Names of the Radicals

Discussions on the Hokkien (Minnan) language.
Posts: 1407
Joined: Mon Jun 26, 2006 8:33 am
Location: Amsterdam

Re: Names of the Radicals

Post by SimL »

amhoanna wrote:Sim, I came across a pretty long list of radical names in Hoklo a few yrs ago. I think it was in a 19th century textbook (scanned, PDF) I found off Iûⁿ Ún'giân's site. If I see this kind of thing in the future, I'll post a link here.

Great, thanks!
amhoanna wrote:Related notes. Ah-bin, U seem to question the longevity of the PRC characters. How dare U? :lol: I'm curious where U get your faith. I heard that the PRC is rolling out an ambitious program to rid Kwongtung / Kúiⁿtang of both Cantonese broadcasts and pre-PRC kanji at one fell swoop!
Bastards! Thank god they can't do that in Taiwan! Could you post some information on this Kwongtung move...? [I may be pro simplified characters, but I'm pro traditional characters too :mrgreen:.]
amhoanna wrote:Back to the radicals, kind of. Some Sinophone friends came to visit me in southern VN. One showed interest in learning VNmese, so when we went to the bookstore, I thought I'd show him which dictionaries to buy too. All the Han-Viet dictionaries were arranged by Mandarin and Pinyin. The friend (from TW) seemed kind of "nonplussed" ... is that the word? Radical tables and brush strokes were actually his weapon of choice. No cigar, though, they were all Mandarin/Pinyin.
I like the PRC dictionaries, with their pinyin order, but radicals and brush stroke indexes are obviously essential as a supplement to these, for when one doesn't know the pronunciation of a character.

My one grumble about the "radicals index + (remaining) stroke-count index" approach is that the character index always gives only one of two things - either the page number where you'll find the character listed, or the pronunciation. In the former case, you then have to actually go to that page number in order to find the pronunciation; in the latter case, you have to then go to the section of characters with that pronunciation and then comb through it looking for your desired character. This is the case in every Chinese-English dictionary I've ever come across. It seems to me to be very little trouble to have 3 columns (character, pronunciation, page number) in the character index itself, to get rid of these annoyances.

I'd almost go as far as to say that I'd like to see the "radicals index + (remaining) stroke-count index" approach modified, i.e. extended. What I would like is for some characters to be listed under more than one "radical". Like, "明" could be listed under "日" and "月"; "厚" could be listed under "厂", "日" and "子"; "鷌" could be listed under "鳥" and "馬"; etc. This would save a lot of "guessing" (and re-lookup, after the wrong guess). But I make such a statement very tentatively. Which characters would be multiply listed? Where does one draw the line - i.e. when is it ' obvious' that it belongs under a particular radical? Such an approach would make the character index 2-3 times longer (making it harder to use, because one has to comb through more characters to find one's desired one, etc).

Posts: 830
Joined: Mon Aug 21, 2006 8:10 am
Location: Somewhere in the Hokloverse

Re: Names of the Radicals

Post by Ah-bin »

Related notes. Ah-bin, U seem to question the longevity of the PRC characters. How dare U? :lol: I'm curious where U get your faith. I heard that the PRC is rolling out an ambitious program to rid Kwongtung / Kúiⁿtang of both Cantonese broadcasts and pre-PRC kanji at one fell swoop!
The fate of the simplified characters is still tied to Chinese politics, and doesn't yet have complete support from PRC intellectuals. Many at the top level of the CCP still consider simplification as one of their great cultural achievements, but without the CCP behind them their position is uncertain. Another factor is the attitude 'Taiwan uses them, and we are more progressive than Taiwan', but not everyone thinks like that, certainly not the people I have talked to in Chinese universities.

The most highly-educated experts in Chinese language and literature in the PRC not only have no problem reading the traditional script, many have supported its return to the extent of getting a proposal to the People's Congress that traditional characters be re-introduced into the educational system last year, although the proposal was defeated. This is a movement towards the traditional script amongst people of a generation that did not have to learn them. In the future, when there is a new or reformed Chinese regime whose leaders no longer believe that simplified characters are their own great contribution to Chinese civilisation, and they go to consult the experts on Chinese language, I believe they will still find a favourable attitude towards the traditional script, they may well be reintroduced to some extent.

Many issues in the PRC are still a matter for debate, although this mostly occurs behind closed doors as the party likes to present a united face to the outside world. One example is how Chinese are supposed to think of Confucius. The Confucius-worship faction gained the upper hand for a time, and had his statue erected in Tiananmen Square, and then another faction managed to get rid of it.

