Friday, April 29, 2011

Comparing our own design to the Chinese language system



In my last post, I showed a 4-step design for constructing 60,000 distinguishable cookies. In fact, the current computer cookies are designed in a similar way. Yet, the Chinese character set has a finer design.

Instead of attaching a sound tag on a finished cookie, the sound tag  is playing a part at the beginning of its construction. As every sound tag has both the semantic and the phonetic values, it can make contributions in many different ways.

1. Its phonetic value plays a major way while its semantic value makes a minimum contribution, such as,
(鴨 、 鸚 、 鵡 、 鵬 、 鶯 、 鷗) and ( ,   ,  ). This makes the     (phonetic loan) word group.

2. Its semantic value plays a major way while its phonetic value makes a secondary contribution. This group can be further divided into two subgroups. This makes the   (sense determinators) word group.
a. The sound tag keeps a single phonetic value,  such as,
(妻 、 悽 、 棲 、 淒 、 ) and   (志 、 誌 、 痣 ).  
The words in each group has the identical pronunciation, the same as the sound tag.

b. The sound tag has a span of phonetic values, such as,
( ),
( )
and ( )

The pronunciation of each word in its group is defined by its sound tag while it has a span of values. Please see the webpage below for more information.

On page 112, The Columbia History of the World, ISBN 0-88029-004-8, it states,
"Structurally, the Chinese writing system passed through four distinct stages. No alphabetic or syllabic scripts were developed, but each word came to be denoted by a different character. The earliest characters were pictographs for concrete words. A drawing of a woman meant a woman, or of a broom a broom. Such characters were in turn combined to form ideographs. A woman and a broom became a wife, three women together treachery or villainy. The third stage was reached with the phonetic loans, in which existing characters were borrowed for other words with the same pronunciation. The fourth stage was a refinement of the third: sense determinators or radicals, were added to the phonetic loans in order to avoid confusion. Nine-tenths of the Chinese characters have been constructed by the phonetic method. Unfortunately, the phonetics were often borrowed for other than exact homophones. In such cases, the gaps have widened through the evolution of the language, until today characters may have utterly different pronunciations even though they share the same phonetic. The written language, despite its difficulties, has been an important unifying cultural and political link in China. Although many Chinese dialects are mutually unintelligible, the characters are comprehended though the eye, whatever their local pronunciation. One Chinese may not understand the other's speech, yet reads with ease his writing."

The two major statements made by the authors of “The Columbia History of the World” are,
1. Nine-tenths of the Chinese characters have been constructed by the phonetic [loan]method.

2. Unfortunately, the phonetics were often borrowed for other than exact homophones. In such cases, the gaps have widened through the evolution of the language, until today characters may have utterly different pronunciations even though they share the same phonetic.

Both statements are wrong. They have mistaken that all   (sense determinators) words which carry a sound tag as phonetic loan words. Again, they do not know that a sound tag has a span of phonetic values, especially, in the case of    (sense determinators) words.

I will discuss more about this sound tag span values in the next posts.

Tienzen (Jeh-Tween) Gong

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