Eli5: How do keyboards work for a language like Chinese?


Some Chinese languages like Mandarin have thousands of characters, so how does a keyboard work considering there’s only a finite amount of characters they can use?

In: 14

When typing in Chinese, you first have to select the correct character set. There are usually multiple character sets available on a keyboard, and each set corresponds to a specific language. The character set for Chinese usually includes traditional and simplified characters, and sometimes also includes Cantonese characters.

Once you’ve selected the correct character set, you then type in the characters using the keyboard. The layout of the keyboard is slightly different depending on the character set you’re using, but it usually follows a standard QWERTY layout. Each character is input using a specific key, and you type the character by pressing the key and then releasing it.

Some Chinese characters also have diacritics, which are accents or symbols that are used to modify the pronunciation of a character. These diacritics are usually input using the number keys on the keyboard. For example, the diacritic for a nasal sound is usually input using the number 6 key, and the diacritic for a voiceless sound is usually input using the number 1 key.

So to type the character 中 (zhōng), you would first select the Chinese character set, and then type the character using the number 2 key. To type the character ㄓ (zhōng), you would first select the Chinese character set, and then type the character using the number 6 key.

Hope that helps!

There are basically 2 main types. One is using a western keyboard and phonetics.

When you want to type hello or 你好 phonetically this sounds like “ni hao”. The transliteration is done with pinyin (or some of the other transliteration systems), the official way to write standard mandarin with roman letters.

The other is using root symbols, e.g a set of basic shapes to make the chinese characters.

Both have different systems available, and you also have hybrid typing systems which combine the 2 and, now especially with smart phones, drawing as direct input

Mandarin and Cantonese is different spoken languages while Chinese is a single written language (with traditional and simplified variants). This means that people in China might not speak the same language but they can still write to each other. This is because each letter in Chinese represent an idea, word, instead of a specific sound as in western languages. However each Chinese spoken language does have a phonetic alphabet constructed for them as well. This is done by using singe syllable words and just stringing them together. And when typing on a keyboard this is the language you are using. The computer is then used to translate this phonetic text into the full Chinese character set.

Chinese has this system called pinyin, which means:

– a phrase like “你好” (ni hao) (hello) would have its pronunciation spelled out as ‘ n i h a o’, which means that all you have to do is type ‘ n i h a o’ and the Chinese characters would show up on screen. Then you can simply select the Chinese characters when they show up.

You can experiment with this by downloading the mandarin pack too and inputting the pinyins of any Chinese word