Character Anecdotes

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我知道我的新帖子来晚了, 真不好意思. 考完我大学一年级的考试以后我以为没有那么大的压力, 不过我最近的情况是比较特别的啊. 但是没问题,我乐于接受挑战!今天我写的是今年上课的时候听见的一些汉字故事~ 你们已经知道我对语言有兴趣, 所以今天写的帖子就是原来如此… I’m not sure exactly how to describe what I’ve planned for today’s post, but as you can see from the title I have rendered it as ‘character anecdotes’. 可是 what does that actually mean? As you may very well be aware, I am very interested in the stories behind Chinese characters (or general linguistics) and so when my teachers have gone off on anecdotal tangents during lessons I wrote down some of the main points of interesting stories. Today I will share some of these that relate to the Chinese language.

  • 睡觉 ‘eyes coming down’ + ‘consciousness’ = sleep.
  • 坐 means ‘sit’. The radicals show two people on earth (人+土).
  • 贝 Shell radical, usually used in words to do with money. This is because shells were an ancient form of money. This radical is also used in the word noble (贵), can you guess why? Also the character meaning ‘to congratulate’ is comprised of radicals meaning ‘add’ and ‘money’; 贺=加+贝。
  • 画 (picture) includes the radical 田 (field) 所以 “Put a field in a frame is a picture”.
  • Ancient Chinese uses less characters to save space.
  • 休 = A person resting on a tree (the radical on the left is one representation of a person, and on the right is the character for tree木).
  • After the sun and moon is another day 🙂 曰+ 月= 明.

Let’s end with a final quote from a teacher of mine… “I know it’s confusing but there is no second way, it is the native way”. The ‘native way’ and ‘Chinese way of thinking’ are things we heard a lot this year; I hope this post allowed you to better appreciate what they actually mean.

For now I’ve lifted notes taken from only one of my notebooks used this academic year. Even with just this I had a substantial amount of material for today’s post and also held back many interesting stories. I’ve created quite a few series on this blog now and so I shall add to it with a continuation of these anecdotes to come some time soon~ ^-^

If you are aiming to adopt ‘the native mind’, good luck 世界。

-Also, I’ve been meaning to address this for a while but I have come to realize that my usual end greeting 从欣妍 – From Xinyan” is grammatically incorrect. 从 is an example of a coverb, which you can understand as a verb that assists the main verb of a sentence. For instance I could say 从学院到我家用五分钟* which means ‘It takes 5 minutes from the college to my house’ (*it’s a basic sentence, but also an untrue statement, fyi). However 从欣妍 on it’s own is incomplete and just doesn’t work. Therefore from now on I shall be ending my posts in the same way that you would end a (formal) letter in Chinese. The format would be slightly different in a letter but 我不关心~ Maybe I can elaborate one day. I decided not to edit the end greetings in my previous posts just to mark progression, but we shall see. 最后。。。

此致敬礼欣妍–From Xinyan.

Stuck between midway

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The thing I love most about Chinese as a language is the stories behind characters in written communication. I’m not sure who coined the term ‘character’, but I think it’s most appropriate because Chinese characters are characters in the story behind the Chinese word.

I have talked about this before, but breaking up a Chinese character into its component radicals can help you understand how the word was formed through the stories that the radicals convey. The radicals that are used in a character can also reflect societal values of the time period that the word was formed in. We can see this in common words such as ‘good’ 好, which is made up of the radical meaning woman 女 (female), and the radical on the right meaning son 子. When the radicals are combined the word means good, to convey that a women is meant to stay with her son (boys were also favoured over girls in Ancient China…and arguably still today).

One of the characters that my teacher recently helped me dissect is卡 ‘ka’ meaning ‘’stuck’’. The character is comprised of two radicals,上 and下. 上 ‘shang’ means “up”, as in ‘on top of the horizon’, and 下 ‘xia’ means ‘’down” as it has the opposite meaning of ‘underneath the horizon’. The line at the bottom of shang and at the top of xia represents the horizon, and then the line above and below the ‘horizon’ conveys that the characters are either above or below. The word ‘ka’ is interesting because it uses both of these ideas together.In the character 卡 you can see that shang forms the top half of the character and xia forms the bottom. As mentioned above, 卡 means ‘stuck’ precisely because it is stuck between the points both above and below the horizon! Because of the phonetic sound of that character, ‘ka’卡is used as the Chinese word for ‘card’. My Chinese teacher also showed us a character that looks similar to卡, which is the surname ‘Bian’ 卞. By following the reasoning for why卡 was formed, perhaps you could offer your own reason for the story behind bian卞, because I’m not too sure. My teacher’s friend has 卞 ‘Bian’ as her surname, but she gets offended when people accidently misspell it as卡because she does not want to be ‘stuck’!

[If you look at these side by side you can clearly see the similarities:卡 上 下卞].

The radical components in almost every Chinese character are something I find interesting. Not all words have extensive stories behind them, however as I mentioned in a previous post people sometimes offer their interpretations and stories behind characters on online forums etc. Now that I have developed my introduction of this concept, I would love to share with you short reasons behind why certain characters were formed (or at least some of the reasons).

If you feel that you are stuck between midway, good luck 世界。

从欣妍 – From Xinyan.

P.s. I found some beautiful pictures of horizons that I was going to include at the start of this post, however I stuck with a photo I took at the park last summer as the sunset was emerging (maximizing the use of primary sources!) Great horizon right 😛🌅