Polysyllabic characters revisited

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In "'Double Happiness': symbol of Confucianism as a religion"  (6/8/15), we had a vigorous discussion over how to pronounce this character:  囍 ("double happiness").  Some participants and sources said that it should be pronounced the same as 喜 ("happy; joyful"), i.e., xǐ, while others held that it is pronounced with two syllables as shuāngxǐ.

There may be a generation gap difference here.  After the discussion on the above cited post died down, I asked about a dozen native speakers how to pronounce 囍; the younger ones tended to pronounce it as xǐ, while the older ones tended to pronounce it as shuāngxǐ.  I'm certain that my wife's generation pronounced it as shuāngxǐ, because they did so at my own wedding celebration (about a hundred Chinese friends attended).  For example:

I asked:  "Nà shì shénme zì 那是什么字?" ("What character is that?").

They replied:  "Nà gè zì shì shuāngxǐ 那个字是囍" ("That character is 'double happiness'").

When I introduce polysyllabic characters in my "Language, Script, and Society in China" course, the students from China (in their twenties) are astonished.  They simply cannot believe that a single character can have more than one syllable.  It's almost as though it were an article of faith, because their teachers told them that no character can have more than one syllable.  But polysyllabic characters were actually not uncommon half a century or so ago.  In 1981, I saw túshūguǎn 圕 ("library") on a fancy wooden plaque over the entrance to no less than the rare book room of the Peking National Library:

Běijīng túshūguǎn shànběn shūshì
"Rare Book Room of the Beijing [National] Library"

Even more widely used was shèhuìzhǔyì {ネ义] ("socialism").

During the Tang Dynasty, there were polysyllabic characters such as this for púsà 菩薩 ("bodhisattva"):

艹 (one atop the other, forming a single character).

Even on the oracle bones (see the appendix below) and in bronze inscriptions, it was common to have polysyllabic characters called héwén 合文, which are considered to be a type of hétǐzì 合體字 ("compound characters").  For explanations and examples, see here, here, here, and here.

All of these polysyllabic characters (20th century, Tang period, oracle bones, bronze inscriptions) could be used in running text occupying the space of a single character, but had more than one syllable.

Incidentally, there's a legend that none other than the great Song period statesman, Wang Anshi (1021-1086), created the character shuāngxǐ 囍.  This legend circulated among the generation of my wife's friends.  I don't know the veracity of the legend, but surely it was meant to lend historical depth and weight to shuāngxǐ 囍.

Because of the shift from a time when polysyllabic characters were widespread to the present time when they seem to be largely forbidden, there is ambivalence over how to pronounce 囍 ("double happiness").

One of my graduate students remarked:

I do see the usage of 囍 very often in China. But I don't know how to pronounce the character. Usually my relatives and friends refer to it as "双喜" or "喜字," and we assume it being 囍.

Another student reluctantly admitted:

I guess it's alright in a conversation (to say shuāngxǐ).

Yet another student alluded to uncertainty over how to pronounce the character:

Btw, I asked a friend to pronounce the Chinese for me. She hesitated a bit at the character, but went ahead pronouncing it as xǐ.

Still another student confided:

I would definitely pronounce the character as xǐ whenever, but I'd be fine if someone calls it shuāngxǐ 雙喜 while referring to an actual piece of paper-cut for nuptial decoration.

Perhaps because of uncertainty over how to pronounce 囍 in this day and age when there aren't supposed to be any polysyllabic characters, some people refer to it descriptively as "dà hóng xǐ zì 大红喜字" ("big red happiness character").  But when people say something like the following, the prohibition breaks down:

Bǎ (gè) shuāngxǐ (zì) xiě / tiē zài qiáng shàng 把(個)囍(字)寫/貼在牆上 ("Write / stick [the character for] 'double happiness' on the wall").

It's very important to note that the difference between 龙 and 龍 is a completely separate matter from the difference between 喜 and 囍.  In the former case, 龙 is the simplification of ; both are pronounced lóng and both mean exactly the same thing:  "dragon".  In the latter case, 喜 is not the simplification of 囍; they are two separate characters and mean two different things; they are not identical.  Back in the days when I got married, 囍 was pronounced shuāngxǐ and 喜 was pronounced xǐ.  Historically, xǐ 喜 came first and shuāngxǐ 囍 was derived from it.  Again, xǐ 喜 is not the simplification of shuāngxǐ 囍; the relationship between the two is quite a different matter from that between 龙 (simplified) and 龍 (traditional).

Nor can fúdào 福倒 ("inverted fu [blessings]") be considered a polysyllabic character comparable to shuāngxǐ 囍.  First of all, I've never found the single character 福 in its inverted form listed in any dictionary.  Indeed, though I spent a fair amount of time looking for the phrase fúdào 福倒 in dictionaries this morning, I couldn't find it either.  Furthermore, it is impossible to write upside down 福 in that orientation, since the strokes are not designed to be written that way.  One first has to write a normal 福 in its usual orientation and then turn it upside down, which is what fúdào 福倒 ("inverted fu [blessings]") signifies, after all.  Again, fúdào 福倒 ("inverted fu [blessings]") and shuāngxǐ 囍 are very different phenomena within the Chinese writing system.

There is some uncertainty over how to pronounce the second character of 福倒.  倒 can be pronounced either dǎo ("fall over; topple; collapse") or dào ("inverted; upside down").  An advanced graduate student told me:

Technically 倒 should be dǎo as in 顛倒, but I've only heard people say fúdào. My relatives on my father's side don't distinguish the difference between pronunciations between 倒 and 到 though, it's invariably dāo.

Another graduate student:

福倒 is pronounced fúdào in most cases, indicating that 福到了, happiness has arrived.

A professor of Chinese literature and art opined:

Thank you for checking. Well, both should be fu2dao4 for the simple reason that one is literally fu2dao4 (meaning that the fu is positioned upside down, i.e.,贴倒了,which is dao4, not dao3); the other is figuratively fu2dao4 (meaning that fu, i.e., blessing, fortune, bliss [you name it] has arrived, i.e., dao4le, 到了。 Please note that the character 倒 is pronounced both dao3 and dao4, depending on how it is used. For instance, it's dao3 in this sentence: 台风把那棵大树吹倒了 (Typhoon brought down that big tree.), or 那位老人不小心跌倒了 (That old man carelessly tripped and fell over.);it's dao4 in this sentence: 那幅广告贴倒了 (That ad is posted upside down.) or 他的种种倒行逆施激起了极大的民愤 (His perverse acts aroused great resentment among the people.).

You are not the only one who asked me this same question about fu2dao4. I had students who were also told that it should be fu2dao3 AND fu2dao4. They told me that they were told so by their teachers who were native speakers of Chinese. Well, all native-speaker Chinese teachers do not speak standard Mandarin, esp those who grew up in regions (such as the South, 南方)where the influence of BJH (Beijinghua) is minimal. That's fine, if they do not pretend to know everything in the name of a native speaker. Some grew up outside China with minimal exposure to their heritage language but claim to be a native speaker by virtue of their ethnicity. Strictly speaking, they are not. A person is not innately invested with a native tongue by virtue of his/her ethnicity. It is his/her actual exposure to the realistic linguistic environment or professional training in his/her native language. In a word, a native doesn't necessarily speak his/her native tongue without exposure to the native linguistic environment.

