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As a Chinese student I found that one of the first barrier is reading. Indeed, when trying to acquire new vocabulary one might be faced with the opacity of the Chinese character as opposed to alphabetical language: you can't pronounce a character on the first encounter while you can for unknown latin-words (e.g English, French, etc.).


Many web browser extensions or desktop applications try to fill the gap by providing ruby character (pīnyīn below/above characters), but that's limited to the application.

When looking for a system-wide solution I thought that a ruby-font could do the trick for beginners.


So are there any such ruby-like fonts? I would prefer free/FOSS ones.

FOSS in order to be modifiable/redistributable.


Of course there are characters with multiple pronunciations, but my target audience is beginners.

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It would be impossible to provide such a font that worked for all cases, as some characters have different pronunciations based on the context. I'd go with applications or browser extensions, where you can highlight a word and get a lookup. –  Stumpy Joe Pete Sep 7 '13 at 23:26
Even at beginner level, you can't avoid learning characters with multiple pinyin. For someone to create a glyph for every Ruby annotation on top of each character, a private class of code points in Unicode would be required. This task would be too immense (considering the number of Chinese characters) and too specialized (considering a special set of code points) to be offered free of charge to anyone. –  Question Overflow Sep 8 '13 at 3:22
There are such fonts (though I don't know how they deal with a character with multiple pronunciations). For example, for simplified Chinese, 华康楷体W5GB5长汉音上L, and for traditional Chinese, 华康标楷W5长汉音上U繁. Yet, I don't quite understand what you mean by free -- you may know that, many resources you can download "for free" in China are often not really "free". –  Stan Sep 8 '13 at 5:29
@QuestionOverflow With a quick test using the Unihan database I got 8119 code point out of 34132 whose kHanyuPinyin field has two or more pronunciations so ~25%. These pronunciations are order by commonality so even if not a perfect solution it does help (at the beginning) –  Edouard Lopez Sep 8 '13 at 8:10
@NS.X. Free and Open Source generally means anyone is free to use, modify and distribute with no restriction, and sometimes provided that distributed copies are under the same or compatible license. Simply being free or able to copy it is not enough to satisfy the definition. –  congusbongus Sep 13 '13 at 10:26
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5 Answers 5

I've looked for a similar font (with pinyin on top, or bottom) and have not found anything. There are a lot of naysayers on this thread, and I'm not sure why. Such a font would be extremely useful, even given the limitations. Creation of such a font would be automatic using publicly available databases, and even if the original fonts were copyrighted, one could instead release a program to make a derivate font for personal use using the ones already on your computer. For the minority of characters with multiple pronunciations - they could all be shown in order of frequency.

Alternatively I'd really like to see a browser extension that could put the ruby-text pinyin above chinese characters on-screen (no popups).

Google translate will give the pinyin for a selection of chinese text (and read it out to you), although the pinyin does not appear near the characters themselves.

The advantage of browser extensions such as perapera or zhongwen (faster on chrome) are that they can identify multiple-character words, giving the correct pronunciation and definition. However hovering over word-by-word with popups can also be distracting.

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I'm working on such font generation, but I've some optimization to do. I prefer the font approach to the extension/add-on as its a wider one. Extensions are limited to one browser or one app. With a font your whole system will display such info –  Edouard Lopez Sep 17 '13 at 17:39
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as Stumpy Joe Pete said, you'll be hard pressed to find a font that works in all cases, and that you may want to look into a browser extension that highlights, magnifies, and explains the character you've hovered over.

I recommend Pera Pera Kun: http://www.perapera.org/

They have extensions for FireFox and Chrome.

Here's a snapshot:

enter image description here

I have never seen or heard of a font that will provide that functionality intrinsically. Kids Chinese books, however, often have the pronunciation under the characters to help the kids learn.

Hope this helps.

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I think OP's question is 2) not 1). –  NS.X. Sep 9 '13 at 21:06
Actually you don't need to edit your page source, Firefox allows you to define fonts per-scripts (Western, Chinese/Simp/Trad/HK): Options > Content > [Advanced > Font for: 'Western' ]. Chrome as a similar features through Advanced Font Settings extension (chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/advanced-font-settings/…). I'm already using Perakun, but pronunciation is locked behind user action of hovering, you have to hover words by words to get their definition/pronunciation. A font will provide this intrinsically –  Edouard Lopez Sep 10 '13 at 6:20
Moreover Microsoft YaHei New is not a free/FOSS font, so I can't based my work on it –  Edouard Lopez Sep 10 '13 at 6:23
@EdouardLopez okay, didn't know you could define fonts per scripts. Anyway, I've updated my answer. I have never seen or heard of a font that will provide that functionality intrinsically. Kids Chinese books, however, often have the pronunciation under the characters to help the kids learn. Try that. –  Growler Sep 10 '13 at 13:54
This is built in to OS X and works system-wide in Cocoa applications. Hover a word and press cmd+ctrl+d. It's using the system's dictionary. Install Chinese dictionary from xiaocidian.com. There's a similar application for Windows named Lingoes. For Linux I guess there's alternatives too. Probably window manager specific? There surely must be one for KDE. –  Niklas Berglund Sep 20 '13 at 7:01
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For Android, there is Pinyiner (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.astratech.chinesereader_free) . It works offline, you can even read books, mark new words and create flashcards.

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I asked a friend in 2001, how best to learn Chinese and he pointed me to the Bopomofo phonetic alphabet, and the schools and textbooks that use it. That alphabet gave me very quickly an unambiguous tool for phonetic reading and writing so i didn't feel so entirely illiterate, it helped me learn pronunciation, helped me 'forget' my western phonetic patterns, gives me a way of typing or writing a word according to how i hear it, and i have been able to find dictionaries and childrens books i can buy where each chinese character has the bopomofo sound spelled out below or beside the character.

It was a great piece of advice for me, and has accomplished more for me than pinyin, the letters of which, when i use them, are constantly reverting in my mind's ear to their western phonetic expressions. The downside of BoPoMoFo is that it is less available in written form and also it is harder in the US to find a teacher who uses this method.

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My answer may not solve your problem immediately, but it could be good for you in long term.

We can see that Chinese characters are composed by parts. Many of this parts can form a character itself, such as 枫(maple) is composed by木(wood) and 风(wind). And has the same pronounce as .

Thus you can start from learning these parts, and when you encounter a new character, you can have a rough guess about its pronounce. It also helpful to remember a new character.

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Yep I know the compound approach, I'm looking for a technical solution here (a font family) not a pedagogic. –  Edouard Lopez Sep 13 '13 at 11:27
@EdouardLopez 那就祝你好运吧。 –  ChangeMyName Sep 13 '13 at 13:06
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