View Full Version : Chinese Etymology Page by Richard Sears

Mar 7, 2005, 16:14
For those of you interested in Kanji etymology & Chinese Epigrpahy, please see the site's epigraphic corpus material, Chinese Etymology. Although its reference to Japanese and Korean as Ural-Altaic is rather shaky and outdated, the extensive material from numerous sources renders the database outstanding in its category.

Let me quote the various Sinogenic characters used in five countries; China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam.

Quote Richard Sears:

Mandarin Language and Script

Mandarin originally refers to the language spoken by Chinese officials who were mainly from Beijing. This language was called Guan-Yu Official-Language. The Sanskrit word Mandari comes through Portuguese and means commander related to English Mand-ate The early Portuguese referred to these people and their language as Mandarin. The BeiJingHua kb Beijing-Talk Spoken in Beijing PuTongHua ʘb Common Talk spoken in Canton, the HuaYu ، Chinese Language spoken in South East Asia and the GuoYu National Language spoken in Taipei are the same language with only very minor differences.

PoTongHua is spoken by almost all Chinese although 80% of them will speak some other dialect at home. When speaking of Chinese Dialects we usually mean different languages. Often although the dialects will be closely related, If you have not had experience with it, you will understand almost nothing.

Modern written Chinese is a direct rendition of spoken Mandarin. In English we always refer to it as Chinese. In Chinese it is usually called HanYu Chinese Language â€g This is Mandarin as defined in the dictionary. Almost No one speaks exactly like the Dictionary. But most well educated Chinese have studied tones, and pinying and can pronounce correctly if reading from the dictionary. See Cantonese, Taiwanese.

Taiwanese Language and Script

Taiwanese is an important language as far as Chinese Etymology is concerned and as far as China is concerned. In Chinese it is referred to technically as MinNanHua 閩b Southern Min Language It is spoken in Southern FuJian province and in Taiwan. It is often referred to as TaiWanHua sb Taiwanese Language or XiaMenHua ͖b Amoy Language.

Amoy (XiaMen) is the main Chinese costal city in FuJian where this language is spoken. It is also called TaiYu Taiwanese. It is not understandable by Mandarin speakers who have never been exposed to it. I estimates that about 80% of Taiwanese has the same etymology as Mandarin, but with very significant phonetic shifts. Written Mandarin can be read in Taiwanese, but it is a very stilted and does not reflect the grammatical structure of real spoken Taiwanese.

Unlike Cantonese, Taiwanese in most cases did not invent new characters. When there is a Taiwanese word which has no Mandarin equivalent, they usually took Mandarin characters which when pronounced in Taiwanese would sounded like the Taiwanese word in question. Some characters will be used in places with the usual Mandarin meaning and other characters will be used for the sound.

The average Mandarin will not understand written Taiwanese. MinBeiHua 閩kbNorthern Min Language is the other dialect spoken in FuJian, and is quite different from MinNan. FuZhouHuaBb is spoken in FuZhou and is also very different. Many of the Chinese emigrants to South east Asia came from ChaoZhou in southern Fukin and speak a language called ChaoJouHua Bb. CaoJou is similar to and for the most part understandable by Taiwanese.Â

Taiwanese is important etymologically because when we compare the pronunciation of character phonetics in Taiwanese we sometimes find that they are closer than in Mandarin.

Taiwanese has 7 tones. The teaching materials say 8, but this is so that the saying of all the tones will sound more fluent. There are 2337 unique syllabic utterances in Taiwanese. The database of syllabic utterances was done by Sharry Wu.


by ChenShou Cand ChenWenChing •
Probably the most extensive Taiwanese to Chinese dictionary used for our Taiwanese syllabic database.

Cantonese Language and Characters

GuangDongHua (GongDongWa) AbCantonese is the most common dialect spoken by over-seas Chinese. Its formal name is YehYu (YutYu) It is in fact a different language from Manderin, although closely related to it. A person who has grown up in BeiJing and has never heard Cantonese, would understand almost nothing.

