Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Chinese Character Book is WOW!

The book is What's in a Chinese Character by Tan Huay Peng.

This book is amazing! The publisher should really let Amazon show you a couple sample pages - that would tell the story much better than my description. But since they have not - here is my attempt:

The author attempts to trace the lineage and reasons for each of the characters in this book (there are about 100,000 chinese characters - he only shows 2 per page in this 185 page book). In chinese each character is a word. It seems most characters are composits of 2 characters. He looks at the shapes to see if he can make pictographic sense of the characters and radicals. And he draws cartoons of what he sees, and adds explanations and even lists some similar words.

Sometimes his explanations are more of a stretch than others. Sometimes it is very clear and very insightful. By understanding what goes into a language you gain insights into the world and how the people understand it. In this respect it is heavy duty philoosphy. In fact in this case - that is when every character is its own word - the written language is its OWN language - it doesn't really have a natural link to the way it is spoken. I guess this is why the Japanese could so easily borrow the characters to apply to their own language (as they are said to have done). That in itself is a mind-stretcher.

Here is a fair-use sample:

1 comment:

2nd grade mom said...

Thank you for introducing this book. Fascinating! I'm going to order a copy.