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The Genealogy and Dictionary of Chinese Characters

| Articles | April 30, 2013

Just like any other languages, Chinese uses both pronunciation and meaning on its characters. It is considered as one of humanity’s most enduring and greatest achievements culturally. Chinese character is one of the most used literatures around the world. It is also one of the most widely use art character.

Despite of its achievements, most people of the last century view it as a sub standard in the phonetics of Western Languages. Because of this, China thought of eliminating these characters in the year of 1950. Up to now, a lot of Chinese are still not aware of their writing system tradition. On this article, we will try to understand Chinese characters so that we can appreciate its existence.

The Chinese characters are viewed as complex but in reality they are just made up of a few simple ideographs and pictographs which are built to be remembered easily. In the tradition of Chinese, one syllable corresponds to a single character. Almost all of the words in contemporary times of Chinese are multi-syllabic or polysyllabic which need to write two or more characters. The cognates in different Chinese dialects that have similar definitions but differ in pronunciations are written with similar character.

There are numerous characters originated and used according to Korean and Japanese definitions which will represent as native words. The free relationship between character and phonetics made writings of different and not related languages a possibility.

Sinographs is the other term for Chinese characters thus their writing is called sinography. The usage and design of characters in the Chinese dictionary creates an interesting problem. There are so many indexing schemes which are made for the usage of Chinese characters. Most of these schemes were shown in only one dictionary which has the radicals system.

You can search the Chinese character dictionary in various ways. One is through the radical order wherein the characters are organized into radicals. A radical which consists of fewer strokes are located at the front pages while those that have numerous strokes appear last.

For an instance you want to find the pine tree in the dictionary with a “?” character. The first thing you need to find as the radical in this character which is the “?”. As you can see it has four strokes so you can find this character at the page 4 for the lists of the same radicals.

Another method of looking for a character is through the use of four corner method. In this system, the characters are classified into the shape of the four corners.

On the other hand, a lot of Chinese-English dictionaries utilize the system of pinyin romanization. Just like the radical system, you will need to identify the radical first and count the number of strokes. The said character will have its specific pinyin pronunciation then you can look on the alphabetized pinyin spelling just like the ordinary English dictionary.

This is jus a brief overview of the enriched tradition in Chinese characters. A lot of books with regards to the genealogy and dictionary of Chinese characters are now out in the market. These books would be of great use for those who want to learn more about Chinese characters and want to acquaint themselves on how to write one. It may not be easy at first but a few practice will do the trick.

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