Love Love Rock

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The Love Love Rock festival, a music event in Xindian, New Taipei City, uses an interesting version of the character aì 愛 ("love") for its branding.  Certain elements of the character are duplicated (and some reversed) to convey the double 愛 (aìaì).

So here we have still another polysyllabic character, with which we may compare those discussed in the following posts:

[Thanks to Michael Cannings]


  1. Michael Watts said,

    November 13, 2016 @ 8:38 pm

    What makes this a "character" at all? How is it distinct from the heart (❤, if it will show up) in "I Heart Huckabees"? Is U+2764 a new, polyphonemic English letter?

  2. Victor Mair said,

    November 13, 2016 @ 9:31 pm

    The polysyllabic character discussed in this post:

    1. fits within a square like all other Chinese characters

    2. is composed of the same strokes and components as are all other Chinese characters

    3. is pronounceable

    4. is understandable

    Cf. the famous character pronounced "biang", which is not part of the phonological repertoire of MSM, but — like the character discussed in this post — fulfills all the other criteria of characterhood.

    "Writing Chinese characters as a form of punishment" (11/1/15)

    "Biangbiang noodles"

    For those who are not familiar with polysyllabic characters, it is strongly recommended that they look at all the links to earlier Language Log posts on this subject listed above, where they will encounter many examples, such as

    túshūguǎn 圕 ("library")


    Unihan data for U+5715

  3. Michael Watts said,

    November 13, 2016 @ 10:57 pm

    The heart in "I Heart Huckabees" (1) fits within the (variable) ordinary allotment of space to an English letter; (3) is pronounceable; and (4) is understandable. It's not a familiar letter, but I'm not aware of any general principles governing their construction. It is a closed loop with sharp corners, but those features are found in existing letters.

    Is & a polyphonemic English letter? It easily satisfies all four of those criteria.

  4. Victor Mair said,

    November 13, 2016 @ 11:49 pm

    The English alphabet is made up of 26 letters, each consisting of one or a few straight, curved, or angled lines; they are phonemic in nature. There are tens of thousands of Chinese characters, each composed of a limited number of specific strokes; they are morphosyllabic in nature. The English alphabet contains 26 letters, no more and no less; the set of Chinese characters is open-ended and has been growing in number for the last three millennia and more — it is still growing. ❤ does not include even one of the typical lines of which the 26 letters of the alphabet are composed; the double 愛 (aìaì) featured in this post — as I have already pointed out — is composed of the same basic, limited group of strokes of which all other characters are composed.

    The letters of the alphabet are not "understandable"; they are designed to convey sounds. ❤ and & signify meaning; they can be read off in many different ways according to which language one is using. The overwhelming majority of Chinese characters convey both sound and meaning.

    Let's not get into this again. We've been through it several times before, and such discussions are futile. If you do not want to believe in polysyllabic characters, that's your problem. Other people do accept their existence, including the people who invented the double 愛 (aìaì) featured in this post, and the people who created all the other polysyllabic characters discussed in the earlier posts on this topic.

  5. speedwell said,

    November 14, 2016 @ 12:30 am

    It looks vaguely like a woman wearing a skirt.

    Of course I've had four cups of coffee and I've been up all night, but you can't unsee it.

  6. John Swindle said,

    November 14, 2016 @ 1:26 am

    Helpful tip: If you tripled the elements instead of doubling them you could write "ay ay ay" in Chinese.

  7. Jongseong Park said,

    November 14, 2016 @ 8:56 am

    Unless this is actually used in a string of Chinese characters and read as 愛愛, I would consider this to be more like a monogram, where several glyphs are combined into a single graphic unit (e.g. Tolkien's JRRT monogram). Or you could say it's like an extremely stylized ligatures like this 'gg'.

    Of course, a glyph being a monogram/ligature is not mutually exclusive with it being a polysyllabic character. But without seeing it actually being used as a character, I would be more cautious before declaring it to be another 圕.

    By the way, for a similarly playful manipulation of Chinese characters, check out the graphic on this page. It is a sample of a submission for a FounderType Chinese Type Design competition from many years back.

  8. Ellen K. said,

    November 14, 2016 @ 10:29 am

    After reading the discussion on the ♥, I'm inclined to say it's less that the heart symbol differs from the character being discussed, as that the writing system is different. Whether or not it's a character is rather beside the point. It's clearly not a letter.

  9. Victor Mair said,

    November 14, 2016 @ 10:37 am

    @Ellen K.

    "It's clearly not a letter."

    Thank you for saying that.

  10. Victor Mair said,

    November 14, 2016 @ 11:36 am

    Are monograms pronounceable?

    The glyph under discussion is immediately and obviously pronounced as aìaì. It is not typable, because it is one of the countless Chinese glyphs that are not yet included in electronic fonts, but it can be written by hand, and when it is, it is read as aìaì.

