New blog URL

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The new title and URL are now up. I still need to improve the introduction and layout(badly!!), but at least the main things are out of the way and I can continue posting.

Inconsistencies in simplification

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In this post I will be going over an example of some of the inconsistencies in the simplification process. The simplification process was not to be carried out in one bout, but in several smaller reforms. Several attempts had been made, but they were not accepted by the Chinese people; only one was successful. I will go into more details about this in a later post as promised. Basically, radicals were simplified, graphemes were simplified, entire parts were completely removed, phonetic replacements occured, etc. A second reform was attempted, but never accepted by the people and was quickly aborted. Thus, the simplified characters that the People’s Republic of China uses today is the result of an incomplete reform with much over-simplification.
You can see some of the characters that would have been put into place through the second reform here.

So, here is one example that I will be focusing on for today. I will probably go over more in the future, we shall see. Let’s get started^^

Let us begin with two characters:

巤(liè) and 昔(xí/xī/cuò). We won’t worry about the last pronunciation for 昔 as it does not not really come into play here. Let’s take a look at a few characters that have 巤 as their phonetic component.

臘(là)、獵(liè)、蠟(là)、鑞(là)、躐(liè)、擸(liè)、鬣(liè)

You’ll notice that as a phonetic component, 巤 is almost always pronounced either liè or là. Now let’s look at their simplified forms.

腊(là)、猎(liè)、蜡(là)、镴(là)、躐(liè)、擸(liè)、鬣(liè)

As you can see the first three characters have had their phonetic 巤 changed to 昔. The fourth character has only had its radical simplified but has left the phonetic component. The last three characters are the exact same in both scripts.
(Also note the slight differences in the character 巤. The simplified version has a 乂 inside the 口, whereas the traditional version has a 人 instead.)

Now we have some characters with a new phonetic component that is not phonetic at all, and some have not changed at all. This is just one of the inconsistencies that leads to confusion when using simplified characters. In their attempt to “simplify" characters by reducing strokes they have removed one of the main principles of 漢字. Having characters with no phonetic component(or an incorrect one) is not logical. There only exist a few hundred characters these days that are not phono-semantic, the rest follow this pattern.

Now, let us look at one more thing. Seeing that a few of the more commonly used characters that use 巤 as a phonetic component are simplified to 昔, one may think this to be true for all simplifications with 巤. If one were to see 躐, it would be logical to think that its simplification is 踖, however, this is incorrect. These are two different characters with different pronunciations:
躐(liè)(from 巤liè)
踖(jí)(from 昔xí)

While their meanings are similar, they remain two separate characters.

The written Chinese language has been constantly evolving and thus contains many inconsistencies whether in traditional characters or in simplified ones. On top of that, Mandarin is not the only spoken language to use 漢字. What may be phonetic in Mandarin, may not be in one of the other “dialects" of Chinese, and vice versa.

That being said, the simplification process did change some characters’ phonetic element to be more accurate: e.g. 嚇→吓. Unfortunately, the number of characters whose phonetic component is now more accurate than it was in the traditional script is very low. Some approximate phonetic components have been used instead, but the emphasis is usually on fewer stroke, ultimately leaving the newly-formed characters without an appropriate phonetic component:
e.g. 聽→听[tīng](the phonetic tǐng turned into 斤jīn), 鄰→邻[lín](粦lín changed to 令lìng), 櫃→柜[guì](匱guì changed to 巨jù), 衛→卫[wèi](韋wéi is the phonetic component. Here the entire character has been changed into a newly-created character 卫, creating yet another inconsistency with other characters that use the phonetic 韋wéi), etc.

In conclusion, fewer strokes does not mean simpler. If you learn the phonetic components, characters become a breeze.

獨 vs. 独

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I don’t have much time, but I would like to at least make a new post. So here I am going to show you another simplification. This one deals with the removal of a phonetic component to reduce stroke count.

So here is 獨(dú), which means “alone, independent, single". It is a phono-semantic compound. On the left is犬(quǎn), a pictogram of a dog, here used as the radical. The idea is that dogs are lone animals. On the right is 蜀(shǔ, the name of an ancient state). While its pronunciation has changed a lot over time, it still has kept its rhyme. Most characters that have 蜀 as their phonetic value are pronounced “zhu"(usually 3rd tone^^), “du", “shu", or “chu". My next post will include more about pronunciation changes and similarities.