Remark by a Chinese historian:

The widespread folklore of 福倒 is entirely driven by the homophonic pair 倒 and 到, meaning 福到. Moreover, the image is an upside-down (dào) 福 , not a "fallen (dǎo)" 福 . Therefore the first pronunciation is correct. However, correct pronunciations may not be the prevailing ones. Even Chinese TV anchormen/women are often caught with incorrect pronunciations, especially on "polyphones". I don't think the second pronunciation can be explained by some form of sandhi in northern dialects.

Another type of character that cannot be considered as polysyllabic are fusion graphs.  There are quite a few of these, but a typical example would be béng 甭 ("there is no need; needn't; don't; to say nothing of").  This started out as two syllables and two characters:  bùyòng 不用, with all the same meanings as béng 甭, but through elision fused to become a single syllable written with a single character.

Most Chinese characters have variant forms; it has been this way since the beginning of the script.  A subfield of medieval Dunhuang Studies, for example, is keeping track of all the different forms of characters on the manuscripts discovered in cave 17.  The same was true of the seal script a thousand years earlier; Imre Galambos (as in his Berkeley dissertation) is the master of sorting and comparing the variants in seal script writing.

A convenient method for checking some of the most common of the variants still in existence today is to use zdic and look for the  section of the particular character you're interested in.  Let's take one of the most famous examples of a character having many variants:  shòu 壽 ("longevity").  zdic generously lists a baker's dozen of variants, some of them quite weird, but if you look here and here (a hundred variants), there are many that are even stranger.

All of these have been reduced, boiled down to the modern simplified character 寿, which is pronounced and means the same as 壽 and all the rest of the riot of variant forms of the character.  Typologically and functionally, it is not easy to equate this compulsion for the proliferation of character variants with anything in alphabetical scripts.  Perhaps the closest thing would be ornate flourishes in calligraphy, but nobody would ever think of treating an ornate letter or word written with the alphabet as a separate script entity that requires its own Unicode point, which is necessary for each variant of a character in the Chinese writing system.   Be that as it may, the proliferation of variant forms of characters like those for 壽 / 寿 is a separate matter from the difference between xǐ 喜 and shuāngxǐ 囍, which are two different characters.

Because of the current imperative to believe that all characters can only have one syllable, even a graph like this one is pronounced as xǐ by most people:

喜喜 (taking that to be a single character written within the same square space for all other characters).

This is a real character (no Unicode point yet!!) that was widely circulated in recent years (I'll explain where and how in a moment).  It is composed of jí 吉 ("auspicious; propitious; lucky") on top and two shuāngxǐ 囍 on the bottom, one to the left and the other to the right.  Its meaning must be something like "auspiciously doubly double happiness").  Apparently, most people pronounce this character as xǐ, but in the playful spirit of those who created it, and out of a desire to distinguish it from xǐ 喜 and shuāngxǐ 囍, I'd pronounce it as jíshuāngshuāngxǐ, although I'd understand if someone else pronounced it as jíshuāngxǐshuāngxǐ.

喜喜 (one character)  was used in publicity for Ang Lee's film called "The Wedding Banquet" in English and Xǐyàn 喜宴 or Shuāngxǐyàn 囍宴 in Chinese.  See the background illustration at the top of this page and various images here.

In all cases that I know of, when a new character is formed by the duplication, triplication, or quadruplication of a given character, the resultant character is not pronounced the same, nor does it have the same meaning, as the original character.  For example:

mǎ 馬 ("horse")

dú 騳 ("the aspect / appearance of horses galloping")

où [one horse stacked on top of another horse; I don't know how to type it] ("horses galloping in a disorganized manner")

biāo 驫 ("the aspect / appearance of a galloping group of horses")

chěng [three horses side by side; U+299E2]; cf. chěng 骋 ("galloping horse")

See "New database of cross-strait differences in Mandarin goes online" (2/14/12) for an entertaining blog post (including a cloyingly cute video) on these characters composed of different numbers and arrangements of horses.

Something similar could be written about characters composed of various repetitions of the character for "woman" (nǚ 女), "dragon" (lóng 龍), and many other characters, but I think that the general idea is clear:  the repetition of characters within the square space allotted to all characters results in a new character that is not pronounced the same as the original character.

In "The unpredictability of Chinese character formation and pronunciation" (2/6/12), I present a dozen examples of characters composed of the same character triplicated, none of which sounds like or means the same thing as the original character

Here are some more examples of duplicated characters, not all of which are radicals (like the above three):

zhé 喆 (supposedly = 哲) ("wise; sagacious"), composed of two jí 吉 ("auspicious; propitious; lucky")

yìn 䡛 (name of a carriage), composed of two chē / jū 車 ("vehicle")

hè 赫 ("conspicuous; fiery red; irate"), composed of two chì 赤 ("bare; loyal and sincere; red")

None of them sounds the same nor has the identical meaning of the character which is duplicated to compose it.

The construction of Chinese characters is endlessly intricate and ever changing.  The Chinese writing system is not closed.  New characters are continuously being added, which is why there are now more than 100,000 different graphs, starting from a base of about 1,400 circa 1200 BC.  The earliest character I know of was introduced from the West more than four millennia ago:

☩ > 巫 ("shaman; witch, wizard; magician"), Old Sinitic *myag, a loanword from Old Persian *maguš ("magician; magi")


Mair, Victor H. 2012.  "The Earliest Identifiable Written Chinese Character.” In Archaeology and Language: Indo-European Studies Presented to James P. Mallory, ed. Martin E. Huld, Karlene Jones-Bley, and Dean Miller. JIES Monograph Series No. 60. Washington, D.C.: Institute for the Study of Man.  Pp. 265–279.

__________.  1990.  "Old Sinitic *Myag, Old Persian Maguš and English Magician", Early China 15: 27–47.

And now the Roman alphabet has been fully incorporated into the script:

Hansell, Mark. 1994.  "The Sino-Alphabet: The Assimilation of Roman Letters into the Chinese Writing System," Sino-Platonic Papers, 45 (May): 1-28.

In between, the script has developed into an amazingly complex system composed of a variety of different types of characters, including some that are polysyllabic.  The latter are a part of the history of the script that we should not ignore.

[Thanks to Sanping Chen, D. Pan, Xiuyuan Mi, Melvin Lee; Liwei Jiao, Wei Shao, Rebecca Fu, Angela Chang, and Chinyi Yang]


APPENDIX (polysyllabic characters on the oracle bones; contributed by Matt Anderson):

One that is very standard… is the name of the ancestor Shàng Jiǎ 上甲, which is frequently written as a single combined graph in three different ways:

1. 甲 inside a box, which should be read 上甲

2. combines this (#1) with half of the graph for 上

3. the full graph for 上 combined with 甲 in a box

(VHM:  I cannot print the custom graphs in this comment, but am willing to send them as e-mail attachments if anyone would like to see them.)

