Learning bo po mo fo

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Learning bo po mo fo

Postby ntrdude » 25 May 2012, 23:45

Hi, I've decided to learn Chinese, and wanted to start with bo po mo fo. If someone could help me understand it, I would be really grateful. I know Japanese, so if you could explain it with comparisons to kana, that would be helpful.

My current understanding is that there are 37 characters in zhuyin, some of which can be combined to come to a total of 60 sounds, which comprise all the possible sounds in Mandarin, if you include the symbols for the four tones. Is this right?

What is the difference between flat tone and neutral tone? Surely flat IS neutral?

How does pinyin match up with bo po mo fo? I looked this up, but can't make sense of it. I thought bo was the right romanisation of ㄅ, but according to wikipedia, there is no pinyin for ㄅ. Apparently bo is the pinyin for ㄅㄛ. So if I want to make flashcards for zhuyin, what should I write on the back of the ㄅ card for romanisation?

Many thanks!
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Re: Learning bo po mo fo

Postby cranky laowai » 25 May 2012, 23:57

ntrdude wrote:My current understanding is that there are 37 characters in zhuyin, some of which can be combined to come to a total of 60 sounds, which comprise all the possible sounds in Mandarin, if you include the symbols for the four tones. Is this right?

Various combinations of zhuyin cover all of the sounds of Mandarin. Various combinations of roman letters also cover all of the sounds of Mandarin. As to the count of 60, I don't know. But there are more than 400 distinct syllables if you don't count tones.

What is the difference between flat tone and neutral tone? Surely flat IS neutral?

That depends on what is meant by "flat." Perhaps someone is referring to first tone. Also, there are varieties of the so-called neutral tone; but my guess is that they almost never get taught.

How does pinyin match up with bo po mo fo? I looked this up, but can't make sense of it.

You have to do it at the syllable level or the comparison won't make sense across the board. For example, just look to the zhuyin equivalent of what's written "zhong" in Pinyin. It's far from intuitive if you're thinking just in terms of translations of individual zhuyin to individual roman letters.

I thought bo was the right romanisation of ㄅ, but according to wikipedia, there is no pinyin for ㄅ. Apparently bo is the pinyin for ㄅㄛ. So if I want to make flashcards for zhuyin, what should I write on the back of the ㄅ card for romanisation?

B.

Really: syllables are your friend.

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Re: Learning bo po mo fo

Postby ntrdude » 26 May 2012, 00:06

Why do people call it bo po mo fo then, if those are not the first four sounds? Is there no romanisation for the first four sounds, other than 'b p m f'?

Thanks for your help!
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Re: Learning bo po mo fo

Postby Chris » 26 May 2012, 06:19

ntrdude wrote:Why do people call it bo po mo fo then, if those are not the first four sounds?

They are the first four sounds (or to be more accurate, the names of the first four letters). And there are many romanization systems, but the general Taiwanese public don't use them.

And despite the fact that there are a couple letters that resemble Japanese kana, there's no connection. Bopomofo is an alphabet (used mainly for instructional purposes), while kana are syllabaries.
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Re: Learning bo po mo fo

Postby finley » 26 May 2012, 09:38

My advice would be to completely ignore bopomofo. There IS a one-to-one correspondence between bopomofo symbols and pinyin letters (or letter combinations) so it's pointless learning the bopomofo symbols. You'll almost never see it used, whereas pinyin (or some bastardisation of it) is very common.

Pinyin also feels a lot more logical, especially for speakers of European languages. The morphology of bopomofo seems to be deliberately designed to thwart memorization.

btw "ㄅ" is pronounced 'bo' for the same reason "B" is pronounced "bee" by english speakers when reciting the alphabet. It's just convention.
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Re: Learning bo po mo fo

Postby Teddoman » 26 May 2012, 11:23

Essentially, zhuyin is an alphabet written just for Mandarin.

b m p f are consonants and a, e, ou, wu, ei, ai, yu are vowels.

For ease of reading out the Mandarin alphabet, each consonant is customarily paired with a vowel so it can be read aloud. That's the reason when people read it out loud they say "be pe me fe de te ne le..." or something, even though these are technically consonants without vowels.

Using zhuyin as the Mandarin alphabet just helps you visualize the finite number of consonant and vowel combinations that are possible. Mandarin does not utilize many consonants and vowels in the western alphabet.

But really, zhuyin and pinyin are just different ways of visualizing the exact same thing. You say tomayto, I say tomahto.

For beginners, I would stick to one system that makes it easier to remember things (usually pinyin). Learn zhuyin when there's a practical reason to learn it, like using an elementary school textbook that relies on zhuyin. Or wanting to type emails in Mandarin using a zhuyin keyboard.
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Re: Learning bo po mo fo

Postby ehophi » 26 May 2012, 16:35

I would learn the Pinyin first because there are more online resources for it.

When you're well along with that, I could forward you my Anki deck which matches the Pinyin to the Bopomofo. It's how I learned it.

I don't know if this exists, but a vocabulary list that just covered one instance of every used initial-final combination in each tone would be cool.
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Re: Learning bo po mo fo

Postby ntrdude » 27 May 2012, 05:30

I think I understand where I was getting confused now. I assumed zhuyin was a syllabary like kana in Japanese. So ㄅ is never used on it's own, only in conjuction with other zhuyin, like in English when we learn the alphabet, we learn B as buh, even though it's never used on its own.

I want to learn zhuyin because my (Taiwanese) girlfriend uses it all the time, and there's no reason not to learn it - there are only 37 characters after all.

Thanks again to everyone who has chipped in with their thoughts :)
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Re: Learning bo po mo fo

Postby Hellstorm » 04 Jun 2012, 19:40

I encourage you to learn it. You won’t need it except for dealing with Taiwanese, but if you deal with Taiwanese, you need it.
Also, its quite easy, you can learn it in one or two days.

But I guess you should just read the Wikipedia article about it, that explains pretty much it. But don’t make any connection with the Kana, just see it as an alphabet, which some syllable stuff mixed in.

Also, I think you should start learning with Zhuyin. If you do your first steps in Chinese with Zhuyin, you will remember it much better than if you start learning with Pinyin.
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Re: Learning bo po mo fo

Postby tsukinodeynatsu » 10 Jun 2012, 03:57

ntrdude wrote:I think I understand where I was getting confused now. I assumed zhuyin was a syllabary like kana in Japanese. So ㄅ is never used on it's own, only in conjuction with other zhuyin, like in English when we learn the alphabet, we learn B as buh, even though it's never used on its own.


Exactly. Translating it to Japanese - た would be written ㄊㄚ (t a)

ehophi wrote:I don't know if this exists, but a vocabulary list that just covered one instance of every used initial-final combination in each tone would be cool.


A quick reference off the top of my head... (pinyin -> bpmf)

ong ㄨㄥ
iong ㄩㄥ
eng ㄥ
en ㄣ
an ㄢ
ang ㄤ
iang ㄧㄤ

exceptions (these aren't really exceptions in the bpmf system, but they strike the pinyin reader as exceptions):
yong ㄩㄥ
wong ㄨㄥ


If you actually go through the rules of pinyin you can see that they were clearly based off the zhuyin rules (which makes sense, since they're both alphabetic systems for the same language). I never bothered to learn pinyin properly when I started learning though (to be fair, I was 13) so was instead slightly frustrated when I realised that it's a pretty good system and I could've saved myself a lot of grief.
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