iOS Users: Please click here for the latest information: (updated 5.10.2016)
Say It Right Series

Character Points Reprised

Posted by mark December 30, 2009 in the Group General Discussion.

I am sure I am not the first to make this discovery, but it is something that has gradually dawned on me as I study 汉字 more carefully.  Most characters are constructed like molecules from atoms.  It seems that if someone needed a new character, they took an existing one and added a radical (部首)to the left, top, bottom, or right of an existing character, and off they went.

It also seems to me that these add-on bits are mostly what is used for character classification.  For example, 讠is a fairly frequent add-on bit.  If I see," 讠X", it is a pretty good bet that "X" itself is another character.  In fact, if X is composed of multiple radicals, those radicals are often characters on their own.  The exceptions seem to be either if somewhere along the way someone started simplifying the method for writing "X", or if "X" used to be a character and fell into disuse to an extent that it isn't included in modern dictionaries and doesn't have a unicode representation.  Current Simplified characters versus Traditional Characters don't seem to be the only source of X's getting simplified beyond recognition.

The problem for studying characters is that there are about a billion characters with 讠on their left side, or at least way more than I am going to memorize in one sitting.  The same goes for most other radicals that are used for character classification, most likely by intention more than accident. Also, the X's are the more complicated parts of these characters, and don't have any obvious relationship to eachother.

However, if I focus on a particular X and look at what has been added, left, top, bottom or right of it, I typically get a list that is short enough for memorizing in one sitting, and all the characters have the complicated X in common, plus a relatively simple addition.

For example, the character for temple, 寺 ,with some bamboo on top means etc or waiting, with a cow beside it means special, with a hand beside it means to support, and with steps beside it means to deal with or to wait.  There are probably some others that I haven't located yet, but my point is this seems a fairly manageble set to wrap my head around.  BTW, I haven't figured out why a temple would be associated with these meanings, but I am actually not too concerned about that.  I can also note that 土 and 寸, which make up 寺, are themselves both used in a bunch of characters, but because they are rather basic, too many for one sitting.

I intend to use this thread to make other observations about specific X's, as intriquing ones occur to me.

Comments (99) RSS

loading... Updating ...

To comment, please login.

Not sure if your comment is appropriate? Check our Commenting Policy first.

New lesson idea? Please contact us.