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Characters and Words 5.1 Introduction Chinese characters, also known as hànzì (汉字), is the writing form of the Chinese language. Lexicographers refer to Chinese characters as logographic writing, categorically different from alphabetical writing, in that Chinese characters are derived from graphs whereas alphabetical writing, such as Latin and Greek, are derived from syllables. Due to this difference, there has been much discussion in the past regarding the properties of Chinese characters and their acquisition. Some researchers (e.g. lexicographers) explore the origins of Chinese characters; some (e.g. anthropologists) link Chinese civilization or rather Chinese culture to the creation of Chinese characters; some (e.g. calligraphers) study and admire Chinese characters as art work; and others (e.g. applied linguists and Chinese teachers) seek a clearer understanding of the more practical aspects of Chinese characters, such as how to teach non-native students of Chinese to learn and use Chinese characters in communication. As a member of the “others” group, I devote this chapter to the discussion of current practices in teaching and learning Chinese characters in the field of teaching Chinese as FL and particularly to the discussion of an integrated model of teaching and learning Chinese characters. 5.1.1 Origins and evolution To discuss character acquisition, we must inevitably mention the origin and development of Chinese characters. There are two widely spread stories about the origin of Chinese characters: (1) Characters were created by Cāng Jié (仓颉); and (2) characters originated from rope knotting. According to classical literature, such as Lǚ Shì Chūn Qiū (吕氏春秋, “Lǚ’s Records”), Xúnzĭ (荀子, “Master Xun”), Hánfēizĭ (韩非子, “Master Hanfei”), and Huáinánzĭ (淮南子, “Master Huainan”), Cāng Jié is described as having an extraordinary appearance (e.g. four shining eyes and a long heavy beard) and the ability to write characters at birth approximately 4,600 years ago. The rope knotting method of creating characters was recorded in Zhōu Yì (周易, “The Change of the Zhou”) and says that ancient people tied various kinds of knots in ropes to record events. Both stories have 5 102 Teaching and Learning Chinese as a Foreign Language been told from generation to generation, but they have neither been proved nor disproved as regards the reality of the creation of characters. Although most lexicographers and researchers disagree on the origin of characters, they accept the six principles, liù shū (六书), of constructing or forming Chinese characters suggested by Xǔ Shèn (许慎) during the Han dynasty (206–220 AD): pictographic (象形, xiàngxíng), indicative (指事, zhĭshì), ideographic (会意, huìyì), picto-phonetic (形声, xíngshēng), mutually interpretive or notative (转注, zhuănzhù), and phonetic loan (假借, jiăjiè). Since there has been so much discussion of the six principles in the past (Blakney 1935, DeFrancis 1984, Boltz 1994, Lù 2003), I will briefly describe them here. Pictographic characters might be the easiest for students to acquire because they are derived from drawings of objects even though the modern standard characters have lost many of the features of the original drawings. Indicative characters use symbols to express abstract meanings, such as using a point above a horizon line to indicate the concept of “over, above, on”. The combination of pictographic and indicative principles produces ideographic or associative characters (e.g. 日 rí “sun” + 月 yuè “moon” = 明 míng “bright”). The most productive principle in constructing characters is the picto-phonetic method for it can take any existing pictographic form and combine it with any existing phonetic form to create a new character. This is why about ninety percent of Chinese characters belong to this category in modern Chinese (cf. DeFrancis 1984). The remaining two principles, mutually interpretive and phonetic loan, are minor in comparison with the four just discussed. In fact, they are not principles to develop new characters, but rather they are used to extend the meaning of existing characters. Moreover, they are not clearly defined by Xǔ Shèn. Later researchers sometimes use the mutually interpretative principle to refer to two characters that share the same ideograph (i.e. the radical — semantic component of a character) and same or similar phonetic component of characters, such as 考 kăo and 老 lăo. Both characters have the same radical and the same phonetic component ăo, although 考 kăo means “test” and 老 lăo means “old”; they are mutually interpretative. Finally, the phonetic loan principle usually refers to a character that borrowed its form and sound from another existing pictograph to express abstract meaning (e.g. 來 lái originally a pictograph...


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