Across Continents

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Free radicals

October 20th, 2010

Chinese characters, American student William explained, were originally pictograms. But that was five thousand years ago, and a lot of stylisation had since crept in. I’d wondered about their origins, noticed a pattern of sorts amongst the numbers.

Did some delving, confining myself to objects, expressions that might have existed many millennia ago. Like woman, possibly carrying firewood, child, tree, field and plough, the symbol of strength (below, left to right).

Chinese chars - first line - web

Some were compounds. Intangible concepts such as good, represented by a mother and child (below, left). Or man, a combination of field and plough (below, right). And some intriguing ones, both old and modern. A cat headed eagle equating to owl, split mind disease describing schizophrenia, electric brain a computer.

Chinese chars - second line - web

Today, the vast majority of individual characters have two parts. One that hints at meaning – the radical, and another that gives an indication as to pronunciation. But no more certainty than that. So still a lot to learn.

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