Before the discovery of the PreBabel (Chinese), the Chinese written character system was viewed as the most difficult language to learn in the world. At the beginning of the twentieth century, many Chinese scholars began to accuse that the Chinese written language was the culprit for China's misfortune and turmoil at those days. As each Chinese word is an ad hoc character without a clear logic framework as its soul, the Chinese written language was accused as the reason that China did not develop science. Furthermore, memorizing six to ten thousand ad hoc characters is not only a gigantic work but a huge waste of young person's youth. Thus, the slogan at the time was "without abandon the Chinese characters, the China as a nation will surely vanish." And, in 1958, a major effort to simplify the Chinese word system was launched. That is, at that time, no one in China knew that Chinese written language is an 100% root word system which "is" the most logic and the easiest language to learn in the world.
This paper, thus, has two points.
The facts and history on Chinese written system before the discovery of the PreBabel (Chinese).
The introduction of the PreBabel (Chinese)
The facts and history
I. Before the discovery of the PreBabel (Chinese)
1. The Western view:
In the book, The Meeting of East and West -- an Inquiry Concerning World Understanding (The Macmillan Company, 1968 by Dr. F.S.C. Northrop), Dr. Northrop wrote, "The Easterner, on the other hand, uses bits of linguistic symbolism, largely denotative, and often purely ideographic in character, to point toward a component in the nature of things which only immediate experience and continued contemplation can convey. This shows itself especially in the symbols of the Chinese language, where each solitary, immediately experienced local particular tends to have its own symbol, this symbol also often having a directly observed form like that of the immediately seen item of direct experience which it denotes. For example , the symbol for man in Chinese is 人 , and the early symbol for house is 介 . As a consequence, there was no alphabet. This automatically eliminates the logical whole-part relation between one symbol and another that occurs in the linguistic symbolism of the West in which all words are produced by merely putting together in different permutations the small number of symbols constituting the alphabet. (page 316).
"In many cases, however, the content of the sign itself, that is, the actual shape of the written symbol, is identical with the immediately sensed character of the factor in experience for which it stands. These traits make the ideas which these symbols convey particulars rather than logical universals, and largely denotative rather than connotative in character.
Certain consequences follow. Not only are the advantages of an alphabet lost, but also there tend to be as many symbols as there are simple and complex impressions. Consequently, the type of knowledge which a philosophy constructed by means of such a language can convey tends necessarily to be one given by a succession of concrete, immediately apprehendable examples and illustrations, the succession of these illustrations having no logical ordering or connection the one with the other. ...
... Moreover, even the common-sense examples are conveyed with aesthetic imagery, the emphasis being upon the immediately apprehended, sensuous impression itself more than upon the external common-sense object of which the aesthetic impression is the sign. Nowhere is there even the suggestion by the aesthetic imagery of a postulated scientific or a doctrinally formulated, theological object. All the indigenously Chinese philosophies, Taoism as well as Confucianism, support this verdict." (page 322, ibid).
Dr. Northrop was not simply discussing Chinese culture but was giving a verdict. His verdict has the following two points.
About the Chinese written language (Chinese words):
Denotative and solitary -- no logical ordering or connection the one with the other.
The consequence of such a language: No chance of any kind to formulate scientific, philosophical and theological objects.
This gross error is not all Dr. Northrop's fault. After all, he had no chance of knowing any better. 胡 適 (Hu Shih, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hu_Shih ) and 林 語 堂 (Lin Yu Tang, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lin_Yu_Tang ) who were the greatest Chinese philologists at the time were Dr. Northrop's colleagues. And he quoted both of them many times in this book.
Furthermore, this book of Dr. Northrop was read by both of them. Yet, not a single pip or disagreement was out from them.
Dr. Joseph Needham is another greatest Sinologist in this modern time. In his book "Science and Civilisation in China" (Volume 2, History of Scientific Thought, ISBN 9780521058001 at http://www.cambridge.org/catalogue/catalogue.asp?isbn=9780521058001), Dr. Needham wanted to know:
Externally, did Chinese language have the capability to describe the logic of science?
Internally, could the internal logic of Chinese language lead the Chinese people entering into the domain of science?
Thus, Dr. Needham analyzed 82 Chinese words which are listed in that book. Yet, every his analysis was simply wrong. His analysis and my critiques are available at http://www.chinese-word-roots.org/cwr018.htm. Again, this gross error is not all Dr. Needham's fault. Under Dr. Needham, there are a group (about 10) of very prominent Chinese linguists working for him. As none of them knows any better, Dr. Needham has and had no chance to be otherwise.
