How Clavis Sinica can help you to learn Chinese Language?

How Clavis Sinica can help you to learn Chinese Language?

Initially, Clavis Sinica is based on structuralism. For children to learn Chinese characters, the part-whole and part-part relations is essential.

Initially, Clavis Sinica is based on structuralism. For children to learn Chinese characters, the part-whole and part-part relations is essential.

Character-context relation.

Take what happens to children when they encounter an unknown character 椰[yē] in the context of 椰子([yē zi], coconut) as an example. It is the possible relation between the character and its linguistic context. That is to say, one can make inferences about the unknown character 椰[yē] from the linguistic context in which it occurs, i.e., 椰子([yē zi], coconut). The 子[zǐ] here is in Chinese linguistics called 名詞後綴[míng cí hòu zhuì], which means the character at the end of a word that indicates that the word is a noun. For example, 鴨子([yāzǐ], duck), 椅子([yǐzi], seat) and 筷子([kuàizǐ], chopsticks) all refer to a “thing”, not an action nor an event, and probably so does the meaning of 椰子([yē zi], coconut). This is the linguistic context that is useful for guessing the meaning of unknown characters in reading. It is external to the character.

  There are other aspects that are internal to the character itself that provides the clue to the meaning and the sound of the character. In English, for example, the prefixes and suffixes provide clues to the meanings of the words. For example, the suffix “-er” in “farmer” signifies that a farmer is a person who works in a farm. Similarly, in Chinese, there are components which serve the same function but in very different ways.

  Part-whole relation.

As mentioned before, most Chinese characters are made up of a semantic component and a phonetic component, which contribute to respectively the meaning and the sound of the character. These are the two types (semantic and phonetic) of part-whole relation between the components and the characters. In our example, if children’s attention is drawn to the presence of the component 木([mù], tree) in the character 椰([yē], coconut), they will probably be able to guess that 椰子([yē zi], coconut) refers to something associated with a tree (i.e. 木[mù]). More generally, certain components in a character can provide the clue to the semantic field to which the whole character belongs. For example, having the same 木([mù], tree), the characters 林([lín], forest), 桃([táo], peach), 枝([zhī], branch) and 橙([chéng], orange) are all in the same semantic field of 木([mù], tree). An awareness of the semantic part-whole relation between the component and the character is a critical aspect of orthographic awareness.

Another type of part-whole relation is of a phonetic kind. If children focus their attention on the other part (i.e., 耶[yē]) of the character, the children may speculate that the sound of the character 椰[yē] should be close to that of the characters爺([yé], grandfather), 耶[yē] (as in 耶穌([yē sū], Jesus)) and 揶[yé] (as in 揶揄([yé yú], to tease)) because of the presence of the common phonetic component 耶[yē]. In light of the speculated sound [yē zi], the children, who probably have heard of this sound in everyday speech, is likely to associate the character with 椰子[yē zi] which means “coconut”. In other words, the phonetic part-whole relation is another critical aspect of orthographic awareness that will help children to determine the sound of the character and in some cases to deduce meaning of the character via the sound.

How a component provides a clue to the meaning of the character is much more complicated than what has been outlined above. A component provides such a clue only when it is in certain positions. For example, the component 木([mù], tree) functions as a semantic component if it is located on the left of a left-right configured character such as 榕([róng], banyan) or at the bottom of a top-bottom configured character such as 柴([chái], firewood). But when located elsewhere, the component 木[mù] stops functioning as a semantic component. For example, the 木[mù] in 沐([mù], bath) instead only functions as a phonetic component to the character. Thus, the location of a component affects whether the component provides a clue to the meaning of the character, which is something that children also need to be aware of.

Part-part relation.

One extremely important question, which is often left unexamined, is how is it that children can see the character 椰[yē] as composed of the two components 木(tree) and 耶[yē], but not in any other ways. This suggests that there is another critical aspect of orthographic awareness, which is the relation between the various parts of the character (i.e., the part-part relation). This means which part(s) of a character come together to form a constituent component (as either a semantic or phonetic component) which in turn combines to form the whole character?

Theoretically the character 椰[yē] can be decomposed in a number of different ways, for example, 木(tree), 耳[ěr] and 阝, 木(tree) and 耶[yē], and 栮[ěr], and 椰[yē] as one unit. These in turn can be broken down into numerous strokes. Indeed, some children do make errors in their decomposition of characters and in assigning meanings to the decomposed parts. For example, some children in Experiment 1 of this study mistook the character 椰[yē] as related to the meaning of 耳([ěr], ear). It is highly likely that they took the 耳([ěr], ear) in the middle of 椰[yē] as a constituent component rather than just part of the component 耶[yē]. The children thus erroneously guessed that the character 椰[yē] had something to do with 耳([ěr], ear). So, what aspects of orthographic structure are of critical importance to the understanding of characters?

