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Chinese Language and Etymology
Tienzen (Jeh-Tween) Gong
9/25/2006

We all know that Chinese is not a phonetic alphabetical language. Many people classify its writing as pictographs. Today, many people believe that only phonetic language has root words, such as English which has many Latin and Greek root words. Yet, only a portion of English words has some sort of root. English has adopted many foreign words, such as Kowtow, Kungfu, Taoist, etc.. Recently, English has created many new words using acronym, such as, radar, sonar, laser.

On page 112, The Columbia History of the World, ISBN 0-88029-004-8, it states,
"Structurally, the Chinese writing system passed through four distinct stages. No alphabetic or syllabic scripts were developed, but each word came to be denoted by a different character. The earliest characters were pictographs for concrete words. A drawing of a woman meant a woman, or of a broom a broom. Such characters were in turn combined to form ideographs. A woman and a broom became a wife, three women together treachery or villainy. The third stage was reached with the phonetic loans, in which existing characters were borrowed for other words with the same pronunciation. The fourth stage was a refinement of the third: sense determinators or radicals, were added to the phonetic loans in order to avoid confusion. Nine-tenths of the Chinese characters have been constructed by the phonetic method. Unfortunately, the phonetics were often borrowed for other than exact homophones. In such cases, the gaps have widened through the evolution of the language, until today characters may have utterly different pronunciations even though they share the same phonetic. The written language, despite its difficulties, has been an important unifying cultural and political link in China. Although many Chinese dialects are mutually unintelligible, the characters are comprehended though the eye, whatever their local pronunciation. On Chinese may not understand the other's speech, yet reads with ease his writing."

The above saying is the basic understanding of Chinese scholars for the past two thousand years. Yet, it fails to point out three important facts:

* All Chinese words are formed from a set of word roots (root words). A language formed with "word roots" must have the following characteristic:
1. A finite number of word roots must be identifiable in this language system.
2. Every word must be formed by a combination of a few word roots.
3. The meaning of a word must be able to be read directly from these word roots together with a system which governs the forming of word from word roots.
See examples below.
* Although Chinese words are not syllabic, each one of them carries a pronunciation tag one way or another.
* Many different words can share the same (identical) pronunciation, and one word can have many different pronunciations. There is a set of very strict rules to govern these two situations in order to avoid any confusion.

Chinese words have no tense and no parts of speech. That is, Chinese words have no suffix. Chinese words do have prefixes and word roots. However, many word roots became part of prefixes, and the concept of word roots was lost and not known for the few thousand years in the past. In general, there are 540 Chinese prefixes and over thousands radicals. Yet, there are only 220 word roots. By definition, word root must have the following characteristic:

1. It cannot be reduced as a composite of lower units.
2. It is the basic material to construct all other words (including prefixes and radicals).

In China, the function of prefixes is to categorize words into prefix-group. Some prefixes are wood roots but many more are not. Radical is a word as a part of other words. Radical is always formed from word roots. The radical system is different from a root word system. Enzymes are the alphabets of a protein language. This is Enzymology or Biochemistry. The elements (atoms) are the alphabets of all chemical compounds, and it is called Chemistry. The elementary particles (proton, neutron, electron and quarks) are the alphabets for atoms, and this is Elementary particle physics. The radical system of Chinese language is as the enzyme to the science while the root word system of Chinese language is as the Elementary particle physics to the science. The radical system is a few steps removed from a root word system. The difference between them is significant and obvious.

Since the Spring and Autumn period (about 500 B.C.), the Chinese people has been learning Chinese words with a brutal memorization method. Every Chinese word was treated as an individual character and must be memorized as a whole without any association from other words. That is, for a few thousand years, the Chinese people themselves did not take the advantage of a word root language system. For a few thousand years, the Chinese themselves did not know the concept of word root system while the Chinese words are formed by a word root system. This fact could be a great surprise to everyone. Yet, it can be resolved in two ways:

1. To show and to demonstrate that Chinese word system is, in fact, a word root system.
2. To show the reason of why it came to this way, which is discussed in detail in this book.

Please visit http://www.chinese-word-roots.org/ for more details.

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