So, for those of you that aren’t aware, it’s possible to write down Chinese dialects other than Mandarin using characters specific to that dialect. Much like dialect spelling in English, it’s not necessarily apparent to an outsider how to read them.
Here’s a random selection of Cantonese ones, courtesy of HouHou: 嗰、噉、咁、嘅、㗎、啦、喇、囉、呢、咩、乜、嘢.
They… are not really fit for purpose. There are amongst the most common words in Cantonese, yet many of them are difficult to write. And, all the mouth radicals (口) are an eyesore.
Here’s the catch-all solution I proposed a couple days back on MakMak’s blog:
Personally, what I think would be best would be an IPA-equivalent that’s graphically compatible with “normal” Chinese characters, such that standard Chinese characters and phonetic characters could be freely mixed without the whole thing looking a total mess.
This would save people (especially Cantonese-as-a-second-language-learners) the hassle of having to learn hundreds of characters not used by the vast majority of Chinese-language speakers. A sentence might look like this: 我우日早우린로 (where the Hangul are arbitrary representatives of the proposed phonetic transcriptions in the sentence 我琴日早啲返嚟.)
This system could be extended and adapted for all non-Mandarin languages, with phonetic components used systematically for different dialects. In other words, there would be a vast array of components, only some of which would be used for each dialect – in much the same way as the IPA.
And now, I can also present unto you folks what that’d actually look like, using butchered bopomofo. I added two new characters, for ‘ng’ (by inverting the one for Mandarin ‘x’) and for the ‘t’ stop (by doubling up the left hand side of the one for ‘er’).
The colours are there because the image I copied the components from had colours. Characters are read left-to-right and then top-to-bottom. I figure tone marks can go at the top right of each character. I’m thinking that a maximum of three components per character would be best, consistent with the initial-middle-final way of breaking down Chinese-language sounds.
The text for the first two lines reads 我係一個人. The last line is garbage, designed to show how triple components might look.
Personally I like the second line’s style more than the first: what do all the would-be Cantonese-language reformers out there think?