The fate of the characters is the same. The spirit of reform in Chinese culture has quickly turned to a spirit of conservatism and interest in the classical past, and once this interest outweighs the belief in the greatness of the CCP's cultural achievements, there may well be a rehabilitation of the traditional script.

What is happening or might happen in Kwongtung is simply the enforcement of the PRC language and script law, that was passed eleven years ago. What happens all depends on whether the local authorities can be bothered to enforce it, and this can change as local administrators change.

The question of dialect use and of character use are separate, I think even though they are legislated for in the same law, highly-educated Chinese often have different attitudes towards them. The traditional script has prestige from its connection to the classical past, where the spoken Chinese languages do not. I would say this attitude is one of the explanations for the popularity of searching for 'original characters', since it is an attempt to connect non-prestigious spoken language back to the prestigious classical past, and is a result of the ingrained attitude in traditional Chinese culture that the written word is superior to the spoken.

Another funny story, a PRC Chinese saw me reading a book in traditional script on the bus and told me "Mainland Chinese can;t read those any more". I told the PRC Chinese at the library and they all laughed.

Posts: 912
Joined: Sat Sep 18, 2010 12:43 pm

Re: Names of the Radicals

Post by amhoanna »

I don't have a link, Sim. I just heard it on the grapevine. There've been some clashes btw the people and the police in the hoklophone parts of KT lately. Maybe KT is brewing up a fresh toppling of a northern dynasty.

Good pt re punji fetishes, Ahbin. ;)

Posts: 110
Joined: Thu Mar 17, 2011 12:50 am

Re: Names of the Radicals

Post by Yeleixingfeng »

I like Chinese etymology, A LOT. Nonetheless, I don't see the need for a standardised name for radicals. In fact, why should the idea 部首 exist? (Sorry, SimL... I really appreciate your efforts though. Hear me out first. >.<)

SimL, you are actually demanding for the standardised name for 字根, (character roots). I'm not sure how people define radicals, but roots are fundamentally components that make up a character. Take 明 for example, its roots are 日 and 月. The sun and the moon are the only natural source of light, thus 明 meant brightness - it was neither bright(adj) or light(n). Since we are on the topic, 光 is 火 on top (where the legs of 火 are flattened into a single horizontal stroke) with 儿(not 兒) meaning human - this fire is lit to aid in seeing, thus light.

One of the vague rules of Kaishu is, the left being semantic while the right being phonetic. Words formed post-Kaishu predominantly obeys this rule whenever possible. So, in 鷌 I assume the semantic is 鳥, and its pronunciation is around ma. This might seem confusing to Hanji learners, but you will eventually get accustomed to guessing. Like 沐(mu4), 裊(xiao1), 碼(ma3), 扣(kou4), 迷(mi2) and 敗(bai4), it is clear which is the 偏旁(semantics) and which is the 聲旁(phonetics). And, when searching for the word in the dictionary, the Chinese community (the majority I know) instinctively look up its 偏旁, not 聲旁, although 裊 indeed is listed in 鳥部. 飾(shi4), 錦(jin1), 問(wen4) etc forms the exception where we look up its phonetic - but that is mostly because 食(shi), 金(jin), 門(men) respectively "look" like its semantic. This seldom occurs, and often when it does, the average Chinese cannot and do not see the need to differentiate.

Well, in the above example, the roots consists of both semantics and phonetics, so we know where to look up the character. In some contexts, however, the roots contribute semantically to the overall meaning of the characters, like the aforementioned 光 n 明. Recently, 光 forms a new root - so that's not a problem. 明, should be available in both 日 and 月, although normally I would search under 日 - because it is at the left.

Now, the big looming question is, why do we even need to categorise characters into 部首s? To facilitate dictionary-consulting? Don't get me wrong, I warm-heartedly welcome Chinese enthusiasts. Nonetheless, should a language be modeled to appeal the needs of new learners or its indigenous users? Like now, it doesn't really matter what 部首 能 falls under, because once I know its pronunciation, the 2nd and 3rd time I feel the need to re-consult the entry I would simply just go under 'neng2'. The higher level hanji-s are usually in left-right or up-down position, and the 部首(偏旁) often are obvious - so it doesn't pose as a problem.

Maybe I'm speaking from a native speaker's perspective, as you mentioned yourself, I am perfectly fine with a non-standardised nomenclature. Equipped with my knowledge of etymology however, I see the necessity of promulgating an established and meticulously arranged 字根表, a root list.