    There was a time when 圕 and all the other polysyllabic characters discussed in this series of posts could only be written by hand and, indeed, a moment when each of them was first invented and had not yet been used as a character. Once created, they could be used in writing. There are countless characters of this sort (most monosyllabic, but not a few polysyllabic) that are being invented all the time.

    Remember "Duang" (3/1/15)?

    See also "More on 'duang'" (3/19/15).

    One day there was no way to write "duang" in characters, then on another day somebody invented a character to write "duang", and millions were sharing it.

    It is worth repeating the conclusion of the first post on "Duang":


    Where do Chinese words come from? Sometimes they come from nowhere — just out of thin air. Where do Chinese characters come from? Sometimes people just make them up out of other characters, or out of their own minds.

    "'Book from the Ground'" (12/5/12)

    "The unpredictability of Chinese character formation and pronunciation" (2/6/12)

    "Weird characters" (7/7/13)

    "New radicals in an old writing system" (8/29/12)

    In recent years, Chinese artists have become fond of inventing not just new radicals and new characters, but whole new writing systems that incorporate Roman letters and English words, as Petya Andreeva has shown in a paper written for my "Language, Script, and Society in China" course, which I hope to publish soon in Sino-Platonic Papers.*

    *Now available as a free pdf here.


  11. Jongseong Park said,

    November 14, 2016 @ 1:46 pm

    Most monograms using something like the Latin alphabet aren't pronounceable (except as a string of the names of the letters, like 'jay-ar-ar-tee' for JRRT) because the letters they combine aren't necessarily pronounceable on their own.

    But a monogram using Chinese characters would be pronounceable simply because each Chinese character is pronounceable.

    The ampersand & is in origin a ligature for 'et', and could be read as 'et'; it is therefore pronounceable. It is a monogram in the broad sense of the word (i.e. if we do not restrict it to designs used as a logo), but not a letter.

    On the other hand, not all invented Chinese characters are pronounceable before they have a pronunciation assigned to them, cf. the biangbiang noodles.

    So pronounceability is not a suitable criterion for judging whether something is a monogram (in the broad sense) or a character, which are by the way not necessarily mutually exclusive (in alphabets, letters originating in combination of other letters are not rare—think W, Æ, and the iotated letters in Cyrillic, not to mention Indic conjuncts).

    The point I wanted to make is that not all graphic representations made up of letter-like elements are letters. Not all potential polysyllabic characters are polysyllabic characters. Intention is key. The inventor of the design may well have meant to create a single character for 愛愛. But the intention could simply have been to create a concise logo for the festival, the way a western logo designer uses letters as graphic elements to combine into a single design without ever intending the result to be used as a letter.

    Consider also Japanese logo designers who combine elements of different kanji and kana with graphical elements to create a single symbol for a name or a brand (e.g. the yama 'mountain' + sa サ logo for Yamasa). Such a symbol could be 'read', but is it a new character? What about the previous logo for Sejong University combining the hangul for Sejong 세종?

  12. Victor Mair said,

    November 14, 2016 @ 3:01 pm

    A lot of hemming and hawing and waffling and qualification going on here.

  13. Guy said,

    November 14, 2016 @ 4:49 pm

    @Michael Watts

    & is not a polyphonemic English letter, but x is a letter, and usually polyphonemic in English.


    Setting aside the classification/terminological issue, how true is it true that these polysyllabic characters (or glyphs if you prefer), are avoided in long written passages, and tend to be limited to signage and usages alone as symbolism?

  14. Jongseong Park said,

    November 14, 2016 @ 9:08 pm

    What I am saying is that we should be careful to distinguish actual graphemes from potential graphemes, especially when you're dealing with an open-ended system like Chinese characters.

    Take the extended Roman alphabet. Someone produces an upside-down letter k. That by itself is not a letter. Sure, it can be written and could fit into the rest of the alphabet, but unless there is intent behind it, all we know is that someone produced a stylized version of the letter k.

    Now, ʞ has indeed been used as a phonetic symbol. Someone took the glyph and decided to use it as a letter. So in the context of that usage, ʞ is indeed a letter in the extended Roman alphabet.

    But one might produce an upside-down letter k purely for reasons of design, playing with the form of the original letter k without intending for the result to be considered a new letter. When one is in the business of creating logos, it is very common to play around with the visual elements of existing graphemes to come up with a new design. The result could often be taken for a new grapheme itself. But it does not mean that we have a new grapheme.

    That is why I am not jumping to conclusions here.

  15. Krogerfoot said,

    November 14, 2016 @ 9:28 pm

    The logo for the Love Love Rock festival is marvelous.

    @ Guy
    If a company called (say) Andersen were to change its brand name to &dersen, could we say that "&" is a polyphonemic letter?

