose from?
There are two basic methods of typing the Japanese language with a computer keyboard. The most common is called rōmaji, which literally translates as “Roman letters.” This method is essentially a phonetic spelling of the Japanese language using the same characters English does. Not only is this the most common method for inputting Japanese into word processors and computers, it’s also targeted at non-Japanese speakers who can’t read kanji or kana characters — so it often appears on things such as street signs and passports. There are several different subsets of rōmaji with their own quirks and spelling differences, but this is merely meant to be an overview, not a lesson.
The less common method is to use keyboard keys that correspond to the Japanese kana, or syllabic scripts. These characters are generally printed along with the Latin characters on an otherwise standard QWERTY keyboard. (See a Japanese keyboard here.)
Chinese offers two main methods of entering the language into a computer as well. Also much like Japanese, the most common method of typing Chinese is via a phonetic rendering in Latin characters, in this case called pinyin. Officially known as Hanyu Pinyin (literally “spelled sound”), this method of writing out the various dialects of the Chinese language, and all children in mainland China are required to learn pinyin in school.
The other method, Cangjie, invented by Chu Bong-Foo in 1976, is a little different. Each key has a “root,” or basic shape used to make up a Chinese character. By pressing keys in combinations, it’s possible to directly enter hanzi characters. Some expert typists prefer this method, as once it is learned and perfected, it’s much faster to type this way than using the phonetic style of pinyin. (See a Chinese keyboard here.)
Less popular, but still available to both languages are technologies such as handwriting recognition, optical character recognition (OCR), and voice recognition. Though “easier” in a way than the other methods mentioned, they tend to have higher error rates than the standard keyboard entry methods.
See? I told you we’ve got it easy.
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