The problem with Hanji is its complexity, and the problem is gravely worsened with Simplified C. Simplified C is plain blind and arbitrary. Consider the following sets:

1. 嘗(chang2), 當(dang), 黨(dang3) and 常(chang2), 棠(tang3), 掌(zhang3), 裳(shang3). The phonetic here is 尙, and the semantics are below it. Fricative or not, the words are more or less palatal. SC transformed 嘗 to 尝, 當 to 当, 黨 to 党 - severing the 尙 ties, rendering SC practitioners to memorise.

2. 懷, 壞 and 環, 寰, 還, 鬟. The differing component here is subtle but vital. 褱 produces the huai-stream of characters, while 睘 produces the huan. By merging them to 不, there is no explaining 怀(huai) to 环(huan) to 盃(bei).

Anyway, to lubricate learning, the more effective way would be, to explain why a Hanji is written such, and hard-wire Hanji-learners' mind to analyse a new learnt character before resorting to memorising. For example, understanding 火 being a depiction of fire, thus the 火 in 光, and the phonetic value of 翟 in 耀. 典 is actually 冊 plus 廾. 廾 depicts two hands extending from either side of the hieroglyph. So, 典 essentially means the book that everyone supports/respects/recognises - classics. 舞 is phonosemantic, with 無 being the phonetic and 舛 the semantic. 舛 however is written such because 夊 and the right part of 舛 both are feet. This can be compared to the lower component in 韋, which primarily is the "prototype" for the character 圍 and 衛.

Thus, I'm saying, 夊, 止, (without the top)疋 should all fall under 止, whereas 又, 彐 should fall under 又. Similarly, 光 should belong to 火.

Yeah, but this is too idealistic to be true. In fact, Hanji is more crippled than we would like to admit...

Posts: 1407
Joined: Mon Jun 26, 2006 8:33 am
Location: Amsterdam

Re: Names of the Radicals

Post by SimL »

Hi Yeleixingfeng,

Haha! You go much further than me, wanting a standardized 字根表, whereas I only wanted a standardized set of names for the already standardized list of 214 Kangxi radicals.

[At this spot I would normally have written a diatribe against the simplification committee for not producing a standardized list of simplified radicals, but I've stopped feeling that in the past few months. Ah-bin explained - right here in this topic - that at the time of the reform, the intention was to ultimately get rid of the characters, so nobody thought that it was important to produce such a standardized list. Ever since having received this insight, I still find it regrettable that such a list doesn't exist, but I do understand the historical reasons for this. And hence no diatribe: "Tout comprendre rend très-indulgent" ("To know all is to forgive all").]

Yes, I too would love to have a standardized 字根表.

In fact, why should the idea 部首 exist? [...] why do we even need to categorize characters into 部首s? To facilitate dictionary-consulting? Don't get me wrong, I warm-heartedly welcome Chinese enthusiasts. Nonetheless, should a language be modeled to appeal the needs of new learners or its indigenous users?
Well, even native-born Chinese (including great and learned scholars) need to look up obscure characters once in a while. And that is specifically the situation where one doesn't know the pronunciation, so a non-sound-based method needs to be used. The 部首 happens to be one of them, has existed (in its 214 radical form) for 200-300 years, so I'm all for it (or for a modern, rationalized, standardized replacement for it).

Your 尙-example is indeed a very good one, illustrating where the simplifiers destroyed a previously very nice unity. I do regret this too. But - as you may know - I'm still a supporter of the simplification. To compensate for this, there are also some instances - but only of specific characters, I admit - where the phonetic was vastly improved. I can't think of a single example at the moment, but perhaps I should memorize 3-4 of them, for use in discussions with opponents of the simplification :P.

Simplified C is plain blind and arbitrary.
This is a point often raised by opponents of simplification. My only reply to this is: yes that's true - or at least, it appears to be true. From the point of view of a standardized set of traditional characters, the simplified set looks completely chaotic and arbitrary. [I mean here the "one-off" changes, not the "characters simplified by analogy" (类推简化字), which I will mention later. These latter are not chaotic and arbitrary.] So, I can't dispute that the "one-off" changes appear chaotic and arbitrary.

BUT (and this is for me a very important but), I would ask the opponents of simplification to look more deeply into the detailed history of Chinese characters and the simplification. Opponents of simplification often portray the simplification process as: "Oh, we had this beautiful, regular, standardized system 'traditional characters', and then those stupid reformers (the phrase "CCP stooges" comes to mind :mrgreen:) came along and wrecked it. It's something I believed for years too.

But the reality was quite different.

