Latin letters as phonophores

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For more examples and discussion, please read the Twitter thread (the full conversation) that follows the image above.

Guy Freeman, who called this Tweet to my attention, observes:

It supposedly shows two "Chinese characters" used by the Bouyei people which incorporate Latin letters, respectively A and e, as the phonophores of the characters.

Another tweet from a different account gives the source as Tán Jiādào, Wáng Dìngcái, “Bùyī fāngkuài gǔwénzì” 覃家道、王定才著《布依方块古文字》(2020) , but I can't vouch for this.

Assuming this is real, it's quite the continuation of the infiltration of the Latin alphabet into the "Chinese" writing system.

So as not to prejudice the discussion, I will refrain from giving my opinion concerning the utility of this experiment in combining Sinographic and alphabetic writing.  Instead, I will simply provide background about the Bouyei people, their language, and their writing system.

The Bouyei (also spelled Puyi, Buyei and Buyi; self called: Buxqyaix, [puʔjai] or "Puzhong", "Burao", "Puman"; Chinese: 布依族; pinyin: Bùyīzú; Vietnamese: người Bố Y), otherwise known as the Zhongjia, are an ethnic group living in Southern Mainland China. Numbering 2.5 million, they are the 11th largest of the 56 ethnic groups officially recognized by the People's Republic of China. Despite the Chinese considering them a separate group, they consider themselves Zhuang (Tai peoples).

The Bouyei mostly live in Qianxinan and Qiannan prefectures of Southern Guizhou Province, as well as in Yunnan and Sichuan Provinces.

Some 3,000 Bouyei also live in Northern Vietnam, where they are one of that nation's 54 officially recognized ethnic groups. In Vietnam, they are known as the Bố Y and mostly live in Mường Khương District of Lào Cai and Quản Bạ District of Hà Giang Province.

The Bouyei speak the Bouyei language, which is very close to Standard Zhuang language. There is a dialect continuum between these two. The Bouyei language has its own written form which was created by linguists in the 1950s based on the Latin alphabet and with spelling conventions similar for the Pinyin system that had been devised to romanise Mandarin Chinese.


The Bouyei language (autonym: Haausqyaix, also spelled Buyi, Buyei or Puyi; Chinese: 布依语; pinyin: Bùyīyǔ, Vietnamese: tiếng Bố Y or tiếng Giáy) is a language spoken by the Bouyei ethnic group of Southern Guizhou Province, China. Classified as a member of the Northern Tai group in the Tai language branch of the Tai–Kadai language family, the language has over 2.5 million native speakers and is also used by the Giay people (Vietnamese: Giáy) in some parts of Vietnam. There are native speakers living in France or the United States as well, which emigrated from China or Vietnam. About 98% of the native speakers are in China.

Bouyei's characteristics are similar to the other members of its language branch. It is generally monosyllabic and word order and particles are the main forms of grammar. Bouyei's syllable initials match up closely to the other Northern Tai languages, with relatively fast simplification and merging. Bouyei sentences can be shown to contain many different levels of phrasing.

The contemporary Bouyei script was developed after the abandonment of the Bouyei-Zhuang Script Alliance Policy in 1981 and was designed from 1981 to 1985. It is focused and phonologically representative and takes the Wangmo County dialect as its foundation.


Bouyei is a member of the northern branch of the Tai-Kadai language family. It has about 2.6 million speakers and is spoken mainly in southern Guizhou Province in China. There are also some Bouyei speakers, who are known as Giáy, in northern Vietnam. Bouyei is also known as Buyi, Puyi, 布依语 (bùyī yǔ) in Chinese, and tiếng Bố or tiếng Giáy in Vietnamese. Bouyei has official status in China and Vietnam.

Bouyei [Haasqyaix] used to be written with a script based on Chinese characters similar to the Sawndip script used for Zhuang. In 1956 a way of writing Bouyei using the Latin alphabet was developed, and was based on the Latin alphabet for Zhuang. It was approved by the Chinese government in 1957, but was only used until 1960.

A new Latin-based script for Bouyei was developed in 1981 and experimental use began in 1982. It was officially adopted in 1985 and continues to be used. It is based on the dialect of Wangmo County (望谟县).


From the above, we see that Bouyei has had long experience both with Sinographic style writing and alphabetic writing, so it is not entirely surprising that someone would come up with the bright idea of combining the two.


Selected readings



  1. W said,

    July 25, 2022 @ 9:40 pm

    This sort of reminds me of this. Back in the time when HK cinema was still pumping out these goofy silly rom-coms, one of the running jokes was about how the honorific "Sir" used to address the police should be written in Chinese (it's a situation where they were in undercover and someone slipped so they were trying to say the "Sir" was part of his given name). It's since become a meme:

  2. Philip Taylor said,

    July 26, 2022 @ 1:24 am

    Intriged by the fact that the Chinese, too, address their male police officers as "Sir" — until W's comment (above), I had assumed (solely on the basis of You-tube videos, I should add) that this was purely an American custom. Certainly we in the UK do not use "Sir" in such circumstances, so I would be interested to learn in which other societies this convention is the norm.

  3. Philip Anderson said,

    July 26, 2022 @ 2:04 am

    @Philip Taylor
    In the UK, a police officer is more likely to call a man ‘Sir’.

    But remember the old joke:
    What do you call a gorilla with a gun?

    Given the power that police officers have in many countries, I can see why ultra-polite behaviour is adopted.

  4. Chris Button said,

    July 26, 2022 @ 10:09 am

    The form for “dawn” with 天 and ‘e’ underneath as another example in the link is a nice one. It makes sense in the context of character construction.

    Actually a nice comparison is 忝 with 心 as phonetic underneath (despite some unlikely claims that 天 could somehow be an imprecise phonetic)

  5. W said,

    July 27, 2022 @ 7:49 am

    Pretty sure the "sir" address in popular usage is a colonial legacy in Hong Kong. It's probably a spill-over from how the police address their seniors, but don't quote me on that. Usually it's "ah sir", and when it's used on the streets it's ironic at least half of the times. If recent internet posts are correct, the new way to do that which is trending now is to call the officer "comrade".

  6. Kenny Easwaran said,

    July 27, 2022 @ 4:54 pm

    On the usage of "Sir" – I was recently riding the train in France, and when purchasing my ticket on the English version of the website, before I filled in my name, I was required to fill in an honorific, and the two choices were "Mrs" and "Sir". I assume this is some unfortunate use of automatic translation, that didn't recognize, given the context, that "Ms." and "Mr." would be the preferred examples in this context (assuming that one doesn't want to allow non-binary-gendered titles like "Mx", or the proliferation of binary-gendered titles that British Airways uses like "Viscountess": )

  7. Terpomo said,

    July 30, 2022 @ 10:04 am

    This isn't the only such instance- Keio (慶應) University is apparently sometimes abbreviated in Japanese as two 广 radicals with the Latin letters K and O under them. 宀 over K is apparently also used as an abbreviation for 憲 as in 憲法.

  8. Lai said,

    August 9, 2022 @ 12:18 am

    The same book has another interesting example: /zoːm³/ "morning" is written as ⿰⿱天门e while pronounced nothing like the letter "e"。It is a compound ideograph: the left is ⿱天门 /ʔɓɯn¹/ "sky", while the right is ⿱天e 省 : the character ⿱天e /ʔi⁶/ "dawn", with the common component 天 omitted.

    Therefore the letter "e" serves as a semantic component.

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