Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Chinese Phonetic-Semantic Compounds 中文語音-語義復合詞

Chinese Phonetic-Semantic Compounds 中文語音-語義復合詞

Semantic-phonetic compounds in Chinese are interesting.

Chinese characters have a lot of meaningful information (for understanding) carried in them already. However, it might not be immediately obvious to beginners how this information is structured and how to access it.

Semantic-phonetic compounds (the name sounds difficult, but is not really) is a common category. Semantic means related to meaning and phonetic means related to sound. This means that it is a character consisting of one part giving the character its meaning and another part giving it its sound.

For example, 洋 (yáng) "ocean" consists of two parts, 氵 (shuǐ) "water" and 羊 (yáng) "sheep". Obviously, the meaning is unrelated to sheep, the sheep is there to give the character its pronunciation. The water is there to give the character its meaning.

It seems that "spoken Chinese" emerged before the written language. That means that people used much more words than they had characters for. When they wanted to use a character to write something new, they took a character that was related to the meaning of what they wanted to express and combined it with another character which was pronounced in the same or at least a similar way.

Interesting characters:

With dot : 娘, 浪, 狼, 莨, 阆, 琅, 稂, 锒, 粮, 蜋, 酿, 踉

Without dot : 艰, 限, 垦, 很, 恨, 狠, 退, 垠, 哏, 恳, 根, 痕, 眼, 银, 裉, 跟

You could learn this by remembering if there should be a dot or not. If you know that 良 and 艮 are the phonetic components of these characters, you just need to know the pronunciation. Characters containing 良 mostly end in -ang or -iang, whereas those that contain 艮 usually ends in -in or -en (in any case not -ng).

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