Learn About The History of Chinese Characters

Learning at a language school like Lingo Bus can help you and your children to improve second language proficiency fast. But how to find a good one? This article shares some insight about the history of Chinese characters.

There is one common difficulty of any language learning including Chinese – it is how to correlate pronunciation, meaning and writing. As we all have our mother tongue, just try your best to use your imagination or “make stories” or any other kind of methods just for yourself to solve that problem. Everybody has his own way of remembering. For example, when you say “I love you.” in Chinese which is “wo3 ai4 ni3”. If you cannot pronounce the word “love” (ai4) correctly, such as you pronounce it as “an4” (press or press down) or “an1” (install), the meaning is far from “I love you.” If you can realize the pronunciation of the Chinese word love (ai4) is the same as the English letter “i”, you can say to someone in Chinese as “I love you” (wo3 ai4 ni3) correctly!

Example is an English word “baby” VS a Chinese word “bei1 bi3”. The pronunciation of both words is almost the same but the Chinese word “bei1 bi3” means “base, mean, and contemptible”. Can you make a story or correlate this meaning with an innocent new born baby to remember this Chinese word?

PinYin itself, although alphabetized, is not pronounced the same way as the alphabetic sounds. There are unfamiliar sounds such as u with an umlaut (ü) that sounds like a combination of I and u. Like all things unfamiliar, it can cause uncertainty and fear. Thus, knowing the challenges learners face is the first step in devising effective learning strategies that directly affect their language achievement.

The characters are split into groups. The first are the ancient pictographs, these characters are derived from drawings of objects in everyday life probably over 10,000 years ago. During the period 5,000 to 6,000 years ago the pictures were augmented with indirect and abstract symbols, this class is called the 指事 zhǐ shì ‘refer to matters’. Different kingdoms in the China area used different characters and it all became quite confusing. It was the discovery of writing on oracle bones from the late Shang dynasty (c. 1200BCE) that has greatly added to the knowledge of the characters used in ancient days. At this time the characters remained mainly pictorial, it was then and in the later Han Dynasty that characters began to include components that indicate how they should be pronounced – the phonetic part. Up until then looking at a character gave no hint as to how to say it. Nowadays about 80% of characters have a ‘phonetic’ part indicating how it might be pronounced, these are called the 形声 xíng shēng appear sound class of character . The phonetics over the centuries have changed and recognizing the phonetic part is not a totally reliable guide to pronunciation. As well as phonetic components there are a relatively small number of ‘meaning’ or ‘determinative’ components; these radicals indicate that the character which uses it is in a particular class of thing – for example the 木 wood radical is used in over 1,500 characters all with an association with trees or wood and 心 heart radical is used in many characters indicating an emotion.

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