Other cases include things like wáng zāi 亡災 (also read wú zāi) ‘there will be no misfortune’ written as a single graph (disaster-related héwén compounds like this are very common).  There are many examples like this of two characters written together as one, but many of them only appear once or a few times.  It’s also very common to write numbers together with the noun they modify as a single graph.  There are also three-character compounds, for example xīnhài zhēn 辛亥貞 ‘divined on xīnhài day’.

So-called chóngwén 重文 (repeated characters) also exist, but they seem mostly limited in obi to 又= (又+the duplication sign, which is apparently derived from èr 二 ‘two’), which can be read as something like yòu yòu 有祐 ‘abundant blessings’ (in Shang inscriptions, the graph 又, which most fundamentally represents yòu 右 ‘the right hand’, is used for a variety of different words with similar pronunciations).


  1. Tetsuo said,

    June 18, 2015 @ 10:36 pm

    But on the other hand, none of those reduplicated characters is "雙+[字]" either…

  2. Victor Mair said,

    June 18, 2015 @ 11:25 pm



    A new model?

  3. K Chang said,

    June 19, 2015 @ 4:42 am

    合體字 are interesting, but they are rarely used nowadays in language, but only used around the holidays or special occasions. The double happiness is a prime example, only seen around weddings and holidays. Another is the quad-character "招財進寶" but written such as this:


    Starting from the right, you will find 招, and just to the left, sharing the "wood" radical (technically they're not the same, but considering it "artistic license), you will find 財. You can find 進 to the left of that. And finally, 寶 again overlapped part of 財. It means "attract fortune, bring (in) treasure". Good luck stuff for the Holidays.

    But again, this is NEVER seen except Chinese New Years and festivities leading up to it. You can almost consider them the Chinese New Year equivalent of Christmas wreaths / garlands / socks / etc..

    Sorta related: due to the proliferation of homonyms in Mandarin, sometimes when you ask for people's surname, they will clarify it by separating the radicals in their surname's character. For example, a Mr. 林 (Lin) can explain their name as "雙木林" and it will be understood as "the Lin with two 'wood' 木 radicals". Like "我姓林,雙木林" (My Surname is Lin, Lin with two 'wood') A Mr. Zhang can say "我姓張,弓長張" (My surname is Zhang, Zhang with 'bow'弓 gong and 'long' 長 chang).

    林 (Lin) is yet another example of characters don't sound the same when combined, making the "Double Happiness" 囍 an exception rather than the rule when it comes to these art-words.

  4. shubert said,

    June 19, 2015 @ 7:29 am

    At graduation party decades ago, I drew an image of 囍盈門 on a blackboard. Although females consist about 40% of my class, the matching rate is only 10%.

  5. Eidolon said,

    June 19, 2015 @ 11:50 am

    "The earliest character I know of was introduced from the West more than four millennia ago…"

    Did the Chinese have writing over four millennia ago? I thought the standard view with regards to the Chinese writing system is that it emerged only during the late Shang circa ~3,200 years ago. I have a difficult time believing that Indo-Iranians were in contact with China during the Neolithic, considering, for example, the total absence of chariots in China till the late Shang.

  6. Victor Mair said,

    June 19, 2015 @ 2:18 pm


    Your skepticism is warranted, because the Chinese script is generally considered to have arisen around the 13th c. BC. But the 2012 article I cited in the OP is an exposition of two pots from the Banshan Phase (ca. 2300 BC) of Majiayao Culture that are liberally decorated with the ☩ > wū 巫 character. If you have difficulty getting your hands on that article, there is a brief account of the pots in Miriam Robbins Dexter and Victor H. Mair, "Sacred Display: New Findings", Sino-Platonic Papers, 240 (Sept. 2013), see p. 13 and Figs. 30-31. It would appear that some crucial components of writing had begun to trickle in to the western fringes of what is now China before full-blown writing developed in the East Asian Heartland during the 13th c. BC.

  7. Victor Mair said,

    June 19, 2015 @ 2:22 pm

    From Liwei Jiao:

    When I was a child, I was instructed by adults to yell '***(kinship, like Uncle), fu2 dao4 le' should I arrive at the gate of a relative on new year's day. 'fu2 dao4 le' means 'fortune arrived.'

  8. leoboiko said,

    June 19, 2015 @ 2:51 pm

    Polysyllabic characters were more common than most people think, but still, even in the past, they were a lot less common than in Japanese, right? (With its kun-, jukujikun-, person name and place name readings, not to mention the fact that Old / Middle Chinese coda consonants eventually became new syllables in Japanese, e.g. 日 *nit → /ni.ti/).

    I happen to have a contemporary Japanese corpus at hand (the full text dump of the Japanese wikipedia, as parsed by the mecab analyser with the unidic dictionary). I get the following statistics for a sample of 15M Japanese kanji readings (in moræ, which I think are more salient in Japanese than syllables):

    Proportion of kanji readings that are poly-moraic: 73.39%

    Average: 1.75
    Median: 2

      0% 1
     25% 1
     50% 2
     75% 2
    100% 5

    And these are conservative estimates, ignoring the non-dictionary readings.

    I don't have any idea about how one would measure this for Chinese, but I'm guessing the typical numbers would be much closer to 1?

  9. Eidolon said,

    June 19, 2015 @ 3:16 pm

    "If you have difficulty getting your hands on that article, there is a brief account of the pots in Miriam Robbins Dexter and Victor H. Mair, "Sacred Display: New Findings", Sino-Platonic Papers, 240 (Sept. 2013), see p. 13 and Figs. 30-31. It would appear that some crucial components of writing had begun to trickle in to the western fringes of what is now China before full-blown writing developed in the East Asian Heartland during the 13th c. BC."

    Thank you for the references. It would appear that the "cross potent" symbol is ancient, indeed, though its function on the ~2,300 BC pots look to be symbolic, rather than being a character in a script. Nonetheless, it must have made its way into the later bronzeware writing system as the character for "shaman/mage" due to its earlier symbolism. The timing of the pots are much too early to be connected to the spoke-wheeled chariot-driven expansion of Andronovo Indo-Iranians. But as the "cross potent" is a Neolithic symbol in Europe, I do agree that it must have reached China through a hitherto unknown – but intuitively in the vicinity of the Hexi corridor – trade route from West Eurasia.

  10. Michael Watts said,

    June 19, 2015 @ 9:46 pm

    On the other page, I asked:

    in what context did your wife and her friends encounter a 囍 such that you could distinguish between them reading it and them naming it? An English speaker looking at a W and saying [ˈdʌbl̩ˌju] isn't pronouncing the character.

    A response was promised.

    There is only one item in this article that could be addressing that question, and it clearly shows them naming the character rather than reading it. They can't be reading it because a response of that kind wouldn't address the question. Compare these other exchanges:

    Q: What letter is that?
    A: That's a W!

