Chinese Input Methods For Computers - History

History

Chinese input methods predate the computer. One of the early attempts was an electro-mechanical Chinese typewriter Ming kwai (Chinese: 明快; pinyin: míngkuài; Wade–Giles: ming-k'uai) which was invented by Lin Yutang, a prominent Chinese writer. It assigned thirty base shapes or strokes to different keys and adopted a new way of categorizing Chinese characters. But the typewriter was not produced commercially and Lin soon found himself deeply in debt.

Before the 1980s, Chinese publishers hired teams of workers and selected a few thousand type pieces from an enormous Chinese character set. Chinese government agencies entered characters using a long, complicated list of Chinese telegraph codes, which assigned different numbers to each character. During the early computer era, Chinese characters were categorized by their radicals or Pinyin (or romanization), but results weren't completely satisfactory.

Chu Bong-Foo invented a common input method in 1976 with his Cangjie input method, which assigns different "roots" to each key on a standard computer keyboard. With this method, for example, the character 日 is assigned to the A key, and 月 is assigned to B. Typing them together will result in the character 明 ("bright").

Despite its difficulty of learning, this method remains popular in Chinese communities that use traditional Chinese characters, such as Hong Kong and Taiwan; it is also the first method that allowed users to enter more than a hundred Chinese characters per minute.

All methods have their strengths and weaknesses. The pinyin method can be learned rapidly but its maximum input rate is limited. The Wubi takes longer to learn, but expert typists can enter text much more rapidly with it than with phonetic methods.

Due to these complexities, there is no "standard" method.

In mainland China, wubi (shape-based) and pinyin methods such as Sogou Pinyin and Google Pinyin are the most popular; in Taiwan, Boshiamy, Cangjie, and zhuyin predominate; and in Hong Kong, Cangjie is most often taught in schools.

Other methods include handwriting recognition, OCR and voice recognition. The computer itself must first be "trained" before the first or second of these methods are used; that is, the new user enters the system in a special "learning mode" so that the system can learn to identify his handwriting or speech patterns. The latter two methods are used less frequently than keyboard-based input methods and suffer from relatively high error rates, especially when used without proper "training", though higher error rates are an acceptable trade-off to many users.

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