Learning, understanding and retaining a character is the first phase. The Chinese language, in its beginnings, had an immense majority of monosyllabic words, but pollysyllabization began as early as the Eastern Zhou (770-256 BC). Various statistics show this phenomenon. In the Analects of Confucius (5th century BC), 1126 words are monosyllabic and 378 pollysyllabic, 74.9% versus 25.1%. Later, in the language of the 16th-19th centuries, more than half of the vocabulary is composed of polyssyllables, as it is today in contemporary Chinese, 54.5% in Water Margin (16th century) and 50.7% in Dream of the Red Chamber (18th century). It is necessary to get into the habit of looking at the associations with the characters already known. In this way, one can easily enrich one’s vocabulary. From the very first months of Chinese, I liked to make a map of the networks of the senses. Let’s take a simple example with 看, kàn, see.
Good + see = 好看 hǎo kàn nice to see / nice / interesting
See + book = 看书 kàn shū read a book / study (with a book)
See + disease = 看病 kàn bìng consult a doctor / see a patient / (get) checked
See + just = 看中 kàn zhòng have a preference to / find to his taste / set his choice on / set his heart on
See + understand = 看懂 kàn dǒng read / be able to read / understand / see and understand
Invite + watch = 请看 qǐng kàn please watch/see
Difficult + see = 难看 nán kàn ugly / scandalous
Don’t + see = 别看 bié kàn Don’t look
Visualize allows us to better record and make connections between characters inside our brain :
For polysyllables and the Chinese language, see the text by Alain Peyraube, Syntaxe et discours dans la langue chinoise : le mythe de l’occidentalisation (p.22)
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17 November 2020