What a Chinese keyboard looks like

For several thousand years, the cunning Chinese managed to bring the number of hieroglyphs up to 50, 000 with a tail. And although the number of characters needed in everyday life is not measured in tens of thousands, all the same, whatever one may say, the standard set of the old printing house is 9000 letters.

For a long time, typing was carried out according to the principle “for each hieroglyph - a separate printed element”. Therefore, I had to work with monster cars like this:

Its main element is a bank of hieroglyphs on the ink pad. Above the hieroglyphs, a mechanical system is fixed: a handle, a "foot" for gripping and a reel with a sheet of paper. The entire mechanism, together with the reel, following the handle, is able to move left, right, forward and backward due to the efforts of the driver. To type a text, the driver searches for the desired hieroglyph with a magnifying glass for a long time, places a system over it and activates the “paw” by pressing the handle, which grabs the hieroglyph and, while unfolding, prints it on a sheet of paper. In this case, the reel with the sheet rotates slightly, providing space for the next character. Of course, the printing process on such a unit turns out to be extremely slow - an experienced operator could type no more than 11 hieroglyphs per minute.

In 1946, the famous Chinese philologist Lin Yutang proposed a version of the typewriter, built on a completely new principle - the decomposition of hieroglyphs into component parts.

Lin Yutang's electromechanical typewriter, 1946

Unlike the overall predecessors, the new machine was no more than its Latin counterparts, and there were few keys on it. The fact is that the keys did not correspond to the hieroglyphs, but to their constituent parts. In the center of the device was the "magic eye": when the driver pressed a key combination, a variant of the hieroglyph appeared in the "eye". To confirm the selection, an additional function key had to be pressed. With only 64 keys, such a typewriter could easily provide a set of 90, 000 characters and a speed of 50 characters per minute!

Although Lin Yutang managed to get a patent for his invention in the United States, it never went to the masses. It is not surprising, since the production of one such device at that time cost about $ 120, 000. In addition, on the day when the presentation for the Remington company was scheduled, the machine refused to work - even the magic eye did not help. The idea was safely postponed until better times.

But in the era of widespread use of computers, Lin Yutang's idea of ​​decomposing hieroglyphs into their component parts took on new life. It formed the basis of the structural methods for entering Chinese characters, which we will now talk about.

(By the way, in the 80s, the Taiwanese company MiTAC even developed its own method of structured input - Simplex, directly based on Lin Yutang's coding system.)

There are at least a dozen such methods known, and all of them are based on the graphic structure of the hieroglyph. Chinese characters are jigsaw puzzles assembled from the same pieces (so-called graphemes). The number of these graphemes is not that great - 208, and they can already be “stuffed” into a regular keyboard. True, there will be about 8 graphemes per key, but this problem is easily solved.

One of the most common structured input methods is Wubing zixing (five-line input). How does it work? I warn you right away: difficult.

In fact, all Chinese characters are divided into four groups:

Basic 5 features (一, 丨, 丿, 丶, 乙) and another 25 very often used hieroglyphs (each of them has a key associated with it).

Hieroglyphs with a certain distance between the graphemes. For example, the hieroglyph 苗 consists of the graphemes 田 and 田, between which there is a distance (although they are a little "compressed" in print and you may think that there is no distance between them).

Hieroglyphs whose graphemes are connected to each other. Thus, the hieroglyph 且 is a grapheme 月 connected with a horizontal bar;尺 consists of a grapheme 尸 and a forward slash.

Hieroglyphs whose graphemes intersect or overlap. For example, the character 本 is the intersection of the graphemes 木 and 一.

At first glance, it may seem that the graphemes on the keyboard are arranged randomly. In fact, this is not the case. The keyboard is divided into five zones, according to the number of basic lines (in the figure they are marked with different colors). Within each zone, the keys are numbered from the center of the keyboard to the edges. The number is made up of two digits from 1 to 5 - depending on what basic features the grapheme is assembled from.

Thus, 毅 = U + E + M + C. To enter hieroglyphs consisting of more than four graphemes, you need to enter the first three graphemes and the last one. Since there are a lot of graphemes, several hieroglyphs will inevitably appear, claiming the same key combination. Then you have to sort out the options, but he is a smart computer, by meaning, he tries to be the first to slip the most appropriate graphemes.

This layout is far from the only one, but one of the most popular. Although it is rather difficult to learn, it opens up the possibility of blind input, which increases the maximum typing speed to 160 hieroglyphs per minute - that's about 500 keystrokes in the same minute!