    This answer contains no information about how the letter W is pronounced. W's name does not even contain its sound.

    问:那是什么字? ("What character is that?")
    答:那个字是侠义的侠。 ("That character is the 侠 [xiá] in 侠义 [xiáyì].")

    The answer VHM appears to postulate, 那个字是xiá, is impossible because it doesn't identify the character — there are several different characters all read xiá. But we can't conclude that 侠 is a polysyllabic character with the pronunciation 侠义的侠. The way to ask how a character is pronounced, rather than identified, is 那个字怎么读? ("How do you read that character?"). Similarly, there is no reason to think that the spoken "Bǎ gè shuāngxǐzì tiēzài qiáng shàng" has 把个囍字贴在墙上 as a written form, any more than 你应该用氵的清字would be a legal way to write "Nǐ yīnggāi yòng sāndiǎnshuǐ de qīng zì".

    I still think that the question of "how is the character 囍 pronounced?" is ill-founded, since 囍 is an art object rather than a genuine part of the writing system. I don't think it's a coincidence that the dictionaries that have "chosen" to include it at all tend to be the internet-based open-contribution dictionaries. It's certainly much more common than a lot of characters that do get included in more "official" dictionaries.

    Totally unrelated: I'm surprised to see VHM write 貼在牆上 as tiē zài qiáng shàng, since I interpret that 在 as a resultative complement and I thought he liked to attach those to their verbs ("我听到了- wǒ tīngdào le"). It is my impression that when modified with aspectual 了, the sentence would be something like 他把双喜字贴在了墙上, which requires the 在 to be part of the verb, no?

  11. Michael Watts said,

    June 20, 2015 @ 1:45 am

    nobody would ever think of treating an ornate letter or word written with the alphabet as a separate script entity that requires its own Unicode point, which is necessary for each variant of a character in the Chinese writing system

    I wish that were true. It gave me no end of grief several years ago that my computer would display characters in a graphical form different from what I thought of as "standard", and in some cases difficult for me to look up. Here's the example I remember: 青 is "normally" a shape like this (focus on the bottom half):

    │ ┘

    But whatever horrible font was installed on my computer at the time displayed this instead:

    │ │
    │ ┘

    (The preview functionality is showing me line spacing in my text art that kind of ruins it. If that's still true in the published comment… imagine that all of the lines have been pressed together.)

  12. Michael Watts said,

    June 20, 2015 @ 1:53 am

    OK, an attempt at not having the extra line spacing in my text-based line art characters:

    ─┼─ ─┼─
    ─┼─ ─┼─
    ─┴─ ─┴─
    ┌─┐ ┌┬┐
    ├─┤ ├┴┤
    ├─┤ │ │
    │ ┘ │ ┘

    The version on the left is "normal"; the version on the right is what my computer really wanted me to believe was normal. As far as I know, those are accepted variants of the same character that share a unicode point (and similarly for the many, many characters that include this one as a phonophore).

  13. Michael Watts said,

    June 20, 2015 @ 1:56 am

    Grr… it was <code style="line-height:1em"> in my comment and it previewed appropriately, but the style tag has been stripped in the published comment. C'est la vie.

  14. shubert said,

    June 20, 2015 @ 7:46 am

    "Is 囍 a legitimate character?" remains disputable.

  15. leoboiko said,

    June 20, 2015 @ 10:40 am

    @Michael Watts:

    The “horrible” variant, 靑, is just an older form of the character. See here.

    It seems that originally it had 丼 at the bottom – a plant over a water well. By the time of the Shuowen (2c) the bottom part was reinterpreted as 丹 "red pigment", to which Xu Shen attributed an elaborate Five Elements interpretation (if you can read Japanese, see here, and if you can read Chinese just see the Shuowen :) ). This form with the vertical stroke is still the variant adopted by the time of the Kangxi (1710, relevant page here). Finally, the form with 月 became dominant in all hanzi-using countries (though Taiwan and Hong Kong don't connect the horizontal strokes).

    Problems with graphical (glyph) variants of Unicode hanzi are usually solved by 1) having fonts of your preferred locale installed, and 2) telling your system what's the intended locale (for example, with the variable LC_ALL on Linux, or through a "system language" options on most other systems).

  16. Victor Mair said,

    June 20, 2015 @ 2:31 pm


    I agree with the gist of your analysis, but wonder if, instead of "later bronzeware writing system", you meant "late Bronze Age writing system" or "oracle bone writing system".

  17. Michael Watts said,

    June 20, 2015 @ 5:11 pm

    I guess I'll ask more directly.

    @Victor Mair:

    Was there any context in which your wife or a member of her peer group definitely used 双喜 as the pronunciation of 囍, rather than as a way to refer to it?

  18. Randy Alexander said,

    June 21, 2015 @ 1:07 am

    Michael, you mean these? 青靑

  19. Victor Mair said,

    June 21, 2015 @ 5:24 am

    @Michael Watts

    Please read our comments policy (link to be found at the top of each Language Log page). Your comments have become trollish and accusatory. Many of them are no longer productive and helpful.

    I won't deconstruct all the tendentious aspects of your numerous comments on this post and the previous post, but just mention a few.

    From the previous post: "So it wouldn't raise any eyebrows to write 我囍欢唱歌?" Of course it would raise eyebrows. Who would do such a thing? Since 囍 is pronounced shuāngxǐ, that would be like saying *Wǒ shuāngxǐhuān chànggē." Nobody would do that. 囍 and 喜 are not interchangeable.

    From the previous post: "…in what context did your wife and her friends encounter a 囍 such that you could distinguish between them reading it and them naming it?" You repeat yourself in your latest comment on the present post: "Was there any context in which your wife or a member of her peer group definitely used 双喜 as the pronunciation of 囍, rather than as a way to refer to it?" I already answered this in the first post (see below).

    When you write, "The answer VHM appears to postulate, 那个字是xiá…", I have no idea what you're talking about. I said nothing of the sort.

    Further, when you opine:


    "A response was promised.

    "There is only one item in this article that could be addressing that question…"


    you ignore this:

    Bǎ (gè) shuāngxǐ (zì) xiě / tiē zài qiáng shàng 把(個)囍(字)寫/貼在牆上 ("Write / stick [the character for] 'double happiness' on the wall"). (The characters in parentheses and brackets are optional. Of course, it would be polite to put a qǐng 请 ["please"] in front.)

    In addition, when you say "囍 is an art object rather than a genuine part of the writing system", that is not the opinion of everyone. For many people (not just VHM), 囍 is both an ornament and a part of the writing system, and they use it as such (one can write 囍 in a letter to a friend or in an account of a film, etc.). The same is true of many Chinese characters, notably shòu 壽 ("longevity"), as discussed above in the OP. They are both ornaments and written characters.

