Remarks On The Chinese Language -- By: Anonymous

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 005:20 (Nov 1848)
Article: Remarks On The Chinese Language
Author: Anonymous


Remarks On The Chinese Language

Letter From An American Missionary In China

You may perhaps be aware that the Chinese have selected from the whole number of the characters which compose their written language, two hundred and fourteen characters, called by them “Tszepoo,” and by us radicals, or keys, one or more of which constitutes, or forms a part of, every other character in the language. Each of these radicals is numbered and has its own proper name and place in native dictionaries. In their dictionaries the Chinese group together all the characters having the same radicals, and arrange these groups in the same numerical order with the radicals themselves. The characters under each radical are also arranged according to the number of strokes with the pencil which each character contains, not counting its radical. Thus a character composed of a radical and one stroke is placed first, that which has two strokes is placed next, and so on in regular order till the whole group is completed. In consulting their dictionaries, the Chinese first look for the radical belonging to the character, whose name or meaning, or both, they wish to learn, and then turn to the group of characters arranged under that radical and find it situated near or more distant from the radical, according to the number of strokes which it contains. Under this character thus found, is placed another character of the same sound, which is supposed to be known by the one who consults the dictionary, and which gives the name of the character sought. Then follow other characters of similar signification which give its meaning. This is the method of the Imperial Dictionary of Kanghe, which is the standard dictionary for the nation. In different parts of the empire, these characters, amounting to some 40,000, are called by different names, while their significations remain the same over the whole empire. Hence has arisen the great diversity of dialects among the Chinese, while the same characters and the same books are used with equal facility in every part of China. And here I would observe, by the way, that the difference of orthography used by missionaries in their communications, and in speaking of names and places here, arises mostly from the fact that some use them as they are heard or spoken in the local dialects, while others

conform to the orthography of the Mandarin, which is doubtless the most correct, and will probably, ere long, be universally adopted. Using this latter mode, one in speaking of this province would write its name Fukien, while another, using the orthography of one of the southern counties of this province, viz. Cheang Chew, would write it Hok Keen. So of most other names of men, places, etc., their orthography in different dialects differs more ...

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