  16. Victor Mair said,

    November 15, 2016 @ 12:13 am


    There's a huge qualitative and quantitative difference between an alphabet, which is a closed system with a limited number of letters (less than a hundred), and a morphosyllabary like the Chinese script, which is open-ended and has upwards of a hundred thousand characters.

    Here are the number of letters in various alphabets to give you an idea of the typical size:

    Malayalam- 56

    Sinhala- 54

    Hindi- 44

    Hungarian- 44

    Abkhaz – 41

    Armenian- 39

    Albanian – 36

    Russian- 33

    Tamil- 30

    English- 26

    Greek- 24

    Hebrew- 22

    Source: Quora

    According to the 1995 Guinness Book of World Records, the Khmer (Cambodian) alphabet is the largest alphabet in the world, consisting of 74 letters, including some that are not currently in use.

    It is easy for font makers to create and manage scripts of this size.

    On the other hand, it is impossible for font makers to keep up with the constantly growing Chinese monosyllabic writing system. There will always be newly invented characters for which no typable form exists. What is extremely important to note, however, is that people can — and do — freely handwrite any character they invent (whether monosyllabic or polysyllabic) that is deemed useful or pleasing to them and their associates, such as 圕.

    Already at the dawn of the writing system in the oracle bone inscriptions, there are phrases such as shòu yòu 受又 ("receive blessings") written as a single character, viz., 祐 (this is now pronounced yòu and means "divine intervention / protection"). In medieval manuscript culture, Púsà 菩薩 ("Bodhisattva") was often written as a single disyllabic character. During the early Communist period of the 20th century, shèhuìzhǔyì 社会主义 ("socialism") was commonly written with a single quadrisyllabic character, and there were many other polysyllabic characters of this sort during that period. Naturally, at first they were just used in handwriting, but later lead type sorts were created for them, and it became possible to print them.

    Cf. "Character building is costly and time consuming" (12/22/15)

    So, Guy, you won't see many of these polysyllabic characters in printed (typeset) texts, but that does not mean that people were / are not writing them by hand.

  17. Michael Watts said,

    November 15, 2016 @ 1:01 am

    The glyph under discussion is immediately and obviously pronounced as aìaì.

    Do you have any justification for this? It doesn't appear to be true. Here's a conversation I had, with my translation in brackets:

    Me: 你看过这个吗? [Have you seen this?]

    Friend: 没有 [No]
    Friend: 这是两个繁体的爱 [This is two traditional 爱s]

    Me: 你觉得算是个字吗? [Do you think it counts as a 字 (a character)?]

    Friend: 嗯,可以说是艺术字 [Yes, you could say it's an 艺术字 (not a term I know, but it appears to mean "a character written in an ornate/fancy style")]

    Me: 怎么读呢? [How is it pronounced?]

    Friend: 是我的话,我还是读爱 [for me, I would still read it as 爱]
    Friend: 但我会理解成两个人相爱 [but I would understand it as meaning mutual love between two people]

  18. Eidolon said,

    November 15, 2016 @ 8:53 pm

    There is probably a reason polysyllabic characters were never popular in the history of Chinese writing, even though they were introduced multiple times in different periods. I think it has to do with the fact that they violate the generally assumed principle of one character, one syllable, which then forced them to be processed as exceptions by the brain when placed within a passage. I certainly would find it awkward to read a polysyllabic character in the middle of a passage.

  19. Victor Mair said,

    November 16, 2016 @ 7:44 am

    I was hoping that people would have noticed it by now, but if you go to the website for the festival that is linked at the very beginning of the o.p., you will see that it says "Àiài yáogǔn 愛愛搖滾" on the bottom right side and gives the English translation of that at the top left as "LOVE LOVE ROCK".

    I didn't even need to look at the Chinese name of the festival to realize, as soon as I saw the big character in the middle of the home page, that its creators intended it to be pronounced "àiài".

    I asked more than a dozen people how to pronounce the polysyllabic character under discussion. I presented the character to them cold, without any context — just the big character at the top of this post. Here are the results of my survey:


    ài 6 (all from the mainland, and all think of it as a variant form of 愛)

    xiāng'ài 相愛 3 (two from outside China, one from China [but with lengthy residence overseas beginning from a young age])

    àiài 6 (all from Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, or elsewhere outside of the PRC)

    ài’ai 1 (from outside China)

    àiài, shuāng'ài, or shuāngxīn'ài (from Taiwan)


    Considering the background of the respondents, the results are not too surprising. It's interesting that — in this survey and in other surveys I have taken — individuals from the PRC, especially those who are highly educated, tend to have the opinion that there's no such thing as a polysyllabic character or, if there are any, they should be eliminated from the writing system (polysyllabic characters are "wrong", "weird", etc.). Individuals from Taiwan, including those who are highly educated, tend to be much more open and receptive to polysyllabic characters.