So, onto the simplified version.


So what happened? A part of the phonetic component was removed in order to reduce the number of strokes. This leaves us with 虫(chóng/huǐ, insect), which is not at all a phonetic or semantic component. We are now left with two pictograms and no pronunciation.

So what do you call a phono-semantic compound with no phonetic component?
…I don’t know either…

說文解字

Shuowen says: 犬相得而鬬也。从犬蜀聲。羊爲羣,犬爲獨也。一曰北嚻山有獨

醜 vs. 丑

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So I suppose I’ll go ahead and start with some characters since I’m putting the simplification post on hold for now.

So our first character is 醜(chǒu), which means “ugly, shameful, disgraceful". It is a phono-semantic compound (形聲). On the left side we have 酉(yǒu, the 10th earthly branch), which is our phonetic component. On the right, we have 鬼(guǐ), which means “ghost, sly, crafty".

So there you have it. a simple 漢字, right? Well, let’s see what China did with it during the simplification process.

(簡體字)

So what’s wrong with this character? It already existed in Chinese writing and is still a traditional character.

(正體字)

丑(chǒu) is the 漢字 for the second earthly branch, and it also means “clown". So while the pronunciation is the same, you now have a character whose meaning must be interpreted depending on the context. In “simplifying" this character, a.k.a. removing it completely from the language and “borrowing" another character with the same pronunciation (rebus/假借) to replace it, we now have a more complicated situation.

While the 12 heavenly stems and 10 earthly branches are not used too much these days, it still gives a bad name to the year of the ox which is represented by 丑. What an ugly year, huh? 囧

(Note the difference between the two 丑s written above. As a traditional character the 3rd stroke has kept its length. Here is 丑 in 小篆(small seal script):

說文解字

Shuowen says: 可惡也。从鬼酉聲。

A direct translation would be something like" “It’s repulsive. From 鬼 with 酉 sound." A more comprehensive translation might be: “Its meaning is ‘vile, hateful, repulsive’. Its semantic component is 鬼 and its phonetic component 酉."
(Give me feedback on the Shuowen definitions. Would you like them to be included in my posts? No need? Let me know what you think.)

For more information on the 12 heavenly stems and 10 earthly branches(干支), check out this site.

Unfortunate pause in blog creation

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Unfortunately the Internet is no longer working in my room, so the blog is on hold until that gets fixed. In the meantime, I am reading the English translation of 文字學概要 by 裘錫圭 (“Chinese Writing" by Qiu Xigui). The book was recommended to me and it looks very promising. I believe it will help my understanding of the history of the Chinese writing system. For anyone who is interested I will post the book’s information in this post once I can get on a computer (typing this from my iPhone.)

Also my post on the simplification process is also postponed until I finish reading this book. I would like to have the best knowledge while writing it, as it will take a while to write it well.

I hope to find a way very soon to again have Internet access in my room. Until then… leave me a comment on what you think of the site so far.

Happy studying!

The Chinese Scripts

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Before getting into the simplification process, I would like to briefly go over the different scripts in Chinese and the evolution of 漢字.

From symbols on pottery to a written language, 漢字 have gone through many stages and many changes. I am not going to focus too much on this, as you can find more information on other websites (Wikipedia’s page). Well, let’s get into it then!

I’ll only be going over the main 7 scripts, and they are…(in chronological order):

1. 甲骨文(jiǎ gǔ wén) – Oracle bone script
2. 金文(jīn wén) – Bronze script
3. 篆書(zhuàn shū) – Seal script (more specifically 小篆)
4. 隸書(lì shū) – Clerical script
5. 行書(xíng shū) – Semi-cursive script
6. 草書(cǎo shū) – Cursive script
7. 楷書(kǎi shū) – Regular script

1. 甲骨文 – Oracle bone script
This is the earliest significant corpus of Chinese writing. It was used for divination purposes, usually written on turtle shells and bones.

2. 金文 – Bronze script
Plenty of things I could say about this, all of which you can find on Wikipedia explained far better. I’ll keep it simple. These were cast or carved in bronze and other metals.

3. 篆書 – Seal script
篆書 became the formal script for all of China during the Qin dynasty. Today this script is mostly seen in seals, hence its English name. We will be focusing mostly on 小篆. I will be citing a lot of examples of 小篆 from the 說文解字 for etymological reasons.