The following is a quote from "The Columbia History of the World" (ISBN 0-88029-004-8, 1972 by Harper & Row).
On page 112, The Columbia History of the World,
"Structurally, the Chinese writing system passed through four distinct
stages. No alphabetic or syllabic scripts were developed, but each word
came to be denoted by a different character. The earliest characters
were pictographs for concrete words. A drawing of a woman meant a
woman, or of a broom a broom. Such characters were in turn combined to
form ideographs. A woman and a broom became a wife, three women
together treachery or villainy. The third stage was reached with the
phonetic loans, in which existing characters were borrowed for other
words with the same pronunciation. The fourth stage was a refinement of
the third: sense determinators or radicals, were added to the phonetic
loans in order to avoid confusion. Nine-tenths of the Chinese
characters have been constructed by the phonetic method. Unfortunately,
the phonetics were often borrowed for other than exact homophones. In
such cases, the gaps have widened through the evolution of the
language, until today characters may have utterly different
pronunciations even though they share the same phonetic. The written
language, despite its difficulties, has been an important unifying
cultural and political link in China. Although many Chinese dialects
are mutually unintelligible, the characters are comprehended though the
eye, whatever their local pronunciation. One Chinese may not understand
the other's speech, yet reads with ease his writing."
What it said is simply "wrong". Those authors had no idea about Chinese
2. The views of native Chinese linguists before 2005
At the beginning of the twentieth century, many Chinese scholars began to accuse that the Chinese writing language was the culprit for China's misfortune and turmoil at those days. As each Chinese word is an ad hoc character without a clear logic framework as its soul, the Chinese writing language was accused as the reason that China did not develop science. Furthermore, memorizing six to ten thousand ad hoc characters is not only a gigantic work but a huge waste of young person's youth. Thus, the slogan at the time was "without abandon the Chinese characters, the China as a nation will surely vanish." Qian_Xuantong (錢 玄 同 , http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qian_Xuantong), one of the greatest Chinese philologist in 1930s, even promoted the replacement of Chinese with Esperanto.
Finally, in 1958, a major effort to simplify the Chinese word system was launched. That is, at that time, no one in China knew that Chinese written language is an 100% root word system which "is" the most logic and the easiest language to learn in the world. This is a historical fact.
3. The views of native Chinese linguists in history
The ignorance of Chinese Scholars in 1958 is not an incidental case. During the past two thousand years, not a single Chinese scholar truly understand the structure of Chinese word system as an axiomatic system. During the 唐 、 宋 period (Tong and Song dynasties, from 650 a.d. to 1,150 a.d.), there were eight great Chinese scholars ( 唐 宋 八 大 家 ). 王 安 石 (Wang) and 蘇 東 坡 (Shu) are two of those eight. Wang was also the Prime Minister of Song dynasty for decades, and he was Shu's boss. As the leader of intelligentsia and of political hierarchy, Wang set out to decode Chinese word system. He wrote a book 字 說 (Discussions on Chinese words). That book soon became a laughing stock, and Wang burnt it. That book is no longer in existence today; only the name of the book and a few lines survived as quotations in other person's writing. The most important critic was Shu. Wang wrote, " 波 (wave) 者 ， 水 之 皮 " (Wave is the skin of water), 皮 as skin. Then, Shu asked, " 滑 (slippery) 者 ， 水 之 骨 乎 ？ " (Is slippery the bone of water?) 骨 as bone. Unable to answer one laughing question, Wang burnt his book.
Around 1660s, the Emperor Kangsi ( 康 熙 ) and his grandson ( 乾 隆 ) launched a major effort of organizing the Chinese books with two major publications.
Kangsi dictionary ( 康 熙 字 典 ) -- it lists about 48,000 words. It becomes the Bible of Chinese characters. It classifies all Chinese words with 214 部 首 (leading radicals), the most scientific way of analyzing Chinese words at the time. Yet, each word is still treated as a blob which cannot give out its meaning from its face.
四 庫 全 書 (Four College of Encyclopedia) -- it consists of over 30,000 volumes of books. Over 1,000 books are dealing with Chinese characters. Yet, not a single book hinted that Chinese character set is an axiomatic set.
And, these led the 1920s movement of despising Chinese written language, especially accusing that the character set was the culprit for China's demise at the time.