This lies in whether children have learned to see or experience the characters in such a way that they attend to the orthographic structures of the characters in a certain powerful way. Characters configured as 椰[yē] (i.e., of three parts arranged in a row) are decomposed by Chinese linguists in Wen Zi Xue 文字學[The Study of Chinese characters] into the left most part 木(tree) and the remaining part 耶[yē], in which the former and the latter contribute to the meaning and the sound of the character respectively. Such analysis of the composition of the characters by the linguists has been taken on board by teachers and that from a very early age, children are taught to differentiate the structures as composing of components in different ways. Thus those children who correctly analyze the character 椰[yē] have developed a certain way of seeing the orthographic structure of the character. To look for a clue to the character meaning, children focus on the leftmost part of the character (i.e., the 木 in this case) but not elsewhere. e.g.

structure063               = leftmost(meaning) + the rest(sound)

椰([yē], coconut) =     木(tree)         +       耶[yē]

    The analysis of characters in the configuration of 椰

Note that the darkened part in the configuration indicates the location where the component provides a clue to the meaning of the character.

The other children who fail to analyze the character 椰([yē], coconut) see the orthographic structure in a different way such that they mistake the component 耳([ěr], ear) in the middle by itself as a constituent component that contributes to the meaning of the whole character. But, as discussed in Chapter Two, the phonetic component 耶[yē] is made up of two components 耳([ěr], ear) and 阝, and when 耶[yē] combines with 木(tree) to form the character 椰[yē], the rank of 耳([ěr], ear) as a constituent component in 耶[yē] changes to that of a sub-component in 椰[yē], thus it loses the meaning of[ear]. In other words, in the character 椰[yē], the component 耳 has become part of the phonetic component 耶[yē] and does not function as a semantic component to the whole character. As such, in order for children to realize that the 耳([ěr], ear) does not provide a clue to the meaning of the character 椰[yē], they need to understand the part-part relation of the 耳([ěr], ear) and 阝, that they are each part of the constituent component 耶[yē] to the character rather than the 耳([ěr], ear) on its own as one.

     Semantic-phonetic character            character

       Semantic      Phonetic                    constituent

      component   component                  component

            木           (耳       阝)                   sub-component

How the components join as constituent components to the character

Put it in another way, in order for children to appropriately analyze the orthographic structure of a character, they should discern and attend to the location of a component in the orthographic structure and understand that only when a component is located in a particular place in the orthographic structure that it functions as a constituent component (e.g., the 木([mù], tree) in 椰([yē], coconut)), and provides a clue to the meaning of the character. When the component is in other places in the orthographic structure, it functions as a sub-component (e.g., the 耳 and 阝 in 椰([yē], coconut)), and does not provide such a clue. In other words, children must understand the significance of the location of a component in the orthographic structure of the character for determining whether the component functions as a semantic component to the character. This way of seeing the orthographic structure of the character is of critical importance to understanding the composition of the character.

In addition, apart from the configuration of 椰([yē], coconut), there are other major configurations of Chinese characters, which children also need to know how to analyze in an appropriate way. For example, the character 筷([kuài], chopsticks), as well as other characters in the same configuration, has the ⺮(bamboo) at the top signifying its meaning while the 快([kuài], fast) at the bottom signifying its sound. This means that to find a clue to the character meaning, children must focus their attention on the part at the top (i.e., ⺮(bamboo)) but not anywhere else in the character. As another example, the part that contributes to the meaning of the character 努([nǔ], hard working) is at the bottom, i.e., 力([lì], effort). Any other parts of the character such as 女([nǚ], female) and 又([yòu], again) have nothing to do with the character meaning. Thus, to make inferences about the meaning of the character 努([nǔ], hard working), as well as other characters configured in the same way, children must attend to the bottom of the character. More examples about the ways to analyze the major configurations of Chinese characters are shown below.

Configuration / Character

 

Semantic component

 

Phonetic component

structure063

=

leftmost(meaning)

+

the rest(sound)

椰[coconut] /yē/

=

木 [tree]

+

耶  /yē/

撕 [to tear off] /sī/

=

扌 [hand]

+

斯  /sī/

蝌 [tadpole] /kē/

=

虫 [insect]

+

科  /kē/

         

structure026

 

left(meaning)

+

right(sound)

梅 [peach] /méi/

=

木 [tree]

+

每  /měi/

溶 [to dissolve] /róng/

=

氵 [water]

+

容  /róng/

嫁 [to marry] /jià/

=

女 [female]

+

家  /jiā/

         

structure006

=

top(meaning)

+

bottom(sound)

筷 [chopsticks] /kuài/

=

 [bamboo]

+

快  /kuài/

菠 [spinach] /bō/

=

艹 [bush]

+

波  /bō/

露 [dew] /lù/

=

雨 [weather]

+

路  /lù/

         

structure007

=

top(sound)

+

bottom(meaning)

努 [hard working] /nǔ/

=

奴 /nú/

+

力 [effort]

婆 [grandma] /pó/

=

波  /bō/

+

女 [female]

鯊 [shark] /shā/

=

沙  /shā/

+

魚 [fish]

          The analysis of characters in major configurations

  Children in schools are commonly taught the above configurations of Chinese characters with the aim of improving the legibility of writing or calligraphy rather than to understand the meanings of characters.it is important for children to perceive the different ways of decomposing the characters as relevant (i.e., about the perceived relevance structure) to the task of making sense of an unknown character. In other words, the object of learning here is not the legibility of writing but the understanding of the relation between the meaning of a character and its orthographic structure.


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