(許慎─說文解字)

4. 隸書 – Clerical script
Developed during the Warring States period, this script was used in casual, informal writings. From this script evolved our next two scripts.

To download a 隸書 font: open this link, then click 下載字形.

5. 行書 – Semi-cursive script
This is the script you see most Chinese/Taiwanese people use when they write. It is derived from from 隸書 and not 楷書 as most people think. You can still see the general forms of the characters, but the strokes are more fluid and melded together.

6. 草書 – Cursive script
Another script evolved from 隸書 and not 楷書 as many think. 草書 is an abbreviation of 草率書(cǎo shuài shū) meaning “sloppy script". 草書 is not legible by most untrained eyes, including most Sinophones. Characters are written through the omission of graphemes, merging strokes, replacing partions with abbreviated forms, and modifying stroke styles. Learning the proper stroke order and special rules are necessary to be able to read these characters. There are not many true 草書家 left. Japanese hiragana(ひらがな) was created from 草書 character forms.

(張芝)

7. 楷書 – Regular script
I prefer to call it “Standard script" instead of “Regular script" as is often seen. This is the the newest and currently official script used in Chinese.

To download the official 楷書 font: open this link, then choose the appropriate version.

(墨海飛鷹)

Simplification of 肉 to 月

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I still have plenty of information to go over before getting into actual characters, but I kind of got tired of writing all of it and was impatient to get into actual content.

Here are the two characters 月(yuè – moon) and 肉(ròu – meat) in the 說文解字(I’ll be using this dictionary a lot to cite character etymologies).

        月                  肉
Here you can see the slight differences in 小篆(Xiǎo Zhuàn, small seal script). As semantic components in traditional Chinese they are still different, 月 and ⺼.
During the simpification process the “meat" component disappeared and was replaced by “moon". This small simplification makes understanding 漢字 much more difficult since there are many more characters that use the 肉 component than the 月 component. If you look at almost any body part in Chinese, you will almost always see 肉 as a part of the character. In simplified it is 月 leading you to believe the character has something to do with light. (Left is traditional, right is simplified)

Ex.
肴 yáo (meat dishes)- Here the top component is the phonetic value, 爻(yáo), and 肉 is the semantic component.

有 yǒu (to have, exist) – Here the top component, a form of 又(yòu), gives us our pronunciation and then there is 月. I won’t go into the etymology of this one as it is rather difficult and somewhat disputed upon.

肖 xiào (to resemble) – On top we have 小(xiǎo) the phonetic portion, and on bottom 肉, the meaning.

These two semantic components also have variants that show still show the differences in traditional characters.

Ex.
然 rán (correct, thus) – Here we have 肰(rán) the phonetic component, its meaning is “dog meat" so if you know that, then you know that it uses 肉 and not 月. As for the semantic part, 灬 is a form of 火(fire); the original meaning for the character was “to burn", but now through rebus the meaning has changed and a new character was created for “to burn", 燃.

望 wàng (full moon, to hope) – Here we have the the meaning coming from 亡(deceased, to be gone); the meaning of the character comes from the story of a prince who was exiled (出亡-to go into exile) and the king’s longing (wishing) that he be back. The phonetic part comes from a portion of 朢(wàng).

In summary:

As you can see there is a rather important difference between the two. The 肉 semantic component has been transformed into 月 in most cases.

Understanding a 漢字’s etymology is very important in understanding its meaning, with simplified characters, the meaning has almost always been lost.

Here are three short explanations from Taiwan’s Ministry of Education’s website on the matter.


六書 Liushu

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So I think what I’m going to do is have each post dedicated to one character in general, and every now and then throw in a post about something else. Before even looking at specific characters, it is essential to know how characters are made and how to recognize them.

According to the first Chinese dictionary, 說文解字(Shuōwén Jiězì) dating back to about 100 CE, there are 6 different types of Chinese characters (I’ll be using “漢字" from now on instead of “Chinese characters"). I will go over these very briefly since you can find better information on Wikipedia here.

