I caught two sixth grade girls passing notes in class today (which I think is far better than just chatting and disrupting the class), and they unexpectedly didn’t try to hide the note when I approached them when the class was over.
I was quite surprised at what I saw. I recognized the script, and had long thought it would be perfect for this sort of thing because I haven’t found many people in China who can identify it, let alone read or write it.
Of course this is the “bopomofo” script, more formally known as 注音符号 (zhùyīn fúhào). It’s quite ironic that most people in mainland China cannot even identify it, given that it appears in most dictionaries here (that I’ve seen). Headings for every syllable are introduced in both hanyu pinyin and bopomofo (although of course only hanyu pinyin is used in the individual entries).
No tone mark is given for the first tone, but an overdot is given for qīngshēng (no tone). How the text runs is interesting. The syllables are constructed vertically, and then the text runs left to right. This is different from how I’ve ever seen it, either in ruby script, or just horizontally (not grouped vertically in syllables), or purely vertically. When I asked them about it, they said this is how they learned it in school (in Taiwan).
Also, note that “ê” is used as a sentence-final modal particle twice, and with two different tones!
The content is less interesting, being exactly what one would expect from 6th grade girls passing notes, but if you’re really curious, here’s a pinyin transcription followed by a hanzi transcription and an ill-thought-out English translation (attempting to conserve the mistakes in the original, while of course introducing some of my own):
A: wǒ jué dé tā zhēn de hěn qí guài, tā shi bú shi nà ge lái suó yǐ cái zhè me mǐn gǎn ya?
B: yǒu kě néng! bài tuō ~ tā shēng qì jiù bā le, nà wèi shé me yào qì nà me jiù wú liǎo, hái yǒu wèi shé mè lián lèi dào wǒ. hěn wú liáo ê(2) [I don’t have a way to put a tone mark above that ê, so I put the tone number in parentheses.]
A: duì ma, jiù shì shuō ya. xiao sǐ rén le, wǒ shì wèi le tā hǎo ê(3). hái zài nà lǐ
A: I think s/he’s really weird. S/he’s that way so s/he’s so sensitive? [I’m guessing on that one.]
B: Maybe! Please~ if s/he’s mad, then fine. Why be mad for that long? It’s stupid. And why involve me? So stupid.
A: Right, just like that. Ridiculous. I’m doing something good for her/him. Still there.
I have no idea what the context was (and don’t really want to), but I’m glad to see bopomofo being used as a secret code for passing notes. Very cool indeed.