...Well, not exactly. However, as a foremost expert on the study of Chinese language* I thought that I would share with you some of vast knowledge of the subject. By “vast knowledge” I mean I got a burned copy of Rosetta stone, a couple of books, and lived in China for almost 4 months. Ok, so I’m not exactly fluent, but I can read and say basic things like “Where is the department store?”, sometimes even without accidentally insulting someone’s mother or mispronouncing to instead say “Take me to the idiot?” [Yes, that actually happened to me.] Point is, before I began to study Chinese, I was always interested in the characters but totally mystified as to how a person could learn the system. As I learned a bit more, I was totally enthralled, and I thought that you all might be interested in a couple of facts too:
• Because Chinese characters (han zi) developed during the days of using brushes and ink to write, they are understood as a combination of strokes that comprise the character. The order in which the strokes are written or painted is important, and generally follows a left-to-right, top-to-bottom, in-to-out order. In fact, even a moderately educated person could look at a character you wrote and discern whether your stroke order is correct!
• There are two main writing systems for Chinese characters, Traditional and Simplified. Traditional characters are those that developed through the centuries and typically involve more strokes than do Simplified characters, which were introduced after the Communist takeover, in the late 1950’s. Mainland China uses Simplified characters, while Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau use Traditional. With few exceptions, those who use one system can understand when reading the other.
• Each character stands for one sound and one discrete meaning, but not necessarily a whole word. So sometimes to make words you have to combine a few characters, for example:
• Characters can go from simple to very complicated, with more complicated ones comprised of the more simple characters. Radicals are building block characters that are frequently used. Examples:
• So, based on those radicals above, it makes sense that:
• So when a Chinese reader comes across a new character, how would they know what it means or how to say it? When you have a character like the ones above that are comprised of other characters, much of the time the meaning is indicated by a radical, usually on the left or sometimes the top of the character, while the sound to pronounce will be on the right. In these examples, 包 (bao) is used for the sound.
• So, can you read this sentence? (Hint: 有 = has)
“There’s a fire in the forest – run!” Yeaaaah, Chinese grammar, not like English – but that’s another post!
* in my household