As far as I understand it now, up to the mid-19th century, there was a proliferation of forms. Not only was there variation between handwritten characters and printed characters, but even printed characters appeared in a large number of variants. And a native-speaker living in China in 1900 would have been familiar with many of the variants, and just coped with them as best they could. So, even before the simplification, there were already movements to try and get this sorted out. All that the simplification did was to pick a particular subset of this huge variation as the proclaimed standard.

Now, there's no denying that a lot of the choices they made were in opposition to the then commonly used printed forms. For example, they explicitly chose for the "calligraphic" versions 讠, 钅, 饣, 马, etc (because of the fewer number of strokes, obviously), and these were - prior to the simplification - not at all acceptable in printed usage. But they would have been familiar to everyone at the time (and to us now, even if we're only starting to learn Chinese, as these are regular correspondences: all 馬 were standardized to 马 , and all 訁 *when written on the left* were standardized to 讠, etc, etc - the "characters simplified by analogy" (类推简化字) mentioned above).

As for the "one-off" changes, as I said above, these were also (often) already known variants used in handwriting (or even print). I mention in another reply elsewhere on this Forum that the process of selection of the variant was quite a long, consultative process, and factors like 'is this variant known at a wider level than 1-2 regions?' (e.g. provinces), 'is this variant not restricted to just a particular class or profession in society', etc. Such factors were taken into account before proposing a simplified character as the new standard. And then, after the proposal had been made, there was consultation as to the acceptability of the proposed character. As I did the last time, I would recommend the book "Modern Chinese: History and Sociolinguistics" by Ping Chen, which gave me my best insights into the historical process of simplification. It was this book which finally made me stop disliking the simplified characters, and started me accepting that it was part of a natural (and good) process.

I can try and find two other good references to more in-depth material to illustrate my point, but that will have to be later, as I have run out of time to post now.

Posts: 167
Joined: Tue Mar 13, 2012 6:23 pm

Re: Names of the Radicals

Post by FutureSpy »

SimL, thanks for sharing all these invaluable infos. Since when I learned Japanese I never bothered learning about radicals (my teacher went through them so that we could use 漢和辞典 [it's how Japanese call a kanji dictionary] and I still remember a few names, but I can only barely guess what's the radical of a kanji) 'cos there were already enough online aid-tools back then such as mouse input on Japanese IME, and then I could easily look up characters on online dictionaries.

Anyway, I'm thinking now of properly learning hanji and radicals. I already have a list of hanji appearing on the first lesson of one of my textbooks with their corresponding radicals. Now I just need to look up every character to get colloquial and literary pronunciations in Taiwanese. [EDIT: I removed part of this post and created a new thread 'cos I don't want to disturb the on-going here with something off-topic. Sorry :D]I read on Wikipedia that Quanzhou has a third pronunciation they call "vulgar pronunciation". Anyone has any clues if there's such a thing in Taiwanese too? And if not, how useful could it be learning them from Quanzhou sources?

Just some off-topic note: I remember having seen 讠 in handwriting by elder Japanese people living here in Brazil, and some traditional characters such as 會 and 學...

Posts: 1407
Joined: Mon Jun 26, 2006 8:33 am
Location: Amsterdam

Re: Names of the Radicals

Post by SimL »

Hi FutureSpy,

Very thoughtful of you to try and keep things on topic. But don't worry too much about it... discussions go off-topic all the time on this Forum :mrgreen:. (But still worthwhile trying to avoid, of course!)
Just some off-topic note: I remember having seen 讠 in handwriting by elder Japanese people living here in Brazil
Haha, ok, perhaps off-topic, but quite closely related to my other point on character simplification. Namely: up to the early 1900's many of these forms existed side-by-side, in print, in handwriting, etc. I have an old scroll, recording the intended marriage of my (Baba!) grandparents (must have been written in the early 1920's). It's a very formal affair, hand-written in beautiful calligraphy, and written more or less in Classical Chinese. On it, one can find abberrant forms and "simplified" forms. Even in the preface to the Kangxi Dictionary (mine is a facsimile edition, so showing how it looked in the late 1800's), one can find abberrant forms and "simplified" forms.

The idea of "one standardized traditional set" only slowly arose as computers gained ground (Big5 was one of the first standards, and once that had been established, the form of writing each Big5 character also started to get standardized by font designers). [Again, everything I say always has to be qualified, because nothing is black and white. Even long before computers (say between 1800 and 1970) there must have slowly been movements towards greater standardization (with the coming of the daily newpaper, for example). But it was nowhere near the degree of standardization which we are used to nowadays.]

See, I've managed to move this thread slightly off-topic :mrgreen:.