In 2005, I searched the Library of Beijing university. It had over 3,000 books on Chinese written characters. Not a single book describes Chinese characters as a root word set, let alone an axiomatic set.
II. The Old School of Chinese Etymology
The history of evolution
--> Bronze Characters
--> Large seal characters
--> Small seal characters
--> Standardized small seal characters
--> Lii (the modern) characters (this is viewed as a part of the evolution)
The morphology of the old school
The 214 Kangsi leading radicals -- Every Chinese word has a leading radical as the head of the word, but the body of the word is a blob, an ad hoc type of symbol. Thus, Chinese words are arbitrary type without any logic connection to any other words, and this is the conclusion of Dr. Northrop and of all native Chinese linguists in the past two thousand years.
The phonological reconstruction -- this school uses the rhyme books to reconstruct the phonetic evolution and to rediscover the original meaning of a character. For this school, the Chinese character itself is, of course, a blob without any logic connection with any other words. In the West, the Pulleyblank's "Middle Chinese: a study in historical phonology" and the Baxter's "A handbook of Old Chinese" represent the key works of this school.
The PreBabel (Chinese)
I. The Discovery of the Chinese Word Roots
With the publication of "Chinese Word Roots and Grammar" (US copyright # TX 6-514-465, issued on May 5, 2006), a 220 Chinese word root set was discovered and published. Then, a new paradigm was formulated.
There are three types of vocabulary sets:
Type A -- chaotic data set, most of the members of the set are stand alone without any logic or genealogical connection with other members. That is, it is neither a root for others nor a derivative of any other members.
Type B -- axiomatic data set, the entire set can be derived from:
a finite number (the lesser the better) of basic building blocks, the word roots.
a finite number of rules for construction of its members.
Note: In general, the members of an axiomatic data set are self-revealing, such as, 書 (book) is 聿 (hand made item) + 曰 (intelligent saying). When an intelligent saying is made into a handmade item, it is a book.
On the contrary, the members of a chaotic data set are most likely non-self-revealing particles.
Type C -- a hybrid data set, the mixing of Type A and B.
The Revolution of the Language Acquisition:
The old school
For learning the first language
The verbal was learned with brutal drilling without the help of previously anchored data set.
The written was, then, learned with the verbal as the anchored base.
For learning the second language -- both verbal and written must be learned with brutal drilling without the help of any previously anchored bases.
The PreBabel way:
The chaotic Chinese written character blobs are transformed into an axiomatic data set in the PreBabel (Chinese).
The written can be learned as a knowledge (such as geometry or chemistry), not as a living habit; thus it needs no language environment for its learning.
Then, the verbal can be learned with the written as the anchored base.
This new way reduces the study time form 5 school years to 300 hours (self study hours, not classroom hours). A world record of learning Chinese written language from a beginning point of not knowing a single Chinese word (both verbal and written) to the point of being able to read Chinese newspaper is 89 days. All information on this case study is available at http://www.chineseetymology.com.
II. The New Chinese Etymology
The evolution and the revolution:
The evolution of the old school theory is correct before the year 220 B.C.. Between 220 to 210 B.C., there was a revolution on Chinese character system. The revolution moves drastically away from the normal evolution.
--> Bronze Characters
--> Large seal characters
--> Small seal characters
--> Standardized small seal characters (around 220 B.C.), implemented by the Prime Minister Li ( 李 斯 ) of the Qin Empire.
The above evolution is correct.
Yet, there was another event happening at the same time of PM Li's work. Mr. Wang (
王 次 仲 ), a hermit, invented an "entirely different" system of
written characters. Emperor Qin Shi Huang read about this and was
greatly impressed. The Emperor asked Mr. Wang to come out from his
hermitage and to serve the government many, many times, but Wang
declined all those invitations. Although the Emperor was very angry, he
was unable to change Wang's mind. Mr. Chang ( 程 邈 ) was a high
officer and a highly revered scholar in the Empire. Yet, Chang was in
jail for some reasons at that moment. So, the Emperor gave Chang an
assignment of refining and completing Wang's work. If Chang is
successful, he will be pardoned and will return to his high office.
