学生Chinese for you The sign

The Chinese characters

Opening fact

Did you know that...
...many Chinese characters contain an element which hints at the meaning or the pronunciation of the character?

Lesson aims

After Lesson 2, you will be able to:

  • say where Chinese characters came from;
  • say what characters consist of;
  • type characters on your computer.

Introduction

Contrary to what many may think, Chinese characters are not a collection of unrelated pictures, but consist of shapes created centuries ago in a very clever and logical manner. Each character represents not a word, as is commonly thought, but a syllable (remember? we learned about syllables in Lesson 1).
So a 2-syllable word is written using 2 characters.

Although there are thousands and thousands of characters, many of them are not used on a daily basis. It is enough to know a few thousand to be fully literate. However, for basic day-to-day needs a much smaller number is sufficient.

Basic information

Originally, characters came from old pictographic signs that represented various objects:

yuè [moon]
rì [sun]
shuĭ [water]
shān [mountain]
rén [human being, person]
huŏ [fire]
yŭ [rain]

Some characters were combined together to make new characters:

míng [bright: combination of a sun and moon]
hăo [good: a combination of a child and a woman]
cóng [from: combination of 2 people]
zhòng [crowd: combined of 3 people]
xiū [rest: combination of a person and a tree]
shuāng [two, twin, both: a combination of two birds]
nán [Man: a combination of a field and
a plough-like tool for harvest, “strength on the field”]

 

Today, the majority of characters are composed of two elements: a phonetic element, showing how to read the character and a meaning element, pointing out the meaning of the character. This means that sometimes you can guess the approximate meaning of the character if you know the meanings of its components.

hěn [very]
gēn [with, follow]  
phonetic element: gen
meaning element: zu [foot, characters with that element are to do with walking] 
guān [government official]
guăn [accomodation for guests]
phonetic element: guan
meaning element: [food, characters with that element are to do with food, hunger etc.] 
zhòng [grow, seed]
zhōng [bell]
phonetic element: zhong
meaning element: [standing grain] 

[gold, characters with that element are connected with metals] 

Evaluate and comment this lesson

average evaluation for this lesson: 7.4

Latest comments

  • Paolo Pasquini
    01.10.2017 07:47
    Ottima la lezione, i caratteri cinesi sono scritti troppo piccoli!
  • levente schepisi
    10.07.2017 19:10
    Ottima lezione!
  • Florian Costea
    08.05.2017 16:27
    Varianta in Romana foarte slaba.
    Textul incepe in Engleza.
  • Florian Costea
    08.05.2017 16:23
    Corectati varianta in Romana
    xiū = odihna
  • Aleksandra Kmin
    11.12.2016 15:33
    super brnę do przodu
  • Amojo Samuel
    09.11.2016 20:07
    fine
  • Carlo MARINO
    31.07.2016 22:03
    Very interesting lesson
  • Ruzica Mikulic
    12.05.2016 17:01
    super
  • Alexandru Popescu
    15.04.2016 21:58
    Excelenta lecție!
  • reneja marn
    01.10.2015 15:22
    great lesson
  • maria paola ricci
    31.07.2015 15:37
    interessante ... fa venire voglia di approfondire l'origine dei caratteri e come sono cambiati nel tempo
  • Enrico Rossini
    13.03.2015 17:11
    very fashinating...it has a different and interesting tongue roots comparing with european languages
  • Agnieszka Mazur
    11.03.2015 15:39
    I love this GOLD sign :) good sign :) very logic explanation
  • Amaresh Biswas
    27.12.2014 15:52
    It is good for understanding, how a character has got the shape.
  • Giovanni Villella
    14.11.2014 14:45
    Buono
  • Waldemberg Fernandes osta Berg
    02.09.2014 03:25
    Bem explicativo.
  • Milena Koleva
    20.04.2014 22:16
    Много интересно, веднага се запомня.
  • Grace Sumidanu
    18.03.2014 21:54
    Przydatne złożenia podobnych znaków i ich wyjaśnienie.
  • ari saarinen
    25.01.2014 19:16
    Guan no 2 pin yin not written right
  • Raimo Pullat
    10.06.2013 16:12
    Grammatika on selgelt esitatud.
  • Marius Lapė
    29.05.2013 09:43
    See on hästi kirjutatud.
  • Esztora Petőfi
    16.05.2013 13:12
    Nagyon jól strukturált.
  • Blanka Slavik
    14.05.2013 08:46
    Myslím, že táto lekcia je dosť atraktívna.
  • Valdek Pall
    13.05.2013 13:38
    Väga hea heli kvaliteet
  • Donata Cazacu
    13.05.2013 08:50
    Un mod foarte uşor şi interesant de a învăţa limbi străine.
  • Андрей Врабчев
    10.05.2013 12:15
    Информацията е представена по много интересен начин.
  • Marta Malinowska
    09.05.2013 14:33
    Faktycznie znaki bardzo fajnie i czytelnie przedstawione.
  • Małgorzata Jendryczka
    30.12.2012 15:47
    Bardzo obrazowo przedstawione znaki, nawet dla manualnie niezbyt zdolnych użytkowników.

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