    Is wàn (MSM) / maan6 (Cant.) 卍 [U+534D] / 卐 [U+5350] an ornament or a part of the writing system?




    https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/%E5%8D%8D (with citations to major dictionaries)


    Since at least the Tang period, 卍 has been both an ornament and a part of the writing system.

    As Eidolon and others understand, and as I explained in the original post, the same situation obtained for ☩ > wū 巫 in its early stages. I suspect that, if we delved into the earliest history of each of the 100,000 or so characters, we would find many symbols that started out as ornaments but that later became part of the writing system. One of the interesting things about 囍 is that it began as the duplication of a preexisting character, 喜.

    Whether 囍 is solely an ornament or both an ornament and a part of the writing system is open to question. In a Google search, it yields 2,960,000 ghits, just like that: 囍. That's not an ornament; it is a character. It's a written character. It is a part of the writing system. The Chinese Wikipedia begins: 囍是一個漢字. It could hardly be more unambiguous: "囍 is a Chinese character". It didn't say "囍 is an ornament / decoration." And there are many other sources that say the same thing or something similar. In any event, I don't think you have sufficient justification for laying down the law and prescriptively declaring it is only "an art object". How can someone write and type an art object, whereas 囍 has been written and typed millions upon millions of times?

    Whatever it was that you were trying to demonstrate in your three consecutive comments, their presentation and point are not clear.

    Now, when it comes to the grammar and pinyin of 貼在牆上, it's not evident what that has to do with the matter of 囍 being both a character and an ornament or only, as you insist, "an art object" that was under discussion (as you say, it's "Totally unrelated"). Be that as it may, since you brought it up, I'll respond.

    Basically, there is no unanimity among experts (I consulted several dozen Chinese language teachers and specialists on Chinese linguistics), neither on the grammar of 在 in the phrase 貼在牆上 nor on the proper pinyin for the phrase. On the question of the grammatical part of speech, there are the following opinions:


    resultative complement

    Here, zai4 is a preposition, but strictly speaking, it is the first part of a prepositional phrase in Chinese: "在…上"。 Tie1 zai4 qiang2 shang4: post (it) ON the wall.

    My thought is that 在 is a preposition. "在墙上" is a prepositional phrase and it acts as a resultative complement of the verb 贴.

    I would call 在 a verb functioning as a resultative complement.


    The part of speech question is quite tricky – which is of course why you are interested. I call words like gei, dao, zai, and perhaps cheng (though cheng may be fully toned – see below) that can follow a verb immediately and generally preclude the aspect particles (le, guo, etc.), "post-verbal particles" (for want of a better name).

    (An exception, with V-zai+le: Ta hen bu shufu de zuo-zai-le dengzi shang 'S/he sat on the stool in some discomfort' [p. 116 of my Verbs book].)

    As for the pronunciation, again, very interesting: Such particles are unstressed in northern speech, so neutral tone. However, as Chao noted, the unstressed pronunciation would often be pronounced "de" rather than "zai" (neutral tone) – and in natural speech, I think this remains the case. Chao's version of Humpty Dumpty – I think I've got this right, but I can't check it from here – begins (leaving out tone marks):

    Hundi Dundi zuo de qiang zhongjianr 'HD sat on a wall'

    I think Chao wrote that usage of zai with a "de" character – but not sure.
    Publishers that I've dealt with in China have insisted on writing the post-verbal usage of zai, gei, etc. with full tone – I've given up fighting actual spoken representations.

    I'd venture to call the single character 在 a co-verb in this context. But I'd quickly proceed to emphasize that, as co-verbs regularly do, 在 here is followed by an object, which is a place-word.

    A "place-word" is either a noun indicating a place (like 美國) or an ordinary noun + localizer. A localizer is one of a limited set of words (such as 上, 下, 左, 右, 內, 外 etc) used after an ordinary noun to indicate a position relative to that noun. Here, 牆 is the ordinary noun, 上 is the localizer, and the compound 牆上 is the place-word. (Idiomatically speaking, 牆上 does not necessarily mean literally "on top of the wall", but merely "on the wall".)

    The co-verb + place word form the Chinese equivalent of an English prepositional phrase, in which the co-verb corresponds to the English preposition. (An interesting difference between the two languages is that English prepositions rarely, if ever at all, convey verbal meaning, whereas the corresponding Chinese co-verbs often manifestly retain a verbal implication.)

    Placement of the co-verbal phrase is significant, either before or following the main verb. Placed before the main verb, the co-verb phrase indicates a prior condition or circumstance under which the main verb occurs. Placed after the main verb, the co-verb phrase indicates a result of the main verbal action. In that sense, it’s a kind of resultative expression.

    To the best of my recollection, the analysis above comes from Y. R. Chao’s Mandarin Primer and his Grammar of Spoken Chinese.

    The verb phrase 貼在牆上 appears incomplete, in that, as stated, it is apparently a generality, not an actual event, so it is suitable to be the topic of some other predicate-comment, for example.

    This is a difficult question, because when we say 把花兒貼在墻上,在is a preposition, but when we say: 把花兒貼在了墻上,在 is a part of the verb 貼。 In linguistics, this is called P-incorporation (preposition moves to and cliticizes on the verb).


    On the question of the spacing of the pinyin (分词连写; 正词法), there were the following opinions:


    tiē zàiqiángshàng

    I would write tiezai, just as I write zuole, quguo, nazhe etc. and songgei, nadao, etc. Again, I find some resistance to this convention.

    Tie zai qiangshang. Here, zai has to be separated from qiangshang, for otherwise (i.e., zaiqiangshang as a single phrase), it would mean this posting is ALREADY on the wall, which would make tie (post) unnecessary.

    I would write it in pinyin as tiē zài qiáng shàng (all separately)

    As for the Pinyin, people here are a lot clearer on where the spaces go than I am, so I will sit back and listen.


    Should be spelled separately. Also TIE is one of that subset of location/placement verbs that takes a prepositional phrase AFTER it instead of before. So TIE + ZAI +NP + LOCATIVE. Postposition doesn't seem to be an RVC to me. TIE DE SHANG, TIE BU SHANG, yes; TIE BU ZAI QIANG SHANG, no.

    …from the standpoint of Pinyin, this seems to be a case of four monosyllabic words in a row:

    tiē zài qiáng shàng

    That happens a lot less in Mandarin than it does in English, I believe.

    For applicable rules, you might look at Xinhua Pinxie Cidian, the most authoritative and extensive treatment of the orthographic rules in China. The section on prepositions has this:


    坐 在(动+介•介词拼写法之 一)

    介 词的基本队伍是几十个单音节介词,此外也包括一些双音节介词。不论是单音节或者双音节,在句子中,介词一律独立写,即与前后的词分写,这 是介词拼写法的总原则。这话说起来似乎很简单,但在实际应用中还是会遇到很多问题,值得研究一番。

    既 然介词与前后的词分写,我们就从它与前后搭配的各种关系入手进行讨论。本条目先讨论介词与前面的搭配关系(介词与后面的搭配关系见下一条 目)。

    有几个单音节介词,如“在、给、到、向、以、于、自”等,可以直接用在动词(或形容词)的后面,组成“动+介”(或“形+介”)的结构。这 种结构有的适宜分写,有的适宜连写,颇难掌握。现分别举例如下。

    例 如:

    坐在 zuò zài 例:坐在沙发上

    躺在 tǎng zài 例:躺在草地上

    用在 yòng zài 例:用在句子里

    写在 xiě zài 例:写在纸上

    看在 kàn zài 例:看在夫妻情分上


    So why did you decide to criticize the way I did it (tiē zài qiáng shàng), which agrees with the largest number of respondents and the best authorities?

