Fraggle Rocker said:
With only the 2,000 characters they learn in grade school, that gives them a possible four million compounds!
“ You don't combine syllables in Chinese to get different words and different word meanings like we do in English or other Indo-European languages. ”

I don't know why you keep saying this. That is exactly what they do in Chinese, which is the reason it's so adaptable. Ji-qi, "fuel engine" = "motor"; jiao-ta-che, "leg stroke vehicle" = "bicycle." Hence, ji-qi-jiao-ta-che, "motorcycle."
You talk as if I don't know what agglutination or what compound words are? Hello? Remember I speak Chinese?

You also talk as if every character - although for some reason you keep calling them words??? - can be combined with every other character? You can't just take the number of characters and multiply that by itself to get the total number of word in use (And yes, I mean including the agglutinated characters, or what you would call agglutinated "Chinese words"). If you estimate it that way, then there are over a TRILLION English words! But actually there's far more than that because you can exponentialize each consonant and vowel combination, AND the agglutinated compound words, to get over a ZILLION English words!

The largest compilation of single and agglutinated Chinese characters that I can find consists of 138,614 entries.

While I studied away in many a Chinese unversity libraries I've never came across a Chinese dictionary that matches the number of words in an English dictionary:

"Of all the world's languages (which now number some 2,700), English is arguably the richest in vocabulary. The compendious Oxford English Dictionary lists about 500,000 words and a half-million technical and scientific terms remain uncatalogued. According to traditional estimates, neighboring German has a vocabulary of about 185,000 and French fewer than 100,000, including such Franglais as le snacque-barre and le hit-parade....The Standardized Results for English is: 1,000,000 words."


If you studied Chinese indepth, then you know that the origins of Chinese characters are the Shang Dynasty (1766-1050 BC) pictograph inscriptions on turtle shells, known as the "oracle bones."
valich said:
Why do you keep using Pinyin? Because you can say it in English that way.
I'm just going with the flow. Everyone uses Pinyin these days. It is a more precise transcription system than the others and it has a rather exotic look with all the X's and unresolved Q's. I learned Yale in school and it seems a little more intuitive for American speakers. Wade-Giles is just plain silly with all those apostrophes. If you're asking why I don't write in kanji, A) I don't have the character set and B) I studied Chinese as an adult and I just haven't been able to memorize that many of them.
There are eight phonetically different major groups of Chinese: Putonghua (Mandarin), Taiwanese, Gan, Kejia (Hakka), Min, Wu, Xiang and Yue (Cantonese). Further, even just say Hakka alone has dozens of regional phonetic spoken variations: Guangdong, Fujian, Jiangxi, Guangxi, Sichuan, Hunan, Guizhou, and Taiwan.
Wait. . . Sichuan hua is a Putong dialect. My old girlfriend and her friends and family were from Chengdu and I could understand a lot of what they were saying. It sounds like Mandarin with a few consonant shifts and the tones are all screwed up. Since we Americans don't instinctively focus on the tones it was easy to hear the underlying vowels and consonants and fill in the blanks. Boy were they steamed when they found out that I could more or less follow what they were saying when they lapsed out of Mandarin. They thought it was their own private code.
That's what I'm saying. You're using Pinyin but I think you made some reference to the more-precise Bopomofo system (boe-poe-moe-foe) that is sometimes used in Taiwan to learn Chinese. This system is much more accurate but more difficult for non-Chinese speakers to learn because you basically have to learn a new phonetic symbol system consisting of 37 new characters to then learn the phonetics of Mandarin Chinese.

I don't know anything about Sichuan hua, but I lived in Taiwan for over ten years, then in Hong Kong, and then in Fujian province for over two years. In Hong Kong and Xiamen there are books in the bookstores to learn Hakka and the Shanghai dailect. I visited a few towns in East Guangdong - east of the Pearl Delta - and spoke Mandarin, but the dialect was so different there that I could not understand a lot of the words that they said. It was a challenge. Their Cantonese, or possibly the Sichuan-style related accent?, was really apparent and it had nothing to do with tonal intonation: the basic pronunciation of the standard putonghua was just totally different from what I was used to on the eastern coastal provinces.