With 10 long years (in jail), Chang worked day and night on Wang's
system and finally "constructed" 3,000 new characters. The Emperor was
extremely satisfied, and Chang was put back to a high position. Chang's
system was, then, used as the written system for the governmental
papers, and it spread very quickly to commoners. At that time, most of
the servants who did the chores of copying governmental papers were
drafted commoners or prisoners, and they were call Lii ( 隸 ). As Chang
was also a prisoner once and as his system was used by Lii, this new
system was named as Lii characters. Very, very soon, the Small Seal
characters were no longer used as a communication tool, and it became
an art, not a language any more.
Of course, nothing can be truly invented out of the blue. The Lii
system, of course, used many Small seal characters or parts of those
characters as roots. Yet, the two systems (old evolved system and Lii)
are completely different. The old characters (from Oracle to Small
Seal) are arbitrary vocabulary with every word as a stand alone blob.
The new system (Lii) is a root word based system.
Although these two events happened at the exact same time, around
220 B.C. to 210 B.C., there is, in fact, a break, a divide and a huge
canyon between the two. Using the old system to explain the new one is
the same as describing the human evolution with the facts of
Neanderthal, and this is exactly what the "old school" is all about.
At the time of the First Emperor, there were three events happened about the same time, from 220 B.C. to 210 B.C..
Event 1: the standardization of the Small Seal set by the Prime Minister Li.
Event 2: the construction of the Lii character set (the Wang - Chang set).
Event 3: a few years after the debut of the Lii set, the Small Seal set
went extinct, not a living language any more. It survives to today as
an art, not as a living language.
The Emperor - Wang - Chang encounter was documented in
detail in "History Record" ( 史 記 ) , written around 140 B.C., in the
article "the First Emperor's Record" ( 秦 始 皇 正 紀 ).
The phonology and morphology of Chinese characters.
In "Lesson three" of the book "Chinese Etymology" (US copyright # TX6-917-909, issued on January 16, 2008), it showed 4-dimensional growth paths for the Chinese characters.
The axiomatization of Chinese characters.
There are, at least, two types of conlang.
Verbal centered with the written as the carrier.
Written centered, and then, it has three choices.
keep it mute, as a silent language.
create its own verbal.
adopt an existing verbal language.
The PreBabel is obviously a written centered conlang, and it has, at least, two stages.
Stage 1: adopting its hosting verbal as its verbal language, such
as, PreBabel (English) will speak in English, and PreBabel (Japanese)
will speak in Japanese.
Stage 2: creating its own verbal when the PreBabel (Proper) emerges.
Yet, we have just discovered that the Chinese Lii set (the Big 5
set) is, in fact, a constructed written language. Thus, it can be a
good model for us to understand its process of adopting an existing
verbal language, and its process is, seemingly, different from the
crude procedure that the PreBabel (language x) is using.
For every vocabulary of a language, it has four parts.
The word form -- the word token.
The word sound -- the pronunciation of the word token.
The word meaning -- the meaning of that word token.
The word usage -- the word meaning under some grammatic rules (which include the context circumstances).
At this point, I would like to analyze only the first three
parts and exclude the grammatic dynamics on the words. Yet, the
dynamics of these three parts cannot easily be described with the above
terms. So, I will use a new set of terms for their dramatic effect, and
these are "Equivalent Transformations."
word token -> blob
word sound -> plop
word meaning -> glob
If we know the internal structure of the "blob", it is a
transparent blob (t-blob), otherwise an opaque blob (o-blob), so as
(t-plop, o-plop) and (t-glob, o-glob). Using the word "book" as an
As we are unable to know that (b,o,o,k) means book, it is an o-blob.
As we always know that "book" pronounces as book, it is a t-plop.
As the meaning of "book" to be book is assigned, it is an o-glob.
With the above definitions, we can now analyze the Lii set (the Big 5 set).
With the Kangsi leading radical set, every Chinese
character has a head (leading radical) which carries an o-blob body.
Thus, every Chinese character is still an o-blob.
Without the pin-ying (or some other external
sound marks), no one knows the pronunciation of a character from the
blob. So, every Lii set character carries an o-plop.
With the o-blob and the o-plop, every Lii set character is also an o-glob. The meaning of the blob is assigned.
Thus, the Lii set character is an arbitrary designed o-blob which carries the assigned o-plop and o-glob.
