Did you know that... ...many Chinese characters contain an element which hints at the meaning or the pronunciation of the character?
After Lesson 2, you will be able to:
say where Chinese characters came from;
say what characters consist of;
type characters on your computer.
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.
Originally, characters came from old pictographic signs that represented various objects:
rén [human being, person]
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.
gēn [with, follow] 跟
phonetic element: 艮 gen
meaning element: 足 zu [foot, characters with that element are to do with walking]
guān [government official] 官
guăn [accomodation for guests] 馆
phonetic element: 官 guan
meaning element: 食 [food, characters with that element are to do with food, hunger etc.]
zhòng [grow, seed] 种
zhōng [bell] 钟
phonetic element: 中 zhong
meaning element: 禾 [standing grain]
金[gold, characters with that element are connected with metals]