I also like the Yale system better, and it was used by the U.S. Army for a while and they put out an excellent dictionary with it, but Pinyin seems to have taken a better hold. Very very unfortunately the Wade-Giles system is still adhered to in Taiwan to phonetically transcribe names and street signs, and this is very misleading. Such a shame, or sham? I met one lady in the U.S. who travelled to Kaoushiung and insisted that it was called "Cow-shung" and not "Gao-shiung."

I think you have mistaken 成語 as the simplified form of 詞語.
I am saying that characters 字 and words 詞語, or simply 詞 are different concepts in the chinese language. 成語 are mostly 4-character terms that come with a historical background or a famous quote. For example, it is like when you are refering to "sour grape", it carries the meaning told in Aesop's fable. Some think that they are similar to idioms.

The Taiwan site actually lists three newly created characters in part (4). They cannot be typed and are given as images. It then says that modern characters are usually formed by two of the six methods/principles 六書 of creating new characters.
The six are:
(1) 象形, pictographic, 田 is field.
(2) 指事, infering. 上 is up
(3) 會意, combining two characters to produce a new meaning based on their relation
信 trust = 人 man + 言 saying
武 might = 止 stop + 戈 war
(4) 形聲, combing two characters, one part to show its shape/group and
and the other to give its sound.
Most newly created chemical characters fall into this category.
鈾 uranium = 金 metal + 由 (you)
氨 ammonia = 气 air + 安 (an)
(5) 轉注, modifying an existing character to form a new one.
(6) 假借, when a new character only has its sound but not its shape, a character of same prononication to borrowed to represent it.

I'm assuming that this Taiwanese "free encyclopedia network" contains forms of the original characters, as is stated above, before they evolved into the "hundred branches"? I’m not sure what this means. Do you translate something different out of this?

Yes, 百 = hundred and 科 = branch . But 百科全書 is the word for encyclopedia. And 维基百科 = wikipedia.
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T: 成語 or S: 成语 (cheng2 yu3) means "proverb or idiom."
T: 詞語 or S: 词语 (ci2 yu3) means "words and expressions."
字 (zi4) means "word."

I still don't know what you're getting at in the above? You state that these are "4-character terms." You mean that they are characters consisting of four radicals, right? But I do not see any new character "images" on that website?

"When a new character only has its sound but not its shape, a character of same prononication is borrowed to represent it." Yes, this has been done for hundreds of years, and I think that this is what Hercules was alluding to. Many Chinese characters consist of both a phonetic radical and a meaning radical. But I do not seen any new Chinese characters evolving from new radicals? Only combinations of existing radicals or agglutination of existing characters. Actually, I know of no new characters based on recombinations of existing radicals, although I think that this would be the best solution, though very confusing to the masses?
I can say "oogie-boogie-boo" but that doesn't make it a word. I just said it to my puppy and he thought it was pretty cool. But he's not human and doesn't use language, so he doesn't count.

Never forget that language is nothing more or less than a tool for communication. In order for something to be a word--a unit of language--it must communicate. That means that at least two people who communicate with each other must agree on its meaning.

It is possible for you to invent a "word" of your own that no one else uses, yet since they know you they understand what it means after a few uses. That becomes part of your "idiolect," which is the language of the smallest possible community: one speaker.

If I say "oogie-boogie-boo" in front of my friends--or to my friends--often enough, they'll begin to understand that it means, "You're adorable but really dumb." At that point it's a word because we're communicating, but not before.

We can argue over the special case of things like "borogove" (from the poem "The Jabberwocky" in "Through the Looking-glass" by Lewis Carroll). That poem is so beloved and well known that it's probably in a few dictionaries. (Although not in dictionary.com.) Still, "borogove" has no meaning, it's just a series of nonsense syllables created by someone so esteemed that people remember his nonsense syllables and discuss them in university courses.