As both Pulleyblank and Baxter know the Lii characters only as
o-blobs, their works on the phonology reconstruction are the studies of
the evolution of o-plops vs the evolution of the o-globs. Of course,
this kind of study is important and can produce many good knowledge on
On the contrary, my "Chinese Etymology" is significantly different
from their works. The fundamental difference is that the characters of
Lii set are not o-blobs but are t-blobs in "Chinese Etymology." Thus,
word token -- t-blob (B), with internal structure, composed with roots.
word sound -- t-plop (P), a sound tag (radicals, composed of roots) is found in the word token.
word meaning -- t-glob (G), an innate meaning of the word token can be read out loud from its composing roots.
In "Chinese Etymology," there are,
220 word roots (+ 50 variants)
about 500 P (sound modules, 300 are listed in the book Chinese Etymology).
Thus, the "construction" equations in PreBabel (Chinese) for the Lii set are as follow,
B = root(s) + one P, the pronunciation of B is P.
P = root + root(s), the pronunciation of P is assigned, as sound module.
G = there are two cases.
G = root(s) + one P, the sound of the P is not part of the meaning.
G = root(s) + one P, the sound of the P plays some or important roles for the meaning.
Yet, there is one advanced equation.
B(a) = root + root(s), without a P.
G(a) = root(a) + root(s) is a synonym of B(x).
P(a), the pronunciation of B(a) = P(B(x))
This is the most bizarre equation in linguistics that I have ever seen.
By knowing these detailed equations, "Chinese Etymology" has
transformed Chinese written language from the most difficult language
to the easiest language to learn in the world.
With the PreBabel (Chinese), for every Chinese character,
its innate meaning can be read out from its face.
its sound can be read out from its face.
it is composed of some roots (from a finite number of word root set, 220) with a regressive procedure. Note: the concept of root word is a Western one, not Chinese.
And, 3,000 commonly used Chinese characters can be learned with only 200 hours (class hours + homework) of good study. Then, the meaning of all Chinese characters (all 60,000) can be read out from their faces.
III. The Publications and the Institute of PreBabel (Chinese)
Book 1: The first draft "天 馬 行 空 的 漢 語 " (The Language as a Flying Horse), meaning --- a language cannot be confined by any grammatical rules or laws, written in Big 5, 130 pages, 188 word roots were identified. It came off the press in November, 2004. Five hundred copies were printed. A news conference for this new book was held on January 9, 2005. Four newspapers and one TV station in Los Angeles reported this news conference. Their reports are available at http://www.chinese-word-roots.org/sb001.htm. The headlines were 龔 天 任 創 造 新 穎 漢 語 學 習 模 式 , meaning -- Tienzen Gong has created a brand new method for learning Chinese language.
Note: The entire Book 1 was available online (free) for a whole year, from December 2004 to January 2006. The Book 1 was available in many universities in Taiwan. The Book 2 was available in many university libraries in China. Then, I found out that many Chinese language teaching websites began to introduce some similar ideas without mentioning the source while they all inherited the same errors which I made in Book 1. I quickly removed the online book.
Book 2: "Chinese Word Roots and Grammar", a revision from book 1, written in Simplified characters, 144 pages. It came off the press in June, 2005, and 200 copies were printed. This copy is widely available in the libraries of Chinese universities. Many comments about this book from the Presidents of Chinese universities are available at http://www.chinese-word-roots.org/cw2.htm. Many Presidents used the phrase 獨 辟 蹊 徑 , meaning "brand new idea which is never known before". The President of Beijing Language University, 崔 希 亮 , said, " 當 懷 之 精 研 , meaning that I will hold your book in my bosom to study it."
Note: This book is also available in many public libraries in America.
Book 3: "Chinese Word Roots and Grammar" (in simplified Chinese,
300 pages, 10 chapters, 4 appendixes) which discusses: general and
comparative linguistics, the history and the historical writings on
Chinese etymology, the critic of those works, the introduction of
Chinese word roots, the rules and the growth of Chinese character
system, the phonetics of Chinese characters and its history, the
interaction of phonetic laws and semantic laws which gives the meaning
and the sound of each character, the examples of those interaction and
laws, the axiomatic linguistic systems (English and Chinese), the
comparison between the two axiom systems, the grammar of English and
the grammar of Chinese, etc.. This book is copyright with US #TX 6-514-465, on May 5, 2006.
Note: the phonetic and semantic interaction of character accounts over half of the book.
Book 4: "Chinese Etymology" (in English, 326 pages, intended as a
textbook for American kid who knows not a single Chinese at the
beginning) which has three Lessons and one character list (about 8,000
words). This book is copyright with US # TX 6-917-909, on January 16, 2008. This book is available in many university libraries. Please visit http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/318075862 for details.
