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Is Chinese "Syllabic"?


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I’m trying to figure out whether or not Chinese in as much as writing/reading is concerned, is considered “syllabic.” (In fact, I don’t even know if that’s a word. I’m no linguist.)

I’m a beginning learner but I’ve repeatedly noticed that as I’ve been transcribing Pimsleur, one syllable typically corresponds to one character. [Except the “r” sound in annoying instances like 过一会儿.] Most of the learning materials I’ve encounter go to great lengths to explain that Chinese is not a phonetic language but I’ve not yet a seen a reference to the pattern of syllables to characters. I only noticed because having briefly studied Japanese, I had noticed a similar pattern. (But I guess hiragana and katakana are both syllabic AND phonetic.)

Anyways, I guess my question is whether or not that is a Chinese language pattern that I should expect to continue or does it simply occur with easier words?

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Characters always refer to one syllable. Words can be single character, single syllable (我), double character+double syllable (我们) and so on, so on.

There was an article on Sinosplice.com recently about multisyllabic characters - perhaps of interest, but not of much practical value to the learner.


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FYI, most characters have a phonetic component, but it may have been phonetic a thousand years ago when the syllable was pronounced differently. Knowing the character components will give you a guess as to how a character is pronounced if you don't have anything else to go one. Nothing more than a guess but it may help in a pinch.

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Statements like "Chinese is not a phonetic language" are fairly common; but they're a result of confusion. It's important not to conflate Chinese characters with Mandarin or any other language. Chinese characters are a script (a means for recording language); they are not a language themselves. Properly speaking, they are a morphosyllabic writing system.

Reading the above selection and this one should help answer your questions.

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Stage 1: Protowriting

Form: Pictograph of wheat: wheat_old.gif

Function: To represent the idea "wheat"

Stage 2: Real Writing

Form: Pictograph of wheat: wheat_old.gif or wheat_revised.gif


To represent the word ləg ("wheat")

To represent the word ləg ("come")

hmm perhaps this explains the chinese homophone issue?

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