Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Radical Thoughts

A pause for some theory.

The simple characters you are learning right now are also used a foundation for more complicated characters. The official term for a foundation character is "Radical." Don't ask me why.

One reason radicals are important is because the Chinese use them as a kind of capital letter. When you want to look up an unfamiliar character, you start with the radical. I'll talk more about that later. For right now I'll just confuse you enough with how to find the radical in a complex character. (Don't worry, I'll point out the radical in those characters that have them whenever I can.)

Radicals are usually on the left or on the top. But sometimes they are on the bottom or on the right. (Hey, English has it's confusing spelling rules too. Like how come "tough" and "though" don't rhyme?) However, when the radical is in a weird spot, you can still kind of tell, because it's usually the most common and familiar part of the character.

The worst thing about radicals, though, is that they can change shape from one use to another. Luckily these shape-changers also tend to be pretty commonly used, so you can learn them quickly.

For eaters, two of these shape-changers are meat and water. Next post, we're going to learn about what happens to the meat character rou 肉, when we learn about 肚 du, or "inside parts".

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