Lesson 1: 220 root words, 1100 G1 (generation 1) words and about 1,000 higher generation words.
Lesson 2: 300 sound modules, 250 four-tones and about 3,000 descendent words of those sound modules.
Lesson 3: very briefly describes the theory of
Chinese Etymology, 50 variants of the roots and the exceptions from the
Word list: lists about 8,000 words under the roots, the genealogy, the ways of their dissection pathway, etc..
Note: as a textbook for a beginner, it contains only about 10% the etymology theory in comparison to the Book 1.
Book 5: "Chinese Etymology -- Workbook One" (280 pages) which has:
Part one: 220 roots and 1,100 G1 words. The students must dissect
those 1,100 words the first time with the knowledge of roots only
without the concern the meaning of the words. After he learned part
two, he must re-dissect those G1 words the second time and tries to
read out their innate meanings. Then, he must look up the meaning (the
semantic meaning) of the words with a dictionary and compare them with
his decoded innate meanings. Then, he must explain the gap between the
innate and the semantic (the usage) and the underlying logic of the
leap (from the innate to the usage).
Part two: 300 sound modules and 250 four-tones. The ways of
dissection and decoding of those 300 sound modules are provided, and
they are as the examples for student to do the Part one works.
Chinese Etymology was presented at AP Annual Conference 2007 (CollegeBoard) in Las Vegas on July 13, 2007. Over 100 Chinese language professors and teachers attended this presentation. I made two statements.
Chinese written word system is an 100% root word system with only 220 root words, and it could be simpler than the high school geometry.
The original meaning of every Chinese word can be read out loud from its face, and any high school student who did not know a single Chinese character could master the Chinese word system within six months.
Many case studies (the success stories) on PreBabel (Chinese) are available at http://www.chineseetymology.com. These case studies were reviewed in details by the Chinese media (5 newspapers and 6 TV stations), Taiwan government ( 台 灣 行 政 院 ) and many American universities.
The details of the very successful education institute on PreBabel (Chinese) is available at http://www.TheBestChineseSchool.com/. The age of the students ranges from 9 to 75. Some are not knowing a single Chinese word at the beginning. A few of them are Chinese language professors who taught in universities in Taiwan.
IV. Some comparisons of PreBabel (Chinese) with the old school way
At a conlanger bulletin board, a member asked a question, "Tienzen, how does your system de-construct this character (into however many of your 226 roots) 沫 ?"
Similar to any English word. every Chinese word (character) has many meanings while one of them is the core meaning. For 沫 , its core meaning is the bubbly foam at someone's mouth corner when they speak. Now, we call a spit 口 沫 (mouth foamy droplets). Of course, the meaning of this word can be looked up in dictionary. But, why is it written as it is? You cannot find it in the dictionary.
In PreBabel (Chinese), Chinese Etymology, it is composed of two radicals,
the left radical is a variant for 水 (water)
the right radical is a word 末 , meaning "at the end" or "completion".
Then why does 沫 mean as it is?
In CE, the meaning of 末 arises as follow:
let's look at two very similar words, 末 、 未
both 未 、 末 are composed of,
一 root 1 and have five means in CE, (heaven's chi [energy], earth's chi, man's chi, as 1, or union). Note: most of the time, one root one meaning, but this is one exception.
Note: the root # is available at http://www.prebabel.info/bab002.htm
木 root 52, tree or wood.
for 未 , the heaven's chi (the growing of the tree) is shorter than the root 木 , that is, that chi is weak and new (just begin). So, the word 未 means "not yet complete."
for 末 , the heaven's chi (the top stroke) is longer than the root 木 , that is, that chi has done its job. So, the word 末 means "at the end" or "completion".
Then, what does 沫 truly mean? Why does it mean as it is? There is a trick for finding this out. We can often find out the meaning of a word by checking out how it associates with other words. 泡 沫 means bubble. In fact, 泡 itself means bubble. Then, why is 沫 doing there for? 沫 signifies the end and the fate of the bubble ( 泡 ) , the non-escapable of bursting.
Seemingly, it takes a lot to explain one word. Yet, after some basic is learned, every word becomes very easy. Not only we learn each and every word as it is, but we also know why it as it is.