    [Thanks to Shengli Feng, Haitao Tang, Thomas Bartlett, Julian Wheatley, Mark Swofford, John Rohsenow, D. Pan, Melvin Lee, Mark Hansell, Michael Carr, and Rebecca Fu]

  20. Brendan said,

    June 21, 2015 @ 10:56 am

    A point of anecdata regarding names/readings of 囍: for whatever it's worth, there's a brand of cigarettes by this name, and I've only ever heard it referred to as "Shuāngxǐ." Googling around, it looks as if references to these cigarettes are mostly written as "双喜" rather than "囍":

    一包双喜 (22,300 ghits), 一支双喜 (8,620 ghits)
    一包囍 (426, mostly unrelated though with a couple of references to 一包“囍“双喜烟), 一支囍 (9)

    Unfortunately, this isn't all that conclusive one way or another, since the official name of the brand is "红双喜" — but the character in question is by far the most prominent element in the packaging. "一包囍" turns up more references to 囍糖, which I found interesting, as I don't think I'd ever seen the word written before.

    囍 isn't by any means limited to "internet-based open-contribution dictionaries." It's right there in the Hanyu Da Cidian, for instance, where it is given the reading "" and illustrated with a line from a 1976 poem:


    (I suspect that it probably is intended to be read as there, but who knows with modern poetry.)

  21. K Chang said,

    June 21, 2015 @ 6:06 pm

    @Brendan — regarding that poem, lookings like it should be "Xi", as saying "shuang xi" breaks the rhythm and makes it a mismatch with the first half.

  22. Russell said,

    June 21, 2015 @ 7:47 pm


    I'm actually still curious about the question of the "shuang xi" pronunciation of 囍, since as yet, as far as I can tell, all the reported examples from the post and comments are mentions of the character's name (such as 把囍寫/貼在牆上), rather than its use. My intuition is that it would be unlikely for the character to be used in an utterance outside being named or described, but my intuition is ultimately not worth much.

  23. Victor Mair said,

    June 21, 2015 @ 9:07 pm

    From Tom Bartlett:

    Seeing that linked thread reminds me that I neglected to indicate how I would write the phrase in pinyin. Evidently the main question is whether or not to link 在 with 貼. The short answer is that I'm not sure whether I have a preference and I'm not sure whether there is an officially sanctioned practice for this case. Since I stopped teaching MSC over 15 years ago I don't write much in pinyin beyond brief vocabulary notes, so I've not given this syntactic point much thought lately. So I'm not sure now whether I would write "tie zai qiangshang" or "tiezai qiangshang".

    But I'm somewhat uneasy at the suggestion of one respondent, if I understand it correctly, that in pinyin transcription, whereas "zai" should be separated from "tie" in the phrase "tie zai qiangshang", on the contrary, "zai" should be linked with "tie" if "le" is inserted, as in "tiezaile qiangshang”, indicating completed action. My understanding is that “le” used this way is a distinctive innovation of PRC style, not found in previous phases of Mandarin, and that it may be analogized from linguistic usage in European languages. I believe I have never seen it n the typical ROC style of MSC as taught by Y. R. Chao, DeFrancis, or the Yale texts, which is what I learned. At the moment, I don’t remember how Li and Thompson treat this point and don’t have time now to review their book.

    The lack of spacing between full words in Chinese text has often been noted. But spacing has been introduced in GR and Pinyin, with obvious semantic and syntactic implications. Thus, if spacing is either present or not between verbs and their complement co-verbs, depending simply on whether "le” (signifying completed action) follows or does not follow “zai”, does that introduce an ambiguity that is unnecessarily confusing for learners? Does assertion of completed action imply a closer conceptual link between verb and complement? How does the former syntactically affect the latter? Since practices for writing MSC in pinyin are now at a much less conclusively definitive stage than established practices for writing compound German verbs (for example), and since conventions for writing MSC in pinyin are presumably of much greater consequence to foreign learners than to native speakers, therefore why make the basic conventions of pinyin transcription unnecessarily ambiguous for struggling foreign learners?

    Y. R. Chao's standard for non-linkage of verb and complement co-verb in romanization is clearly shown in Mandarin Primer, lesson 6. Vol 1, page 161, note 33 reads, "In complement position, '.de' [i.e. 得 in neutral tone] (probably derived from 'dao4' 到 'arrive') 'to' is often used instead of 'zai neutral tone' 在 as [in] 坐得桌子那儿 'sit-at the table', 掉得水裡 'fall into the water', 掉得樹上 'fall on(to) the tree'." In the 2nd and 3rd examples 得 apparently can be understood as substituted either for 在 or for 到. Chao transcribes the verb and complement as unlinked. (vol 1, page 159; vol 2, page 27) includes the passage 不是掉在海島上摔死就是會掉得海水裡淹死的. Chao's romanization marks 在 and 得 as neutral tone syllables. Curious, I think, that Chao introduces a hyphen in his translation of “sit-at”, suggesting close linkage of “zuo-zai”, although does not link the two romanized syllables. However, he does not use hyphen in the other two English translations.

  24. Brendan said,

    June 22, 2015 @ 12:01 am

    @K Chang – Yes; as I said right above your comment, I think it's probably intended to be read as the single-syllable "xi" there for reasons of prosody.

    @Russell – So far as usage in utterances outside being named or described, the best I can come up with is the word xǐtáng ("wedding candy"). This is usually written as 喜糖, but when I was searching for strings referring to Shuangxi-brand cigarettes, above, I came across a few mentions of "a bag of 囍-candy" (一包囍糖), in which 囍 is obviously meant to be read as "xǐ."

    The question of whether "shuangxi" is the pronunciation of 囍 or just the name of it is an interesting one — and one I'm not sure would come up for any other character. It's not really akin to "氵的清字" — both because "sāndiǎnshuǐ de 'qīng' zì" is intended to disambiguate, which "shuangxi" is not, and because 囍 is a character and 氵 isn't. (@shubert's comment above, about whether or not 囍 is a "legitimate character," seems odd: it shows up in dictionaries and fonts as a character rather than a component, and unlike plenty of "legitimate characters" is familiar and instantly recognizable to even novice users of the writing system. What other criteria for legitimacy are there, exactly?) I'm trying to think of other characters about which one might say that they have separate names and pronunciations, but am coming up blank. 圕 might be one, but that doesn't really get us any closer to an answer — and it's not as good an example anyway, since unlike 囍 it isn't in common usage.

