胎, 婴, 孩, 儿, and 子
Today we're going to talk the big question -- where does baby vocabulary come from? These five characters will get you started on the vocabulary you need to go all the way from embryo to adolescent.
First, we'll start at the beginning, with 胎 [tāi], "embryo." In this meaning, the character is often combined with another of the characters in this group, 儿, to form the word 胎儿 [tāi'ér] -- "fetus, embryo." The character has also been sound-loaned to mean "tire," and so its found in the words 轮胎 [lúntāi] -- "tire" -- and 车胎 [chētāi], also "tire." Radical: 肉 (130). Components: 月台. Strokes: 9.
We'll follow the progression on now to 婴 [yīng], meaning "infant." This character is also commonly paired with 儿 in 婴儿 [yīng'ér] -- "baby, infant." Some interesting words containing 婴 include 试管婴儿 [shìguǎn yīng'ér] -- literally, "test-tube baby" -- and 连体婴 [liántǐyīng] -- "Siamese twins." Radical: 女 (38). Components: 贝女. Strokes: 11.
Next up is 孩 [hái], "child." This character is the core of a variety of words that mean child. First and foremost among them is 孩子 [háizi], "child." By adding 男 or 女, you get 男孩儿 [nánháir] and 女孩儿 [nǚháir] -- "boy" and "girl," respectively. My wife likes to call me a 大孩子 [dàháizi], as well -- I'll let you guess what that one means. Radical: 子 (39). Components: 子亥. Strokes: 9.
The next two characters have child-related meanings, but are often found in other roles as well. The first of these is 儿 [ér], which means "child" or "son." In this meaning, it's found in the words 儿女 [ér-nǚ] -- "sons and daughters" -- 儿童 [értóng] -- "children" -- and 儿子 [érzi] -- "son." However, it's also used to represent the retroflex "r" sound that is common in northeastern dialects, and is often found in the role as well. Radical: 儿 (10). Strokes: 2.
Finally, we come to 子 [zǐ], which also means "child," but is now most commonly found at the ends of nouns where it has a neutral tone. Example of these include 屋子 [wūzi] "room," 肚子 [dùzi] "belly," 桌子 [zhuōzi] "table," 村子 [cūnzi] "village," and about a million more. Radical: 子 (39). Components: 了一. Strokes: 3.
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