About 80% of Cantonese words have the same root as Mandarin although the pronunciation may be shifted quite drastically. The other 20 percent is strictly Cantonese and has no Mandarin equivalent. These words are called JukJi Cantonese is spoken in GuangDong province, HongKong, Macao and all around the world.

The TaiShanHua (HoiSanWa) RbTaiShan dialect of Cantonese is spoken in SanFrancisco The largest collection of JukJi is a set of about 4500 characters published by the city government of HongKong, The average Cantonese probably only uses a few hundred. These characters can not be found in a HanYuDaZiDian dictionary.


A Practical Cantonese-English Dictionary
ShiYongYueYingCiDian ppT
by Sidney Lao - LiaoXiXiang 緆
The Cantonese to English dictionary which we used for our Cantonese syllabic database.

Shanghaiese Language and Script (under construction)

Japanese Language and Script

The Chinese word HanZi. means “Chinese Character”. When borrowed by the Japanese the pronunciation became KanJi. The Japanese borrowed the Chinese writing system starting in the Tang dynasty about 1400 years ago. Japanese grammar is quite different from Chinese. Japanese is a Ural Altaic language more closely related to Turkish than to Chinese,

The Chinese writing did not fit well with Japanese. As a result, several things happened. (1) They borrowed the Chinese characters and used them to represent Japanese words and gave them the Japanese pronunciations called Kunyomi P, (2) In many cases they borrowed the Chinese pronunciation too in this case they used the Onyomipronunciation which corresponds to the original Chinese pronunciation. (3) Some Chinese characters were used as phonetics for Japanese words.

Originally these phonetics were used mainly by women and other semi literate Japanese. Ultimately the cursive form of these phonetics developed into two precise phonetic alphabets. One called Hiragana Ђwhich is used to write the Japanese words which have no Chinese or other foreign etymology. The Kai forms of these phonetics developed into a precise phonetic alphabet called Katakana J^Jiwhich was used to write the words in Japanese which are derived from languages other than Japanese or Chinese, mostly English. (4)

Since the kanji was borrowed so long ago, in many cases the written form has changed somewhat, the meaning has changed, sometimes a lot. One example is the in Onyomi which in Chinese is (5) In modern Japanese there has been a move to reduce the number of Chinese characters to around 2200 and some of those characters are rare or non existent in modern Chinese. As a rough eye ball estimate, I would say 80% of kanji is pronounced similar to and has a similar meaning to the Chinese.

Korean Language and Script

Korean is also Ural Altaic and originally borrowed Chinese characters like the Japanese. Korean never derived special Hiragana and Katakana type alphabets. Instead in 1426 King  SeJong  @ invented an alphabet for initial central and final sounds of the Korean syllables. The letters of this alphabet are called Hangul 한글and do not appear to have any connection to Chinese characters.

The way these letters are stacked into square boxes that correspond to syllabic utterances and in Korean was obviously influenced by Chinese. These spellings were used for several hundred years for syllables of strictly Korean origin and syllables of Chinese etymology were written in Chinese called Hanja . In the past 30 years Korean news papers at least have gone completely Hangul.

Vietnamese Language and Script

The morphology (word structure) of Vietnamese is similar to Chinese with features such as tones and syllabic separation of words. About half of the words are etymologically related to Chinese the rest are of Vietnamese and other origin. The grammar (word order) of Vietnamese is quite different than Chinese. Due to Chinese domination for more than 1000 years, the Vietnamese took an approach similar to the Cantonese. Starting in about the 10th century they had to design a large number of new characters to compensate for all the non Chinese words. These characters were called chữ nÃLm. When you see old Vietnamese written it is obviously derived from Chinese type characters, but a Chinese literate person will understand almost none of the characters. This script was replaced by the modern Romanized script called quá»ec ngữ.

Mar 8, 2005, 05:11
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