Another use for Mandarin Phonetic Symbols

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A couple of weeks ago, we asked:  "The end of the line for Mandarin Phonetic Symbols?" (3/12/18)

The general response to that post was no, not by a long shot.

Now, in addition to all the other things one can do with bopomofo, one can use it to confound PRC trolls, as described in this article in Chinese.

Michael Cannings observes:

I imagine the wǔmáo ("50 Cent [Army / Party]" — see here [¶4ff], here, and here) will wise up to this soon, but for the moment it's a neat way to exclude Chinese trolls. They often operate by overwhelming any sensible discussion with massed insults and propaganda (see, for example, any tweet by Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen).


For almost half a century, I've been trying to determine what precedents for beginning an alphabet with the labials might have existed before bopomofo and, whether directly or indirectly, have inspired it creators to adopt such a scheme.  I've actually expended a lot of energy trying to figure this out and several times have felt that I was close to discovering an answer, but so far I'm not satisfied with the results of my search that I've come up with.

Labial Initials B P M F
Dental Initials D T N L
Guttural Initials G K H
Palatal Initials J Q X
Retroflex Initials ZH CH SH R
Dental Sibilant Initials Z C S
Medials I,YI U,WU Ü,YU
Finals A O E E,YE


Any ideas?

Additional reading:

"Bopomofo vs. Pinyin" (4/28/15)

[h.t. Michael Cannings]


  1. Philip Taylor said,

    March 29, 2018 @ 10:48 am

    I think it must be more than co-incidence that the first sounds one learns in Pitman Shorthand are /piː/, /biː/, /tiː/, /diː/, /t͡ʃeɪ/, /d͡ʒeɪ/, /keɪ/, /geɪ/.

  2. ~flow said,

    March 29, 2018 @ 11:28 am

    One could theorize that just in case the creators of Bopomofo did have the Latin alphabet (maybe as used in English, German, or French) in mind as well, then actually part of the sequence can be explained. Basically, it works like the Sieve of Eratosthenes. Say you want to arrive at a sequence that, when arranged in a tabular fashion, displays the interconnections between the sounds like a table of elements, and you already decided you want to have consonants first, vowels later. In that case, the ABC… gives you ㄅ B as the first consonant. Related to it are ㄆ P (homorganic voiceless/aspirated), ㄇ M (homorganic nasal), ㄈ F (homorganic fricative) which you place behind B.

    Going on, we have C with no obvious counterpart in the Bopomofo, and then ㄉ D, which entails ㄊ T ㄋ N ㄌ L (the lateral/liquid taking the place of the fricative, which could only be S, but all the sounds involving sibilants are listed in a more or less self-contained group because of their internal relationships).

    Next up are E, F, G, the first of which is a vowel to be listed later, F, which already has been listed above, and, it so happens, ㄍ G, which entails ㄎ K and ㄏ H in the system.

    No proof, just to show that part of the system you can indeed arrive by simply dealing out the Abc, as it were.

  3. Chris Button said,

    March 29, 2018 @ 12:44 pm

    Isn't it just following the model of the Yunjing which is presumably based on the notion that the lips are the first point of articulation in the mouth? Interestingly, the Chinese Wikipedia article on Bopomofo shows that an earlier version followed the expected Sanskrit tradition with the velars first which was the otherwise dominant model.

  4. J.W. Brewer said,

    March 29, 2018 @ 3:08 pm

    This question made me realize I had no idea what was behind the arbitrary-at-first-glance ordering of initial consonants in hiragana/katakana, but wikipedia informs me that the usual (gojuon) order can be traced back (after you allow for the effect of certain intervening changes in Japanese phonology) to a Sanskrit-derived ordering which I'm guessing is probably the same that was used in the earlier bopomofo draft referred to by Chris Button.

  5. David Marjanović said,

    March 29, 2018 @ 5:28 pm

    what precedents for beginning an alphabet with the labials might have existed before bopomofo and, whether directly or indirectly, have inspired it creators to adopt such a scheme.

    Western linguistic tradition on both counts.

  6. David Marjanović said,

    March 29, 2018 @ 5:43 pm

    Complete table showing how to spell any Standard Mandarin syllable, tones excepted, in Bopomofo. Notably, Pinyin -un [ʊə̯n] and the syllable wen [wɛn] are spelled ㄨㄣ (U-EN), and likewise -ong [õ̝ŋ] and the syllable weng [wɤ̃ŋ] are spelled ㄨㄥ (U-ENG) – an interesting analysis.

  7. Victor Mair said,

    March 29, 2018 @ 6:22 pm

    "Western linguistic tradition on both counts."

    Any specific references?

  8. Lupus753 said,

    March 29, 2018 @ 10:54 pm

    How *do* people use bopomofo to "confound PRC trolls"? I can't read Chinese and I don't trust Google Translate.

  9. Victor Mair said,

    March 29, 2018 @ 11:10 pm


    "How *do* people use bopomofo to 'confound PRC trolls'?"

    They simply write whatever they want to say in bopomofo. Since the mainland trolls can't read bopomofo, they don't know what the Taiwanese are saying, and consequently are stifled.

  10. B.Ma said,

    March 30, 2018 @ 4:00 am

    I'm not convinced. It took me about 5 minutes to learn bopomofo some 20 years ago, and since then I don't recall ever encountering it except as annotations for characters, until this LL post.

    Nonetheless, I was able to read the BPMF posts quite quickly even *before* refreshing my memory by looking at the transcription table in the post. I mean, it's the same language as the 50-centers are already using.

    I would have thought that posting in Hokkien (even more so if using Tai Lo instead of POJ/MLT) would be more effective, if trolls' native topolects are representative of the wider population.

  11. Anonymous Coward said,

    March 30, 2018 @ 4:46 am

    Posting in Hokkien (even more so if using Tai Lo instead of POJ/MLT)

    Sadly almost nobody knows how to write Taiwanese in any systematic way. The recent upsurge of nationalism might do that some good, but it's not sure.

  12. Victor Mair said,

    March 30, 2018 @ 6:22 am

    The trolls are dumber than the average person. That's why they're trolls (50-centers).

  13. 번하드 said,

    March 30, 2018 @ 10:14 am

    Hmmm, while we're at it, what are the reasons behind the ordering of consonants and vowels in hangeul? Ignoring the difference between ROK and DPRK lexical order which, iirc, mostly affect double consonants.

  14. Chris Button said,

    March 30, 2018 @ 11:13 am

    My impression is that very broadly speaking, you either start at the back and move forward so "k" then "t" then "p" (as the Kharoṣṭhī/Brahmi model popularised by Sanskrit) or you start at front and move backward so "p" then "t" then "k" (as the Chinese rhyme table model best known from the Yunjing which was a way of laying out related syllables rather than an "alphabet" and hence not influential elsewhere outside of Bopomofo). It seems Hangeul would broadly fit the former as would be expected. The arrangement of the Phoenician alphabet (possibly the source of Kharoṣṭhī/Brahmi) apparently remains somewhat of a mystery

  15. A-gu said,

    March 30, 2018 @ 4:41 pm

    I agree with Chris, the organization of Bopomofo seems to me to be inspired by Sanskrit.

  16. dom said,

    April 4, 2018 @ 3:10 pm

    As Chris Button said, seems pretty obvious it's from the MC rhyme tables, which start 幫滂並明…

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