Q: Gloria, sometimes it seems from the context that you must be writing in Chinese, but all I can see is little boxes. Why?
A: Your web browser is substituting little boxes in place of the Chinese characters. It does this because your version of Windows has not been configured to display Asian fonts. Here is a step-by-step guide to making it work. You will need your Windows installation disk. In the meantime, I’ll try to use gifs and jpegs where I can instead of typing, so that everyone can see.
Now, on to the fun stuff. Hanzi means ‘written Chinese characters’. They are very beautiful and, at first, very hard to read. As of now, I can recognise about 100 Chinese characters, and like most beginners I have laboriously tried to commit them to memory one by one. This is okay when your vocabulary is only about 20 words, but after that it gets very confusing indeed, because a lot of the characters seem to look the same and it constantly trips you up.
Despite this difficulty and confusion, it seemed obvious to me that there must be some sort of system lying within. It couldn’t just be random. It had to be like cracking a code. I think I have begun to make some headway with that code, so let me share with you some of the things I’ve learned. Shards of light and clarity are appearing in the dark, confused mess that is my brain.
Radicals are components of Chinese characters. They have their own meanings and quite often they helpfully resemble their meaning. If you understand radicals then you can begin to understand whole characters and perhaps even guess at the meaning of characters that you haven’t seen before.
This symbol means tree. It is a character in its own right, meaning that it is the word for ‘tree’ and it is also a radical, meaning that it forms part of some other words.
See how it looks a bit like a tree?
Guess how you write ‘woods’.
Two trees! The character is formed from the radical ‘tree’, which occurs twice.
Here is the character for plum:
That is a tree you see at the top there and underneath is the radical ‘child’. The fruit is the child of the tree. The plum dangles from the tree.
Let’s have one more example just because I am so enthralled to find this finally making sense.
This is a radical, ‘sun’, and also a word or character: ‘day’. The sun rises and sets, making one day.
Immediately below and on the right is the radical ‘moon’ which is also the character for ‘month’. A month being one cycle of the moon. The images to the left show how a picture of the moon slowly evolved over time.
The sun and the moon together make the character for ‘bright’:
Number four followed by ‘month’ spells ‘April’.
Number five followed by month spells May.
Isn’t that delightful. That’s what I’ve been doing this evening. Learning about radicals. Cracking the code. 1 Chinese point.