How is Chinese written in braille?

Vivian Aldridge

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How the sounds are wirtten

Chinese braille is based on a phonetic representation of the sounds of the language. There are no braille signs for individual Chinese inkprint characters, only for sounds. Here the braille code for Putonghua, the Chinese National Language (sometimes also called Mandarin), is described. However, the same principles apply also other Chinese dialects.

As with all other braille codes, Chinese braille is read from left to right - whatever the direction of any inkprint original.

As a rule, in the inkprint one syllable is represented by one character. The same syllable in braille is written with one, two or three signs. There are three categories of these braille signs.

The official Pinyin transcription system has been used in the table below. The letters often indicate different sounds than in English. For example, the letter "x" represents a sound roughly similar to the "sh" in the English word "sheep".

Some braille signs stand for two different sounds. This technique ist necessary because there are more sounds than different braille signs. However, it causes no problems because certain combinations of sounds never occur.


A word consists of one or more syllables. In inkprint the characters follow one another without any space between them. Thus the word boundaries aren't immediately apparent. In braille, however, a space is left between words. This is necessary: whereas the inkprint characters provide information about the meaning of a syllable, the braille signs only represent the sounds. In the context of the other sounds of a word, the meaning is almost always instantly clear - provided, of course, that the reader masters the spoken language.

Let us take the word "chuiju" as an example: Each of these meanings is written with a different inkprint character. If the word boundaries weren't shown in the braille it would probably be difficult to know which were meant. Just the two syllables together can be immediately recognised as meaning "kitchen utensil".

In the few examples of Chinese braille that I have come across, the signs for the tones were not used except in the following cases:

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Table of signs for the sounds

In the following table each row explains one Chinese braille sign:

English Dot numbers Chinese
b d12 b
c d14 c
d d145 d
f d124 f
g d1245 g, j
h d125 h, x
j d245 r
k d13 k, q
l d123 l
m 134 m
n d1345 n
p d1234 p
q d12345 ch
s d234 s
t d2345 t
z d1356 z
wh d156 sh
st d34 zh
English Dot numbers Chinese
e d15 ye, ie
i d24 yi, i
o d135 wo, uo
r d1235 er
u d136 wu, u
v d1236 an
w d2456 wei, ui
x d1346 yang, iang
y d13456 wai, uai
and d12346 yuan, uan
for d123456 wa, ua
of d12356 ou
the d2346 ei
with d23456 yue, ue
ch d16 ying, ing
gh d126 yin, in
sh d146 yan, ian
th d1456 yong, iong
ed d1246 ya, ia
er d12456 wan, uan
ou d1256 you, iu
ow d246 ai
cc d25 wen, un
dd d256 weng, ong
en d26 o, e
ff d235 ao
gg d2356 wang, uang
query d236 ang
in d35 a
was d356 en
ar d345 yao, iao
ing d346 yu, u
ble d3456 eng
dots 4,5,6 d456 yun, un
English Dot numbers Chinese
a d1 1 (constantly high)
comma d2 2 (rising)
apostrophe d3 3 (falling then rising)
semicolon d23 4 (falling)

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Because so many braille signs are used for sounds, most of the puctuation marks consist of more than one braille sign. The majority of the punctuation seems to be an adaptation of the French signs with the dots moved half a sign to the right.

For example:

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Table of punctuation signs

period d5 d23
comma d5
query d5 d3
exclamation d56 d2
colon d25
pause d4
semicolon d56
dash d6 d36
ellipsis d5 d5 d5
middle dot d6 d3
opening bracket d56 d3
closing bracket d6 d23
square brackets d56 d23

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In the inkprint transcription of these examples (an adaptation of Pinyin), the tone is represented by numbers immediately following the syllable. [The braille in the alternative descriptions of the graphics is written in the European "Eurobraille" computer code.]

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©Vivian Aldridge (German original: 2000.04.03; translation 2002.04.20/2003.01.05)