One 13 year old girl, she went to the old Chinese school for 5 years, and she was crying before every going. She cannot stand the demand that she must learn every word under command without any explanation of why it is written as it is. In my class, she is now eager to come to every session and eagerly rises her hand to dissect and to decode every word. Learning Chinese via CE is not only very easy but is very fun now.
Then, the member of bboard informed me a book, "Remembering the Hanzi", written by James Heisig and Timothy Richardson. A sample lesson of the book is available at
Note: as this URL is too long, it is broken into three sections. It must be reconstructed as one string without any space between the sections if anyone wants to visit that page.
I reviewed that sample material. The difference between us is greater than the difference between Heaven and Earth. In the sample lesson, Heisig showed 102 examples. There is not a single example having the correct etymology. As I made this statement openly on a World Wide Web, I must be responsible to my saying. Thus, I must give a few more examples to support my statement.
Heisig's method is 100% a mnemonic device, having zero substance on etymology. I am showing some simple examples here.
key word -- recklessly
Primitive elements -- ancient moon lit up at 100% wattage.
story (imaginative memory) -- at full moon, people tend to get a little "loony" and start acting recklessly.
Tienzen's Chinese etymology
meaning -- the skin under the chin ( it droops at old age)
Note: the word 鬍 (beard) is the radical "hair" over 胡
word in roots -- 古 (ancient or old) + 月 (meat, a variant of root 96)
. reading from the word face -- old or aged meat (skin)
its usage -- 胡 人 (barbarian, who has long beard in comparing to Chinese)
derived meaning -- reckless
For Heisig: the example 57 in the sample material
key word (meaning) -- page (of book)
Primitive elements -- turning a shellfish, one
imaginative story -- Pearl of Wisdom, radiant drop of wisdom with one and only page.
Note: In Kangsi dictionary, 頁 is a human head. There is no secret about this. Yet, Heisig discredited it.
Tienzen's Chinese Etymology
Original meaning -- human head. Kangsi dictionary is correct on this one.
Word in roots -- root 47 (human's head) + 儿 (child, root 36)
The Chinese words are composed of roots (the PB set). The roots in a word give a static image. Then, this image is inferred to give meaning for its descendant words. I will show enough examples on this.
Heisig simply does not know that 頁 is child's head. It depicts the head as an item itself. So, every word containing it is about the "head".
頂 , top of the head
項 , back of the head
順 , following the head, obeying
須 , makeup on head, such as beard, hair, etc.
頑 , slow head, dumb or stubborn
頓 , lowing the head
頭 , another word for head
頒 , many heads, award to many heads
頗 , leaning head (not fair)
領 , back of the head (collar)
額 , the forehead
頜 , lower the chin
頸 , neck
顆 , the unit (or number) of head
There are another hundreds examples. Why does 頁 also mean "page" today? It is a long story.
In Heisig's lesson 4 (page 43, example 57, 頁 ) of his sample lesson, he wrote, "As a primitive, this character often takes the unrelated meaning of a head (preferably one detached from its body), derived from the character for head (Frame 1067)". This is the precise quote, word by word.
Heisig mistakes 頁 as 一 (one) over 貝 (sea shell). Not only is this a major mistake but is a great laughing matter. Every 5th grader in China will laugh his tooth off on this. This kind of mistake cannot be excused by claiming as it is only an imaginative mnemonic device. After all, the etymology of the word itself is already the best mnemonic device for the word.
Key word -- deceased
Primitive elements -- top hat on a hook
story (imaginative memory) -- the deceased gentleman left a top hat on a hook in the front hall.
Tienzen' Chinese etymology
meaning -- dead or disappear
word in roots -- root 186 (Heaven or heavenly) + root 216 (disappearing)
reading from the word face -- disappearing into Heaven (could be death or eternal life or just a flying away jet or a bird). The key is disappearing.
Let's look some descendant words.
忘 (forget) is 亡 over 心 (heart). The heart wonders away is "forget."
忙 (busy) is "a variant of heart" + 亡 . The heart disappears into ..., it has no time to consider others.
巟 (desolate or lacking of) is 亡 over 川 (flowing water). Flowing water disappears into ....
荒 (desolate field, not managed garden) is root 49 (grassy plant) over 巟
慌 (nervous) is "a variant of heart" + 荒 . The heart is facing a desolate situation, not knowing what to do.
謊 (lie or untrue words) is 言 (speech) + 荒 . When the words are as not managed garden (big mess) or desolate, it cannot be true words.