  25. Mark S. said,

    June 22, 2015 @ 2:33 am

    Chao's version of Humpty Dumpty – I think I've got this right, but I can't check it from here – begins (leaving out tone marks):

    Hundi Dundi zuo de qiang zhongjianr

    Your recollection is correct, though Chao's GR original of course had different spellings: "Huendih Duendih tzuoh de chyang-jongjiall."

    For a parallel text version, see the Humpty Dumpty section in Hanyu Pinyin, Gwoyeu Romatzyh, and English.

  26. Randy Alexander said,

    June 22, 2015 @ 10:41 am

    I'm not sure why people are suggesting that tie1 and zai4 should be connected; they are not constituents. "Tie zai qiang shang" is structured [[tie] [zai qiang shang]] (the inner division of "zai qiang shang" depends on which element one takes as the head). This is evidenced by the fact that you can say "zai qiang shang tie de zi". I'm not addressing whether "qiang and "shang" should be connected (that's a bit of a can of worms); my point here is that "tie" and "zai" should not.

    This discussion has elicited a theoretical idea that I've never considered — that a character could have a name distinct from its pronunciation. I wonder if there are other examples. What about radical names like "baozigair" for 宀 (pronounced "mian2"), etc?

    Also — aren't there other examples of polysyllabic characters? I seem to remember seeing some in 现在汉语词典, but I presently don't have a copy of it.

  27. Victor Mair said,

    June 22, 2015 @ 10:58 am

    @Randy Alexander

    There are plenty of polysyllabic characters. I referenced them in this post, in the previous post on "Double Happiness", and in a post dedicated to them that is linked from the previous post on "Double Happiness". They are present in the script from the oracle bones and bronze inscriptions, through the medieval period, and up to the present time. They were especially popular during the Communist period, right up to the 80s, though starting in the 90s, it seems that language authorities have been discouraging them as "nonstandard".

    The names of components, strokes, or radicals is quite a different matter from talking about a character having both a pronunciation and a name. A lot of people have been telling me offline that they think that is an odd notion.

  28. Eidolon said,

    June 22, 2015 @ 11:36 am

    "I agree with the gist of your analysis, but wonder if, instead of "later bronzeware writing system", you meant "late Bronze Age writing system" or "oracle bone writing system"."

    I was not sure at the time of the post when the symbol was first used as a character, but from looking at the entry of "wu" 巫 on zdic, it looks as though the "cross potent" was introduced as a character in the "oracle bone script" 甲骨文 and the "bronzeware script" 金文, but was later changed in the "small seal script" 小篆 into its current design. As such I imagine it was present from the very beginning of the writing system as a character of "simple" ideographic origin, but due to the redesign in "small seal script" became less of a "cross potent," though the initial inspiration is still there.

  29. Russell said,

    June 22, 2015 @ 5:09 pm

    @Brendan, thanks for the example! Totally makes sense.

    And intuitively it is something one might have predicted, given that "shuang xi" doesn't seem to be something really syntactically integratable into a sentence. Aside from being a name. I agree with the people VHM mentions above that a Chinese character with a separate name and pronunciation seems odd – but not, to me, as odd as a character having just a name.

  30. Victor Mair said,

    June 23, 2015 @ 7:55 am

    Let's summarize what we've learned about 囍:

    1. It's a Chinese character. It is not merely an "art object". Rather, like many other Chinese characters, it can be used as an ornament or decoration, e.g., shòu 壽 ("longevity"). Is 壽 any the less a Chinese character and any the more purely an "art object" because it is often used as an ornament or decoration? Note, moreover, that 壽 is developed for ornamental and decorative purposes in a style like that of 囍 when the latter is used as an ornament or decoration. Of course, when one is speaking — whether it be shòu or shuāngxǐ — none of that imagery is visible: just sounds. Moreover, just as 囍 can be used for felicitous product names having no direct relationship to nuptial ceremonies (e.g., filled milk, cigarettes, matches, soy sauce, jewelry, fashon, etc.), so is 壽 used for products as varied as noodles and whiskey having no direct connection to birthday parties for older folk. In none of these instances does such usage diminish the status of these characters qua characters.

    Ditto for fú 福 ("blessings; good fortune"; not always inverted!) and lù 祿 ("salary").

    2. 囍 is pronounced shuāngxǐ, but many people nowadays (probably acting under the influence of the prescriptivist rule that all characters are monosyllabic) pronounce it xǐ, which is also the pronunciation of 喜. The disyllabic pronunciation of 囍 is clearly recognized in this Wikipedia article about it.

    3. 喜 ("happy; joyful") and 囍 ("double happiness") do not mean the same thing.

    In these sentences, I doubt very much that 一包囍烟 would always be pronounced as yī bāo xǐ yān rather than as yī bāo shuāngxǐ yān.

    Ditto for 抽囍烟 (there are many occurrences of this phrase).

    Do you think that every single one of these would be read chōu xǐ yān rather than as chōu shuāngxǐ yān?

    And what if we substituted one of the following for 囍 in that short sentence?

    Zhonghua (中华), Zhongnanhai (中南海), Lesser Panda (小熊猫), Pride (娇子), Haomao (好猫), Yuxi (玉溪), Hongta Shan (红塔山), Baisha (白沙), Suyan (苏烟), Nanjing (南京)

    Would they all then become just names, but not the pronunciations of characters used to write the names of these popular cigarette brands?

    Regardless of how it in written in characters, whether as 囍 or as 雙喜, in speech, when people want to refer to the Chinese notion of "Double Happiness", they will say shuāngxǐ, not just xǐ. "Double Happiness" is a Chinese concept; it is different from "happiness", and there is a term for it: shuāngxǐ. Moreover, there is a particular character for writing that precise term: 囍.

    囍 is one of the oldest Chinese cigarette brands. It was founded in Shanghai in 1906. It would be very strange if they pronounced it as xǐ back then. Otherwise, why wouldn't they just name it 喜? And how would anyone be able to distinguish 囍 from 喜 in speech?

    And then we have characters like 瓩 for kilowatt. Bing Translator pronounces it perfectly: qiānwǎ. Quite impressive! These characters were in Xiàndài hànyǔ cídiǎn 现代汉语词典 (Modern Chinese Dictionary), though I don't know if they're still in the newest editions. Of course, the prescriptivists who insist that all characters can only have one syllable would try to weed them out — but people still use them.

    Anyway, are the skeptics who say that 囍 is not a character but only an art object and that it only has a name, not a pronunciation, also going to say by the same logic that 瓩 is not a character but only an art object and that it only has a name, not a pronunciation? But they would be wrong to do so. 瓩 is a disyllabic character.

    I did not make up the shuāngxǐ pronunciation for 囍. See here, here, and here.

