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Chinese character

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Classification

Chinese scholars classify Han characters by identifying several types of compounds. The first type, and the type most often associated with Chinese writing, are pictograms, which are pictorial representations of the morpheme represented. There are also "ideograms" that attempt to graphicalize abstract concepts, such as "up" or "down". However, these "pictograms" and "ideograms" take up a small proportion of Chinese logograms.

The more common types Chinese characters, on the other hand, are 'radical-radical' compounds, in which each element (radical) of the character hints at the meaning, and radical-phonetic' compounds, in which one component (the radical) indicates the kind of concept the character describes, and the other hints at the pronunciation. This last type accounts for the majority of Chinese logograms. Note that despite being called "compounds", these logograms are single entities in themselves; they are written so that they take up the same amount of space as any other logogram.

(Due to the long period of language evolution, hints within characters toward pronunciation and meanings are often useless and sometimes quite misleading, especially depending on which language is spoken.)

For example, the character for "East" (東; dong1) consists of the tree radical(木) and the sun radical (日). All in all it represents a sun rising through trees; this character falls in the radical-radical category.

Another example, the character for "mother" (媽 ma1) consists of one component meaning "female (女)" and another one meaning "horse (馬 ma3)" - now this doesn't mean Chinese view mothers as female horses! The first component (or "radical") simply tells that the character denotes a female entity, whereas the second acts as a pronunciation guide by referring to the word for "horse", which is also pronounced 'ma', though in a different tone.

Radicals Main article: radical

Each character has a fundamental component, or radical (部首 bu4 shou3, literal meaning: "partial head (of the most importance)"), and this design principle is used in Chinese dictionaries to logically order characters in sets.

Full characters are ordered according to their initial radical, which fall into roughly 200 types. Then these are subcategorised by their total number of strokes.

This principle of categorisation is exploited by everybody who must learn to write Han characters: The vast number of Chinese characters can be much more easily memorized if they are mentally decomposed into their constituent radicals. The question of how many characters there are is a subject of debate.

In the 18th century, European scholars claimed the total tally to be about 80,000. This number, however, is exaggerated, as the most comprehensive dictionary (the Kangxi[?] Dictionary 康熙字典) lists about 40,000 characters. One reason for large number of characters is that they include all of the different characters in the different variations of Chinese. Popular estimates say that about 3,000 characters are needed to read a Chinese newspaper, and 4,000 to 5,000 constitute a decent education.

Often a character which is not commonly used will appear in a personal or place name. This has caused problems with some computer encoding systems which include only the 5000 or so most common characters and exclude the less often used characters. For example, the Taiwanese politician Wang Jian-Hsuan[?] has a name that is difficult to encode in some computer systems because the last character in the name is a uncommon character.

Calligraphic styles

The earliest Chinese characters are the so called "Oracle Script" or (甲骨文) jia3gu3wen2 during the Shang Dynasty, followed by the Bronzeware Script or (金文) jin1wen2 during the Zhou Dynasty. These scripts no longer serve as anything but a curiosity.

The first script that is still of relevance today is the "Seal Script" or 篆書[篆书] zhuan4shu1. It is the result of the efforts of the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang Di, in the standardization of the Chinese script. The Seal Script, as the name suggests, is now only used in artistic seals. Few people are still able to read the seal script, although the art of carving a traditional seal in the seal script remains an art in China today.

Scripts that are still used regularly for print are the "Clerk Script" or 隸書[隶书] li4shu1, the "Wei Monumental" or 魏碑 wei4bei1, the "Regular Script" or 楷書[楷书] kai3shu1, the "Song Style" or 宋體[宋体] song4ti3 (only in printing), and the "Running Script" or 行書[行书] xing2shu1. Modern Chinese handwriting is usually modeled on the Running Script.

Finally, there is the "Draft Script", or 草書[草书] cao3shu1. The Draft Script is an idealized calligraphic style, where characters are suggested rather than realized. Despite being nearly illegible, the Draft Script is highly revered for the beauty and freedom that it embodies. Many simplied Chinese characters are based on this style.

Chinese (Han/Kanji) Ideographs and their radicals

The design and use of a dictionary of ideograms presents interesting problems. Dozens of indexing schemes, for example, have been created for the Chinese characters, (hanzi or kanji) that are used to write Chinese and Japanese. The great majority of these schemes--beloved by their inventors but nobody else--have appeared in only a single dictionary; and only one such system has achieved truly widespread use. This is the system of radicals[?].

For example, (信) (man standing next to his words(mouth with sound) meaning truth, faith, fidelity, sincerity, trust, confidence, reliance, or devotion. This particular character is composed of the radical for "man," and 7 additional strokes. To look this up one by the multi-radical method, [1] (http://www.csse.monash.edu.au/cgi-bin/cgiwrap/jwb/wwwjdic?1R) one finds the radical for "man" in the dictionary (most dictionaries will have an index page to help with this step) and then passes through 1 additional stroke, 2 additional strokes, etc. until one finds entries for 7 additional strokes. If the radical chosen by the user matches the radical used by the dictionary compiler (not a problem in this simple example, but it can be tricky), and if both user and dictionary compiler count strokes the same way (occasionally a problem), the entry will be found.

see also Bliss symbols



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