Here I am again with another question !
I know the characters have structures in them (like top/down right/left..) and that you have a part for the pronounciation of the character and the part for the meaning. Is that really so and can you guys know how to pronounce a character by just looking at it?
watyamacallitJune 17, 2011, 03:21 PM
I think the pronunciation is only recognised retrospectively after having learned the character. You can have a good guess at the pronunciation of a new character but no more.
bababardwanJune 17, 2011, 10:35 PM
I agree with watyamacallit. You can have a good guess, often be right, but other times knowing all the components still doesn't give you the correct pronunciation. Here's an example of where it doesn't give you the correct pronunciation:
。。。找...as you can see from the etymology here, zhǎo has the hand radical on the left and it is looking for the halberd/spear on the right. But this halberd is also apparently considered the phonetic and yet is pronounced gē. Actually I'm not sure if this is the best example because it is an associative chararacter...both parts give meaning, so I'm not sure if it really does have a phonetic or not even though it lists that it does. Pictophonetic is only one of 6 methods of forming a character. But anyhow, if yellowbridge is correct and this gē really is the phonetic also then maybe the pronunciation has changed over the centuries. I really don't know but at least this shows how knowing the components won't always give you the correct pronunciation.
Here's a list of the radicals if you want to study them  you'll be off to a flying start:
here's another example of how often you can get very close to the pronunciation but not exactly right:
洗 meaning to wash has the water radical on the left and 先 pronounced xian1 on the right is the phonetic. Now yellowbridge has xian3 as one of the possible pronunciations of 洗 but I have only ever heard of it as xi3. So you can see xian and xi are similar but it wouldn't be right to say xian toufa ...for wash hair...it has to be xi toufa...and it's this xi you'll be using. The other thing is I don't think it ever gives you the tone, but I'd be happy to be corrected on that.
bodaweiJune 18, 2011, 03:59 AM
Following and agreeing with my two fellow poddies above, I think the short answer to your question is 'no'. Given that the character gives no clue to tone, I think that you will be wrong more times than you are right. You cannot tell how a character is pronounced by looking at it, until you have first learned it! But every second taxi driver in Sydney disagrees with me; they love to say 'Ah, you are learning Chinese! Let me tell you a secret: the left side of the character tells you meaning and the right side of the character tells you how to pronounce it! Easy!' :)
Not only does the 'phonetic' side often let you down, the 'meaning' side is usually so cryptic that it only helps if you are given lots of context.
”But every second taxi driver in Sydney disagrees with me; they love to say 'Ah, you are learning Chinese! Let me tell you a secret: the left side of the character tells you meaning and the right side of the character tells you how to pronounce it! Easy!' :)“
。。that sounds like a fun game. Be the dumb student, tell 'em you get it, and start working through some examples with them, like these guys:
where the radical is on the right side. Tell em some clown told you sometimes the radical is on top, and sometimes its underneath and how relieved you are to find out it's so much simpler than that.
There is a famous dictionary that has a list of 200 and some radicals (kangxi cidian) that is as close as you will get to an official list. Anyway, there is a copy here: http://www.yellowbridge.com/chinese/radicals.php
Radicals are used to classify characters for look up in dictionaries; every character is filed in the dictionary under a radical that is part of that character.
Otherwise, if you look at Chinese characters for long enough, you will notice that they very often share components. I tried to create a more hyper-linked kind of character dictionary. http://huamake.com it hasn't gotten much traction, but given your questions, you might find it interesting, and I personally find it convenient for looking up printed characters. Zhongwen.com and http://chinese-characters.org are also good resources for information about character structure.
Here is a write up of my own idiosyncratic view about the structure of Chinese characters, http://hubpages.com/hub/What-is-a-Chinese-Character Again, given your questions, you might find it interesting.
hey mate, I only gave you the link to the list because you were asking about them not because I thought you had to learn them all by heart...it was only for if you're interested. At some stage I think it's helpful to know them, at least the more common ones, but if you're a newbie there may well be other things you want to learn first...it's all up to you. As Mark has said above, it helps you look up characters, particularly in paper dictionaries. It also may gave a hint to the meaning...sometimes this hint can be a little obscure though. Also, as there are probably 80,000+ characters but only 214 radicals and the radicals keep reappearing in these characters, it makes it much easier in my opinion to learn the characters. But I think that becomes more important when you have learnt a heap of characters and then some start to look the same with only subtle differences. At least you know the list is there for future reference for when you feel inclined to learn them..or you can just learn them as you go in the characters you're learning. IHTH. :)
there are lists out there, such as this one, that list the 40 or so most common radicals. These will be found in most of the 2 or 3 thousand most common characters. If you learn these, you will be prepared to identify the radical in 90% or more of the characters you are likely to encounter as a new student. A good start and easier than learning 214. The others you can pick up as you go. Just my approach.
bibiibjornJune 19, 2011, 02:04 PM
I really appreciate all the work you do to explain this to me and to give me some good info and advice!
Right now I'm still in the exam period( haha i'm more busy learning my Chinese than my exams) so I'll really start learning next week :D
3 Months of full commitment and I'll be writing Chinese like Tsaoh-Hsueh Chin :D