None of that succeeds in making it a word.
I read somewhere that it takes twenty years for a new word to become popularized enough before it is considered to be cited in Webster's dictionaries and others. I see my newest edition still has no entry for "grody," as in "Grody to the max!," or "himbo," "mimbo," or "twink"; although "bimbo" is in there.
Yeah I know I'm doing a bit of resurrecting here but I came across something rather relevant and insightful. Very seldom are more than two or three, or four at the max, Chinese characters agglutinated, and thus it has to be, except for scientific and chemical translations, right? But, and so it is written:

"It is customary in Chinese writing to summarize a longer phrase into a couple of characters. Sometimes the meaning is completely lost in the abbreviated form if the original phrase is not referred to. Wu Xing is one such example...."Wu Xing" is actually the short form of "Wu zhong liu xing zhi chi" or "the five types of chi dominating at different times." http://www.kheper.net/topics/eastern/wuxing.html

I wonder how many other ancient agglutinated characters can be traced to long multiple character phrases such as this?
valich said:
I wonder how many other ancient agglutinated characters can be traced to long multiple character phrases such as this?
That's natural for any people. If a long string of syllables becomes so common that everybody knows it by heart and can see it coming a mile away, it gets shortened. Abdominal muscles become abdominals become abs. Posse comitatus becomes posse. Since literacy became widespread we do it with letters, television becomes teevee. In Hungary, the United States of America became USA, which is pronounced OO-sha in Hungarian. Kind of cute.
No, you miss the point. Have you ever lived in China? Chinese people have no idea that these ancient agglutinated characters are abbreviations for longer multiple character phrases such as this. Now I'm really sorry that I resurrected this post. You just do not seem to understand the huge difference between Chinese characters as separate graphics compared to our phonetically-based Roman alphabetic symbols? You cannot aggglutinate Chinese characters to abbreviate them into acronyms as we can do with our Anglo-Saxon alphabetics. Why is it so hard to see the huge beneficial diference. How can you abbreviate or initialize a Chinese character???
You don't need to abbreviate or acronymize Chinese morphemes. They have a maximum of four phonemes and only one syllable. The Chinese two-morpheme word for television, dian shi is exactly as fast and easy to say as our abbreviation, TV. Dian ying is exactly as fast and easy to say as "movie," the shortened slang form we ultimately adopted for the awkward phrase "moving picture." There is simply no need for this particular mechanism of shortening words in Chinese.

Chinese is already more phonetically compact than English. We're not accustomed to seeing English from that perspective because most of the world's important languages, from Russian to Spanish to Japanese, require more syllables--in some languages many many more syllables--than English to express the same thought. But it's the other way with Chinese. You're more fluent in it than I am, so run some sample sentences through your head. The nearly complete absence of meaningless noise like our articles, inflections, and prepositions makes for a highly efficient data transfer rate. So does the good fortune to not have formed thousands of words by slamming polysyllabic Latin and Greek roots together haphazardly into tongue twisters.

As a result, Chinese people don't feel the same pressure to compact their speech in order to improve communication that we do. Something native speakers of, say, Italian accomplish by simply talking so fast that it's difficult to parse the words. Compare spoken Italian, Spanish, Russian, or Japanese to spoken Chinese. The number of syllables uttered per minute is literally about double. English is not that bad but still it probably has five syllables to every four in Chinese and it's just not spoken with the same crystal clarity that makes Mandarin a dream for foreign students.

You keep focusing on "characters"--the written language--when it is the spoken language that lives and drives cultural development. It's only been over the past 150 years in the English-speaking world, and only 50 years in China, that literacy has become commonplace and the written forms of words have begun to have significant impact on the languages.

Chinese people--with the remarkable and Quixotic exception of Communist Party leaders--don't "agglutinate" or do anything else with their language by working with written characters to the extent that it has major cultural impact. They do it with the spoken words.

No, I haven't lived in China. But I was a member of a Chinese family for a few years. They take their country with them everywhere they go and I had plenty of opportunity to observe their use of the language, which after all is one of my primary fields of interest.
There are four tones in Mandarin - five if you consider the neutral - and 7 or 14 in Cantonese, and many more phonemes than in any Anglo-Saxon language. Yes each character is monosyllabic. But all this is beyond the point.

Chinese don't feel the pressure to compact their language because it's a communist country and time stops. That great iron wheel will keep rolling along at its same slow pace no matter how loud one single voice shouts out. This is a completely different culture compared to the culture in the United States.