    My wife and her friends pronounced 囍 as shuāngxǐ, and they did so in all contexts when they read or wrote it. It's no different from pronouncing 瓩 as qiānwǎ or 红 as hóng or 卍 as wàn or 圕 as túshūguǎn or [ネ义] as shèhuìzhǔyì or 壽 as shòu or

    艹 as púsà. Shuāngxǐ is the pronunciation of the character 囍. It wasn't VHM who invented this pronunciation, and it wasn't VHM who declared that 囍 is a character.

    And then there are characters like 廿 (20), which some people pronounce niàn and others pronounce èrshí, and 卅 (30), which some people pronounce sà and others pronounce sānshí. So you see that this business of polysyllabic characters is far more complicated than to say they do not exist, that all characters have forever and always been monosyllabic. Polysyllabic / Multisyllabic / Disyllabic characters pop up all the time — in restaurants, in dance parlors, in factories…. Why does this happen? Because it's a reflection of the nonmonosyllabism of spoken Sinitic languages, and because disyllabic and polysyllabic characters are quick and efficient, and they convey particular meanings and nuances that people are fond of or in need of. Of course, trying to type them (in computers or whatever) is a bear, but writing them by hand? No sweat!

  31. leoboiko said,

    June 23, 2015 @ 8:19 am

    About naming characters – I once searched for the longest Japanese readings of characters in the Kanjidic database, and this one seemed to be a description of the character:

    hidari-no-ude-ga-nai ("left arm is missing", cf. 子 "child")

    I think this is not a pronunciation but a description of the character; apparently its meaning is "lacking", not "lacking the left arm". I say "apparently" because it's very seldomly used; the only Japanese word I could find with it is 孑孒 bōfura "larva", which is a "compound reading" (i.e. it doesn't use the character's individual readings), and even then its most common kanji representation is 孑孑 or, morphographically, 棒振 bō-fura “wiggling stick”. I don't think it's ever used to represent the predicate hidari-no-ude-ga-nai.

    Most of other exceptionally long Kanjidic readings seem to be entire phrases describing the referent, rather than readings proper. A few interesting examples:

    hitoe-no-tsutsusode-ude-nuki ("unlined tube-sleeve [kimono] minus arm")
    ki-de-tsukutta-ooyumi ("big bow made of wood")
    tsuki-no-utsukushii-hikari ("the beautiful light of the moon")
    kotoba-ga-uruwashii ("words are lovely", "someone whose ~")
    yasete-katai-tsuchi ("barren and hard soil")
    takusan-no-izumi ("many fountains", cf. 泉 "fountain")

    I don't know where are these long readings from, nor whether they're really used as readings (e.g. if 朎 is used to represent the phrase "the beautiful light of the moon"). Most references I found on the Internet are from Kanjidic itself. At any rate, I don't think they're part of daily usage; as shown in the numbers above, the longest readings in common use seems to be 5 moræ, as in 政 = matsurigoto; and, though sometimes poly-morphemic (matsuri-goto "service-affairs" = "government"), they're not full predicates or verb phrases.

    (I hope it's ok to post these Japanese curios in this thread about Chinese.)

  32. Victor Mair said,

    June 23, 2015 @ 9:50 am


    As always, your interesting comments are warmly welcome.

    Most of the items you cite sound like definitions to me.

  33. Thomas Bartlett said,

    June 23, 2015 @ 8:38 pm

    In the posting "Victor Mair said", dated 21 June, 5:24, which canvasses various opinions regarding linkage between verb and following resultative complement, in section #6, an example sentence is offered "Ta hen bu shufu de zuo-zai-le dengzi shang". I suggest that this example contains a minor solecism. I think "hen" should not used before verbs which are followed by 得 and a complement phrase. Such a sentence will be understood by native speaking interlocutors, of course, but would not, I think, be spontaneously composed by a native speaker. I remember, when learning comparative expressions, being warned by a teacher not to put “hen" before the main verb, as in: * ta bi ni hen gaoxing", which is unidiomatic. I think the same principle applies to resultative complements of manner, location, etc, as discussed above.

  34. Apollo Wu said,

    June 23, 2015 @ 9:07 pm

    It maybe OK if there are only a couple of disyllabic character. Otherwise, people have to hesitate when they encounter these type of character. I learn very late that the single character【千+瓦】should read as qianwa. Btw, I just fail to key in that 【千+瓦】 with my Sogo IME. I bet many Chinese know the meaning of 廿 and 卅 but fail to know their sounds. Oh well, Chinese scripts are very messy, due to the concept of using character rather than sound to express meaning, as one can create infinite number of distinct meanings. Recently, I saw the single character for 石桥 【石+乔】 for naturally formed 'bridge' recently in the Wulong scenic area of Chongqing. I wonder if it is another disyllabic character.

  35. Endymion Wilkinson said,

    June 23, 2015 @ 10:07 pm

    My favorites are dialect fusion characters, e.g., beng 甭 for buyong 不用 (N. Mandarin); fiao 覅 for buyao 不要 (Wu dialect). Compare Scottish “dinna” for English “do not.”

  36. Victor Mair said,

    June 24, 2015 @ 8:02 am

    My favorite, extreme English fusion word is "sup" for "what's up". See this post for an account (links to related posts are embedded):

    "OMG moments induced by allegro forms in Pekingese" (1/26/12)


    The Pekingese expressions cited, like "Bur'ao", "O gao'r ni", "Mbr'ao", "Tianmen", and "Dashlar", are difficult to record in characters, other than the original, nonelided forms, which sound very different.

  37. Randy Alexander said,

    June 24, 2015 @ 9:11 am


    When I said "aren't there other examples" I meant examples that weren't covered in those postings and links. Sorry for not being clear. It seems to me that I have come across others, but I don't have a way to look them up.

    Does anyone know of a way to extract a list of all polysyllabic characters from an electronic dictionary?

    BTW, 新华字典, the little dictionary that every elementary school kid in China has at least one copy of, has 瓩 in it with a reading of "qianwa", so little kids are being indoctrinated with polysyllabicity, ensuring its survival into the next generation.

  38. Victor Mair said,

    June 24, 2015 @ 4:07 pm


    Here are some references (I mentioned the third one earlier):




    About thirty-forty years ago, when I was actively researching this subject, I collected lists that had many more examples of polysyllabic characters, but those lists exist only in printed form, and I can't find any list of comparable length online. Anyway, I think that, already in the late 70s, the government had begun to try to stamp out polysyllabic characters, the main alleged reason being that they were hard to type. But I don't think that's the real reason, since printers could have created a hundred or so of the more popular of these polysyllabic characters and made them part of their fonts, and indeed they did that in earlier decades. But the real problems were two:

    1. new polysyllabic characters kept popping up all the time (for the reasons that I mentioned in earlier comments — people found them efficient and convenient), and this would indeed mean that printers would have to keep coming up with new type to keep up with the newly invented characters

    2. they destroy the neat, tidy notion that the Chinese script is monosyllabic

    The reason that the second point is fallacious is that the Chinese script has never been monosyllabic (as I demonstrated in previous portions of this debate), and the reason why the Chinese script has never been monosyllabic is that the Sinitic languages have never been monosyllabic.

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