    One of the respondents from Taiwan explained his reading of the character thus:


    Apparently this character was generated from the character 愛, but since there are two 心 in the middle and two 夊 on the bottom, I assume this character represents two people loving each other. Therefore, I would pronounce it as "xiang1 ai4" (相愛).


    The only respondent from the PRC who entertained the possibility that the character in question is polysyllabic explained her reading thus:

    This character looks very romantic in pink. Hahaha.

    I suppose it must connote "very very love", thus an instant answer to me would be "dà ài" in reference to the Japanese "dai suki" 大好き. But it turns out that "dà ài" sounds not that romantic, somehow… …"ai ai"… seems also a nice choice.

    In addition to 爱, 喜 and 寿 also have such versions of reiterative locutions, in ritual practices or grand events. I always read them in their original pronunciations.


    In other words, this respondent recognizes the existence of polysyllabic characters (having "reiterative locutions"), but she chooses "always [to] read them in their original pronunciations", i.e., as monosyllables.

    Many Chinese characters have variant forms, some of them in the scores. Here are nearly two dozen variant forms of the character guī 龜 ("turtle").

    And here are five of the thirty variant characters that occur in the preface to the Kangxi Dictionary (1716) which are not found in the dictionary itself.

    On the other hand, many characters have multiple readings. Even a very common character like 樂 / 乐 has six pronunciations (lè, yuè, yào, lào, liáo, and luò) , 行 has five (xíng, xìng, háng, hàng, héng), and 袳 (chǐ, qǐ, duǒ, and nuǒ) and many other characters have four. I once came upon a character that had eleven pronunciations, many of them quite different from each other!

    See "Chinese characters with multiple pronunciations" (

    Of course, not everybody realizes (or will admit) that even a polysyllabic character as transparent as 圕 is read "túshūguǎn" ("library"), but most people do get it.

    There are countless characters that, although monosyllabic, are difficult to pronounce (and / or understand) for many readers. Here are just a few (you may have to magnify some of them to see their individual strokes):




    Although they appear to be challenging and formidable, the above characters are not exceedingly obscure. An ordinary reader such as myself who regularly looks at premodern texts would probably encounter most of them hundreds of times in the course of a lifetime, and some of them are still in use today (although there's one that I only saw a couple of times before).

    I'm just putting up these characters alone for the moment so that people can ponder their appearance and see if they can figure out how to pronounce them and what they mean (without feeding them into a computer). After about twenty-four hours, I'll add another comment giving their meaning and pronunciation.

    Chinese characters present all sorts of difficulties that users of alphabetic scripts do not have to worry about. One of these is whether or not a given character is to be treated as monosyllabic or polysyllabic. Because this issue comes up again and again, as it did in the comments to this post, I will soon write a separate post in an attempt to clarify why there is such stark disagreement over the basic characteristics of Chinese characters.

    [Thanks to Toni Tan, Jeff Rice, Chia-hui Lu, Julie Wei, Petya Andreeva, Yixue Yang, Fangyi Cheng, Jing Wen, Zach Hershey, Grace Wu, Matt Anderson, Maiheng Dietrich, Xiuyuan Mi, Melvin Lee, Sophie Wei, and the members of my First-Year Literary Sinitic class]

  20. Victor Mair said,

    November 17, 2016 @ 8:03 am

    As promised:

    齆 wèng "a stuffed nose"

    齉 nàng "snuffle"

    鬻 yù "vend"

    焄 xūn "aroma; ceremonial fumes" / hūn "garlic, onion", etc.

    馘 guó "cut off the left ear of a slain enemy"

    爨 cuàn "hearth"

    馕 náng "a type of Uyghur bread"
    貔貅 píxiū "a mythical creature that can ward off danger and evil" (often invoked / deployed by fengshui masters)

    龖 dá "the appearance of an ambling dragon"

    釁 xìn "defiance; quarrel"

    鬱 yù "depressed; moody; melancholy"

    饕餮 tāotiè "glutton; a mythical ferocious creature that was often depicted on ancient bronze vessels"

    魑魅魍魎 chīmèiwǎngliǎng "various kinds of demons and monsters"

  21. liuyao said,

    November 17, 2016 @ 11:44 am

    I've never encountered 齆 焄 龖 (of course I haven't had a lifetime yet), nor 齉 in actual text other than being famously the character with most number of strokes in the standard modern dictionary. The others are fairly ok, and most Chinese with a high school education should have encountered most of them (in that sense they are roughly equivalent to SAT vocabulary.)

    Ok, I admit I only remember 魑魅魍魎 from a couplet: 琴瑟琵琶, 八大王, 王王在上 / 魑魅魍魉, 四小鬼, 鬼鬼犯边, except for the second one 魅, a very common character that 99% of the time appears in the word 魅力 (charisma), which probably is a modern translation or a neologism.

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