The article that I mentioned states that "Wu Xing" originally referred to "Wu zhong liu xing zhi chi" or "the five types of Chi dominating at different times". This original elongated sentence for the two characters that endured was lost in the subsequent abbreviation: "Wu Xing." The full meaning of "Wu Xing" was lost forever. No Chinese knows this! And they could they care less.

This is not the case with English and other Western languages. You cannot abbreviate Chinese characters like you can with English. For example: AAA, CIA, FBI, AKC. We all know what these mean. Or you can still just say one word, for example, "A bird in the hand" means "....two in the bush," or that doesn't mean "Jack" means "Jack S...." etc. They don't even do this in Chinese, let alone abbreviations with acronyms.
"Wu zhong liu xing zhi chi" is actually the modern long expansion of the anicent word "wu xing'.
There are thing similar to "A bird in the hand" in chinese called 歇後語 which is used to imply one phrase from another. For example, "a bull-leather lantern" is "someone who is stubborn/dumb"; "Monk holding an umbrella" means "lawless and reckless", here a sound play is used.
There are many shortened forms in chinese.
美國 USA is the short form of 美利堅合衆國. The point is that there are methods to abbreviate, of course, not by acronyms because of the character-based nature.
valich said:
There are four tones in Mandarin - five if you consider the neutral
I wouldn't count the neutral because it's not phonemic. But this is hardly a key point in the discussion.
and many more phonemes than in any Anglo-Saxon language.
How many Anglo-Saxon languages are there? :) Actually, English is very rich in phonemes. Mandarin has exactly three consonants that are absent in English--Q J X--a couple that we have but don't treat as single phonemes--C Z--and that weird R that is no weirder than our own R to speakers of most other languages. English has an astounding assortment of vowels, including a huge set of phonemic diphthongs, that is easily a match for Mandarin. Many other major languages like Spanish and Japanese have far fewer phonemes than English and Chinese, and they don't seem to be impoverished by it except in their inability to comfortably absorb foreign words, something Chinese doesn't really do anyway.
Yes each character is monosyllabic. But all this is beyond the point.
Wait wait wait! That is the point! Monosyllables, by definition, do not ever require the most commmon kind of condensation, which is the reduction of a word to one syllable. Whether it's phonetic contraction like FedEx for Federal Express or alphabetic contraction like IBM for International Business Machines, one syllable words begin their lives at that level of compaction. Only in the years since the spread of literacy--an eyeblink in the history of language--have alphabetic abbreviations become further compacted into acronyms of fewer syllables than the number of letters, like radar instead of RADAR and Cobol instead of COBOL. No, Chinese can't do that, but it does what you have pointed out, which is to extract a couple of key words in a phrase and discard the rest. There's no effective difference in the two systems. They both work fine and they both completely obscure the origin of the abbreviation except among scholars after the people who invented it die off.
Chinese don't feel the pressure to compact their language because it's a communist country and time stops.
Communism in fact is a powerful force for abbreviation and acronymization because of its wholesale coinage of new words and phrases and its authority to force them into common use. Politburo and KGB, for example, were so pervasive that they even spread into English despite the need for transliteration.
This is a completely different culture compared to the culture in the United States.
Completely? No. It could be argued that Chinese culture has become more similar to ours since adopting a political/economic system that is the product of Greco-Roman civilization. It's been pointed out that the communists effected a fundamental change in the attitude of the Chinese people, something no other conqueror has ever succeeded in doing: It made them lazy. They're certainly more like us than their ancestors were.
You cannot abbreviate Chinese characters like you can with English. For example: AAA, CIA, FBI, AKC. We all know what these mean.
You keep harping on this. With the single exception of Club in AKC, every one of the words abbreviated in your examples are polysyllabic, so the abbreviations are faster to say and read than the unabbreviated forms. TV is easier to say then television. DS, or something like that, is not easier to say than dian shi. SSSR is easier to say than Soyuz Sovyetskikh Sotzialistichskikh Ryespublik. JHRMGHG is not easier to say then Jong Hua Ren Ming Gong He Guo. Which, by the way, illustrates the phonetic superiority of Chinese over Russian by conveying the same information in excactly half the number of syllables. And much easier syllables at that! TSK and CHSK are difficult consonant clusters to say quickly.
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