There are over 80,000 Chinese characters, but most of them are seldom used today. So how many Chinese characters do you need to know? For basic reading and writing of modern Chinese, you only need a few thousands. Here are the coverage rates of the most frequently used Chinese characters:
Most frequently used 1,000 characters: 90% (Coverage rate)
Most frequently used 2,500 characters: 98.0% (Coverage rate)
Most frequently used 3,500 characters: 99.5% (Coverage rate)
Chinese characters are far more intricate than western letters and the composition of the main Chinese characters can be described in three ways:
1. Pictographic Method
This is the earliest method to create the most original Chinese characters. Examples: “日(rì) sun,” “月(yuè) moon,” “水(shuǐ) water,” “火(huǒ) fire” and so on, which take the shape of each term. These pictographic Chinese characters changed the original characters of the physical into subsequent founder fonts after gradual evolution, and some reduction in the number of strokes and some strokes added by the rules have become irregular fonts.
2. Associative Law
It’s easier to see the creation of truth through pictographic Chinese characters, but they should not express an abstract meaning. The ancients would have created another law known as the “ideographic law” in which they used different symbols or borrowing pictographic characters to add some symbols to express an abstract meaning. For example, the Chinese character “明(míng)” is made up of “日(rì) sun ” and “月(yuè) moon ,” which means bringing bright.
3. Pictophonetic Law
Ideographic characters and pictographic characters can be seen from the shape on the meaning of the words, but they are not allowed to deliver voice. Therefore, people created sound law-shaped characters to express the sound of voices and the meaning of the side next to match the shape. A lot of new words came into being. For example, the Chinese character “爸(bà) father ” is made up of phonetic character “巴(bā) bar ” and meaning character “父(fù) father .” According to statistics, pictophonetic characters account for about 90% of Chinese characters. The formation and development of Chinese characters became an important tool for the exchange of ideas that adapted to
In a recent newsletter, we introduced the key Chinese phrases you will need to the needs of human social life.
For an English word, the Chinese translation (or the Chinese ‘word’) often consists of two or more Chinese characters. You should use them together and read them from left to right. If you want to arrange them vertically, the one on the leftmost should go to the top. See an example for the word ‘English’ below:
As you can see, there are two Chinese characters for English (the language), which are yīng yǔ in Pinyin. Pinyin is the international standard romanization scheme for Chinese characters, which is useful for learning the phonetics of Mandarin. There are four tones in Pinyin and we use the numbers here, i.e., 1, 2, 3, and 4, to depict the four tones. If you want to learn Mandarin (or pǔ tōng huà), you have to master the four tones of the language. However, one pinyin usually represents many Chinese characters. For example, han4 can depict the Chinese characters for sweet, drought, brave, Chinese, etc. Thus you have to learn the Chinese characters to master the language. Chinese is not alphabetic so the writing is not related to its phonetics. We don’t translate the Western alphabet since the letters have no meaning, and we do use the letters in writings, especially in scientific writings.
There are many styles of Chinese writing. Some of the styles are more ancient than others. In general, there are large differences among the styles, even though some of the styles are quite close. Different styles of Chinese characters are naturally used according to the purposes of the writing, such as Xiaozhuan mainly used for seal carving now. Besides the different styles, there are also two forms of Chinese characters, the simplified and the traditional. The simplified is the standard writing form employed in the mainland of China and the traditional form is mainly used in Taiwan and Hong Kong. There are total 2,235 simplified characters contained in the ‘Simplified Character Table’ published in 1964 by the Chinese government, so the majority of the Chinese characters are the same in the two forms, though the count of commonly-used Chinese characters is only about 3,500.
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