Archive for Writing

The unpredictability of Chinese character formation and pronunciation, pt. 2

Emma Knightley asks:

My background is that I grew up in Taiwan learning Traditional Chinese and now most of what I use in my professional life is in Simplified Chinese. How exactly should the character of hē, "to drink," be written?

I grew up learning that the character inside the bottom-right enclosure is 人. Now I see that it is mostly written as 匕. I don't know when this changed, and I don't think it's a matter of Traditional vs Simplified, either, as I see both versions in Traditional writing as well. This Wiktionary entry illustrates the confusion nicely. No one I know has noticed this change, which leads me to think that I'm either losing my mind or experiencing the Mandela Effect.

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Oops! That's "seven rings", not "hibachi"

We haven't written about tattoo fiascos for awhile.  Here's a humdinger on Ariana Grande's left palm, in Japanese:

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Mountain Mao

From an anonymous contributor in Taiwan:

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Taiwan Railways Administration logo

Anthony Clayden wonders whether there is "some visual pun going on with the Chinese characters" in the design of the symbol of the TRA, which "features a rail profile inscribed within two semi-circles."

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Sino-English graphic tour de force

Jeff DeMarco saw this on Facebook:

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Really weird sinographs, part 4

A video introducing 70 obscure Chinese characters (shēngpì zì 生僻字):

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The wrong way to write Chinese characters

This is one of the best, general, brief introductions to the challenges of the Chinese writing system I know of:

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Idiosyncratic stroke order

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Writing characters and writing letters

A few days ago, I wrote the following titles on the blackboard in my "Poetry and Prose" class:

Dà Táng Sānzàng qǔjīng shīhuà 大唐三藏取經詩話 (Poetic Tale of Tripitaka of the Great Tang Fetching Scriptures)

Yóuxiān kū 遊仙窟 (The Grotto of Playful Transcendants)

Guānshìyīn yìngyàn jì 觀世音應驗記 (Records of the Verifications of Responses by Avalokiteśvara)

As I was rapidly writing the strokes of the characters — click click click tick tick tack tack click clack tick tack — I suddenly became aware of how different the writing sounded from when I write something in Roman letters.  Not only did writing characters sound very different from the way writing letters sounds, the two types of script have a very different kinetic feel to them.

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Stroke order

A notoriously complex Sinograph:

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Why Chinese write "9" backwards

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Stroke order of Chinese characters

Here on Language Log, we have often encountered the problem of stroke order and total number of strokes used in writing Sinographs (see the section on "Readings" below).  In this post, I would like to approach this problem from a discussion of how to write two seemingly simple characters:

tū 凸 ("convex; protude; bulge out")

āo 凹 ("concave; hollow; sunken")    

Although I don't like to use the expression "ideograph" or "ideogram" for Chinese characters in general, since only a tiny proportion of them are actually ideographic in nature, these two really are ideographs.  I find these two characters cute, and actually have long harbored a secret affection for 凸 and 凹.  They are amusing and attractive — until you try to write them according to the rules of Chinese brush strokes and stroke order.  Then all hell breaks loose.

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Chaotic calligraphy

In the middle of last month, I participated in a double book launch by Cambria Press in Singapore (links here, here, and here).  The event was held at one of Singapore's most outstanding art galleries, called iPreciation (links here and here).  This is what I saw as soon as I walked in the door:

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