The fascinating evolution of typing Chinese language characters

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In August 1983, precisely 40 years in the past, a Chinese language engineer named Wang Yongmin developed the primary widespread approach to enter Chinese language characters into a pc: Wubi. He did it by breaking down a Chinese language character into completely different strokes and assigning a number of strokes to every letter on the QWERTY keyboard.

A diagram of how Wubi uses the QWERTY keyboard.
The diagram above exhibits how every key’s matched with three to 12 character elements. The texts at backside are poems to assist customers bear in mind the mixtures.

For instance, the Chinese language character for canine, 犬, has a number of shapes in it: 犬, 一, 丿, and丶.These shapes have been matched with the keys D, G, T, and Y, respectively. So when a consumer typed “DGTY,” a Wubi enter software program would match that to the character 犬.

On the left are the Chinese character 犬 and its phonetic spelling; on the right is a guide on how to type the character in Wubi.
A information on how the character 犬 ought to be typed into Wubi software program.

Wubi was in a position to match each Chinese language character with a keystroke mixture utilizing at most 4 QWERTY keys. It’s thought of one of many quickest methods to kind Chinese language, however the draw back can be fairly apparent: customers have to memorize which keys correspond to which strokes, so the training curve is sort of steep. (A method individuals have remembered the keyboard designations? Jingles!)

The following step within the evolution of Chinese language IMEs was the invention of typing by phonetic spelling.

It could be laborious to consider, however pinyin, the fashionable approach of spelling every Chinese language phrase in a standardized Latin alphabet, was solely created within the Fifties. Within the ’80s and ’90s, China began to experiment with educating children pinyin at school earlier than educating them tips on how to write Chinese language characters. One end result was that pinyin turned a neater and extra broadly accepted approach to match Chinese language characters to the Latin letters on a keyboard.

To stay with the instance of the character 犬 (canine), its pronunciation was standardized as quǎn, so typing Q, U, A, N on the usual keyboard would get you this character in your display screen. 

A lot of pinyin-based IMEs have been invented within the ’90s. Essentially the most outstanding was Zhineng ABC, developed in 1993 by Zhu Shoutao, a pc science professor at Peking College. After Microsoft built-in Zhineng ABC as one of many default IMEs in Home windows PCs, it turned essentially the most broadly used one within the nation.

However typing by pinyin additionally has its issues: dozens or a whole bunch of Chinese language characters can share the identical phonetic spelling. For those who kind QUAN, the pc has no approach to inform which of 81 characters is the one you need.

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