I have talked about the sound tag which can often have a span of phonetic values. Now, I should summarize the attributes or dimensions of the entire Chinese verbal universe.
1. It has only a total of 1,000 or less distinguishable phonetic values.
2. Each phonetic point is a part of a 4-tone group. Thus, there is a total of 250 (1000/4) 4-tone at the most.
3. As the phonetic values are limited (1,000 or less) while the written characters are unlimited (currently having about 60,000), there must have many homophones or homonyms. Now, every phonetic point carries an average of 60 (20 to 120) characters.
4. Every Chinese character carries two or more phonetic values. The same character changes its meaning when it changes its phonetic value. This is a very special attribute in the Chinese verbal universe.
In order to make sense of the above facts, we should first know how a Chinese phonetic point (distinguishable sound) is defined. Every Chinese phonetic point is defined with two variables, the 聲 母 (similar to consonant) and the 韻 母 (similar to vowel). With 聲 母 alone, it cannot define a phonetic point. On the other hand, 韻 母 alone can define a phonetic point.
Yet, how can “we” know the phonetic value of any phonetic point without already knowing them all? There is a way to resolve this issue. We can zero in the phonetic value (pv) of a phonetic point (pp) with two other points. Thus, by knowing only a few starting points, we can map out the entire set. This is called 反 切 (reverse checking or engineering).
So, the sound (phonetic value) of a Chinese word (character) is “checked” out by two other words, by using the 聲 母 of the first word + the 韻 母 of the second word to get its own 聲 韻 (the phonetic value). Now, the phonetic value of every word can be recursively defined, which is an axiomatic operation. That is, by only knowing a very small starting group, the entire set can be mapped out.
In the entire Chinese verbal universe, there are about “206” 韻 which forms a 韻 母 spectrum. And, a 韻 can easily go one step to its left or to its right, and this we call 轉 (rotate or change) 韻.
By allowing the sound tag rotates or changes (轉 韻) one or more steps, it will increase the expressing power of the sound tag greatly. And, there is no need to have a sound tag for every phonetic point. Thus, the number of sound tags needed decreases, perhaps from 1,000 to 500 or less.
With the 韻 母 spectrum in place, a span of phonetic values for a sound tag will no longer cause any confusion. For the words [群 (qún), 郡 (jùn), 裙 (qún)], 君 (jūn) is the sound tag while that sound tag has a span of phonetic values. This issue will be discussed later.
Tienzen (Jeh-Tween) Gong