1. 象形 – Pictograms
2. 指事 – Ideograms
3. 會意 – Ideogram compounds
4. 形聲 – Phono-semantic compounds
5. 假借 – Rebus (phonetic loan)
6. 轉注 – Derivative cognates

1. 象形 – Pictograms
These characters are visual representations, pretty self-explanatory. Roughly 600 漢字 are pictograms.

Ex. 日,月,木,目 (You can find nice little list with pictures on the Wikipedia link)

2. 指事 – Ideograms

These express abstract ideas. Sometimes they can be a little hard to guess the meaning.

Ex. 一,二,三 (1, 2, 3),中 (middle, a line through the center of a circle)

3. 會意 – Ideogram compounds
Two or more pictograms or ideograms whose meanings combine to create a new meaning.

Ex. 林(two trees=woods), 森(three trees=forest), 休(man leaning against a tree=rest)

4. 形聲 – Phono-semantic compounds
These make up for over 90% of all 漢字 used today. They are made up of a semantic part and a phonetic part. The phonetic value is not always 100% accurate; over time and through different dialects of Chinese the phonetics of characters have changed so often they are very similar to their original phonetic part, but not exact. Often only the tone will change.

Ex.
鋼 gāng(steel)=金(metal radical)+岡(gāng)
近 jìn(close, near)=辶(walk radical)+斤(jīn)

5. 假借 – Rebus (phonetic loan)
These 漢字 originally had a different meaning, but were “borrowed" to write a morpheme with the same phonetic value. Wikipedia gives a good example of how we use “4″ in English to represent “for", here “4″ is a rebus.

Ex.
北 běi – Originally meant “back", now means “north". “Back" is now 背.
永 yǒng – Originally meant “to swim" now means “forever". “To swim" is now 泳.

6. 轉注 – Derivative cognates
This is the last one and hardly worth mentioning. Derivitive cognates are two characters whose characters share a similar meaning and often a common etymological root. I only know of two characters that fit this profile.

Ex. 老(lǎo) and 考(kǎo): The words derive from a common etymological root (approximately *klao’), and the characters differ only in the modification of one part.

Before we get started: Useful tools and links

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So before I dive into the finer details of Chinese characters, I need to introduce a few resources that will ultimately make your Mandarin learning, as well as your time spent on this page, easier. I will probably only be typing in traditional characters, so use either MDBG or New Tong Wen Tang to see the simplified if that is what you wish.
(I will be updating this whenever I find a tool/website that could be useful to you guys)

MDBG Chinese Reader:
MDBG Chinese Reader: First and foremost you need to download this Chinese Reader. It is one of the best programs out there for Mandarin. It will allow you to see the pinyin/zhuyin and definitions of any Chinese characters simply by hovering your mouse over them. It uses the CC-CEDICT, (which is updated daily), and you can use it offline as well. It is free to use, however after 15 days it tells the user they are required to purchase the full version. The only differences between the two are a custom dictionary builder and another unnecessary element. You may continue using the program for free after the 15 days without any problems, and no features are removed. The only difference is a pop-up reminder. To rid yourself of this annoyance, just follow these instructions:
– After completion of the initial 15-day trial, you need to click “skip" to load the dictionary.
– Every now and then the reminder will reappear. The second time that it does this, drag it to the bottom of the screen and you won’t see it nor will it bother you anymore.

Taiwan’s Ministry of Education’s Stroke Order website: This baby is one of my absolute favorites! It shows you the stroke orders for 4,808 Characters as well as many other advanced features. (Read the instructions for more information)

新同文堂 (New Tong Wen Tang) for Firefox: This is an extremely convenient plugin that permits you to convert websites from simplified to traditional, and vice versa, in a split second. No waiting! It also provides an automatic conversion for all or specifically chosen websites. Another useful feature that I really like is a clipboard converter. You can copy text from anywhere, click ‘T’ or ‘S’, and the clipboard will be converted to paste wherever you like.

Speak Mandarin in 500 words(30 lessons)
Speak Mandarin in 1000 words(100 lessons)
: These two websites seem to be very similar in the idea, but the 1000 character one is quite new and seems to be a lot easier to navigate. I don’t believe the second one has stroke orders, but you can easily find them on the stroke order website noted above. Both of these are very informative and can be used for those who study alone or as a complement to your studies in school. I recommend you give them both a thorough look and take the best parts of each of them. They both provide video instruction and the 1000 version has interesting dialogs and they are very well pronounced I might add. The only bad thing I have to say about it is that they have some very corny songs for remembering the dialog…feel free to skip that part. In all parts you may choose to use Hanyu Pinyin or Zhuyin(bopomofo). All in all a very good site for learning.

