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Phonetic elements in characters, do they work in Cantonese and other dialiects?

Posted by helzcurrah September 13, 2012 in the Group General Discussion.

I'm curious about something: since I started learning characters, I've learnt that a substantial number of characters have a phonetic element, so they don't give any meaning to the character, they just tell you how to pronounce it.

For example the basic character 元 is pronounced "yuan", and of course means the chinese currency.

There are other characters, for example 远 and 园 which don't have anything to do with the currency, but are both pronounced "yuan".

My question is, given that all dialects of chinese use the same characters, do these phonetic clues also help in those languages? For instance do 元, 远 and 园 all have the same pronunciation as each other in Cantonese or Hakka or Hokkien (albeit different from the mandarin pronunciation)? Or does the system fall apart in these cases, and the characters just have less meaning/give help less?

When Chinese character were first developed, were they developed with putonghua in mind, or all dialects?

I would be curious to see if anyone has some knowledge or insight about this.

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