In all these words, 亡 does not give any hint of an image that "a man is hanging up' a hat while kicking the bucket".
By knowing the correct etymology, the meaning of the words can be read out from their "faces" after learned some basic and some practices. No mnemonic device is needed at all. In fact, not much memory is needed for them neither.
頑 (example 58, lesson 4, page 43 of Heisig's book)
key word -- stubborn
primitive elements -- a blockhead, at the beginning
imaginative story -- Abel and Cain seeking favors of heaven, with stubborn grimace on their faces.
word in roots (or radical) -- 元 (beginning) + 頁 (human head)
direct reading -- as a newborn's head (not the physical head but is about its mental capability).
頑 皮 -- playful in a mischievous or nuisance sense.
頑 劣 -- as a rascal, cannot be educated
頑 固 -- stubborn. By selecting "stubborn" as the key word for 頑 , it shows that not only does Heisig not know its etymology, but he does not know the true meaning of the word.
首 (example 67, page 46 of Heisig's book)
key word -- heads
primitive elements -- horns, nose (自 , see his example 32, on page 32)
imaginative story -- the picture of a moose-head hanging on the den wall. with a note: ... frequent metaphorical use of term..., as head of state
word in roots -- 八 (root 176, dividing) + root 47 (human head)
direct reading -- combing the head or dressing up the head
usages -- the abstract head of anything, leader, etc..
the descendant words -- 道 、 導
Obviously, Heisig does not know anything about the root 47 (human head) and mistakes it as a horn over nose (自 ). In fact, there are many words from root 47 without the horn, such as,
憂 (worry) -- root 47 (the human head) over root 205 (covering) over 心 (heart) over root 17 (pacing). Direct reading -- the heart is covered by the head while pacing to and fro.
Higher generation words -- 優 、 擾 etc.
夏 (name for Chinese race, also means summer) -- root 47 (human head) over root 17 (pacing). Direct reading -- a cultured head pacing.
Higher generation words -- 廈
Note: Heisig makes this type of serious error all over the places, such as,
胡 , the right radical 月 (meat) was mistaken as 月 (Moon). This is excusable as most of Chinese people do not know the difference on this one neither.
頁 (head) as 一 (one) over 貝 (shellfish), and this not only is a big error but is a laughing matter.
首 (head) as "animal horn" over 自 (nose). Again, a joke.
丁 (example 86, page 54)
key word -- fourth
primitive elements -- fourth of enumeration ... an lunar calendar
imaginative story -- someone waiting fourth in line , using a giant metal spike as a makeshift chair.
His note: When used as a primitive, the character changes its meaning to nail or spike.
word in roots -- 一 (root 1, heaven's chi) over root 5 (rooted chi)
direct reading -- heaven's chi is rooted
盯 (keep eye on ...) is 目 (eye) + 丁 (rooted)
釘 (nail) is 金 (metal) + 丁 (rooted)
打 (hitting with hand) is "a variant of hand" + 丁
叮 (repeated reminders or sting with mouth) is 口 (mouth) + 丁
訂 (place order or sign agreement) is 言 (speech) + 丁
亭 (a permanent hill top pavilion, as an ancient road site rest area) is root 208 (high ground) over root 205 (cover) over 丁 . Direct read -- a permanent (丁 ) covered place on the hill top.
停 (stop) is 人 (man) + 亭 . Direct read -- at 亭 , man stop for a break.
寧 (tranquility) is root 118 (roof) over 心 (heart) over 皿 (cook ware) over 丁 (rooted). Direct read -- cook ware is set (rooted) under roof (house), the heart is in peace.
Can Heisig's 丁 provide the meaning for those words? What is fourth eye? Fourth metal? Fourth hand? Fourth mouth? etc.. The etymology of above is already the best mnemonic device for those words. Heisig's error cannot be excused by claiming them as simply imaginative mnemonic devices.
Heisig's book could be a fun book for a beginner who knows not any Chinese word. If anyone benefited from Heisig's method, good for him. I, myself, do not see it as a good mnemonic device by arbitrary making up a story for a given Chinese character. In etymology, a true mnemonic device flows out from its logic naturally. Learning all those invented stories will definitely poison learner's mind for a true understanding of Chinese characters.
The PreBabel (Chinese) has changed the linguistic universe in the following ways.
A revolution on language acquisition was established. A language can be learned as knowledge, not as living habit, and thus, no language environment is needed for its learning. Please visit http://www.chineseetymology.com