Learn to properly pronounce Pinyin/Zhuyin: Go to the 1000 character website posted above and click on “Pronunciation". There, using Hanyu Pinyin or Zhuyin, you can create all of the possible sound combinations in Mandarin and hear them spoken by a native speaker. They also provide a character example for each combination.

Learn Zhuyin/Bopomofo: Go to the 1000 character website posted above and click on “Study Resources" then “Corresponding Pinyin" and then you will find a nice chart for learning Bopomofo. The symbols are grouped into consonants, vowels, and diphthongs. Clicking on a one of the symbols brings up a stoke order animation, as well as the corresponding pinyin letter(s). Once the animation is done a woman pronounced the symbol(s). It is very well done and great for learning this very useful and more accurate system.
**Note: There are actually a few mistakes on the site. 1) Some of the pinyin is incorrect, e.g. ㄨㄥ in Hanyu Pinyin is actually “weng, -ong". I have sent an email to the site to see if they can correct this. You can find the correct pinyin under the “Pronunciation" tab in the main window. 2) The Tongyong Pinyin is for some reason not included and is a copy of the Hanyu Pinyin. This too I have asked them to fix.

Yellow Bridge Etymology: I made a keyword on Firefox for this one, I use it so often. I have http://www.yellowbridge.com/chinese/character-etymology.php?searchChinese=1&zi;=%s under “Location". Just copy that and make a keyword such as “ety" or something as I did. All I need to do is to type “ety 我" in the address bar to see the etymology of the character 我. It is not entirely perfect, as some components are incorrect, although it is extremely close and definitely to satisfaction.

Online Reference Materials: This is for more advanced learners. Almost all of it is written in Chinese, but it has some GREAT resources. Dictionaries, stroke orders, radicals books, font downloads, everything you will ever need for perfecting your Chinese.

Introduction

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Note: It is not necessary to read this. I wrote this very poorly and very quickly. You can skip it if you like and go straight to my other posts.

Hello everyone. This is my first blog, so it will be a work in progress

As to why I am making this blog… I wish to share my love for traditional Chinese characters with the world and I hope to spread knowledge and break stereotypes.

Here is a little intro about myself and how I became interested in learning traditional characters.

I am American and currently living in France. In 8th grade I began learning French and right away I knew it was for me. I learned it with a great passion and took it all the way to the end of high school. I now speak it fluently and live just outside Paris with my lovely fiancée.

In 2005, I decided to take up learning Japanese. I studied on and off for a couple of years and was able to recognize a good number of kanji from playing video games and letting my curiosity get the better of me every time I saw a kanji I did not know. To make a long story short, I decided to move to France to study (college here is practically free, if not free). I was required to take a course on learning the different scripts in Japanese before the first semester began, so I took the opportunity to take the required pinyin class for Chinese as well. It was during this two-week class learning pinyin and how to properly pronounce Mandarin that I fell in love with Chinese. I immediately changed to a double degree in Mandarin and Japanese.

Come the end of the first semester, I found that the double degree was taking its toll on me and I was unable to handle so many classes at once (the commute to Paris is quite tiring). I decided to stop learning Japanese and to focus solely on Mandarin.

So where do traditional characters fit into this? Well, it was at the end of my first semester that I finally decided to make the switch. Having already learned a good bit in Japanese, I had much exposure to traditional characters already. I must admit though, in the beginning, I strongly disliked traditional characters and made it a point to get pissed at teachers who would print out worksheets with any traditional characters in them.

One of my teachers is Taiwanese, and she helped motivate me and made me realize that it was very possible for me to learn them. My main concern was that I would not have any use for them and that the 1.3 billion Chinese people who use simplified characters would not understand what I write and that I would not understand what they write. I soon realized however that it is not at all difficult to understand simplified once knowing traditional. Going the other way around, however, it not as easy. I will get more into that later.

So anyways, after my first semester I decided to use traditional characters on my tests and in everything I did in school. My teachers support my decision, and several students have actually followed me and have made the switch as well.

I suppose I’m done then. Let’s get right down to it, 繁體字!