Ruby character

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Ruby characters (ルビ?) are small, annotative glosses that can be placed above or to the right of a Chinese character when writing languages with logographic characters such as Chinese or Japanese to show the pronunciation. Typically called just ruby or rubi, such annotations are usually used as a pronunciation guide for relatively obscure characters.



Here is an example of Japanese ruby characters (called furigana) for Tokyo ("東京"):

Note: The font size is increased to show details.

Most furigana (Japanese ruby characters) are written with the hiragana syllabary, but katakana and romaji are also occasionally used. Alternatively, sometimes foreign words (usually English) are printed with furigana implying the meaning, and vice-versa. Textbooks usually write on-readings with katakana and kun-readings with hiragana.

Here is an example of the Chinese ruby characters for Beijing ("北京"):

In Taiwan, the syllabary used for Chinese ruby characters is Zhuyin Fuhao (also known as BoPoMoFo); in mainland China Hanyu Pinyin is used. Typically, zhuyin is used with a vertical traditional writing and zhuyin is written on the right side of the characters. In mainland China, horizontal script is used and ruby characters (pinyin) are written above the Chinese characters.

Books with phonetic guides are popular with children and foreigners learning Chinese (especially pinyin).

Uses of ruby

Ruby may be used for different reasons:

  • because the character is rare and the pronunciation unknown to many—personal name characters often fall into this category;
  • because the character has more than one pronunciation, and the context is insufficient to determine which to use;
  • because the intended readers of the text are still learning the language and are not expected to always know the pronunciation and/or meaning of a term;
  • because the author is using a nonstandard pronunciation for the characters—for example, comic books often employ ruby to emphasize dajare puns.

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