I had become increasingly curious about the Chinese language, but everything I read about it contradicted everything else. So at last I took the plunge and I am now in the 2nd term of a course in Chinese. I am less interested in learning to speak it than I am in learning to read and write it – at least a little bit. Fundamentally, what I am after is an insight into China and its people: I believe that a language is the soul of the culture that speaks it. (Incidentally, for this very reason – I am also considering studying Ancient Greek, but that’s another story…)
Anyway, I don’t imagine that I’m the only one who is curious about Chinese and so I’ve been thinking that I might like to share some of my more interesting experiences and ‘discoveries’ with you.
I will write more about my initial experiences, but, for now, I just want to share with you what I’ve understood about just one character: wǎn (spoken with a falling/rising tone – the 3rd of 4) and that means night, evening or even late (words in Chinese, even ones with exactly the same sound, can have many meanings – sometimes more than 50!?!?)
Reading top to bottom (and putting up with my dodgy calligraphy), the first character is the one we’re discussing: wǎn = night. The element on the left is shown 2nd and is a pictograph representing the sun. The other element of our character is shown 3rd and means escape.
Now here’s the fun bit – if you look at the 4th character you will see it is identical to the 3rd, except for a dot in its ‘tail’… Now this 4th character is a pictograph for rabbit.
So what we end up with is that escape is written as a rabbit that has escaped – this being indicated by the missing dot – and that, when this is combined with sun, becomes our 1st character, that for night. Now, I don’t know if this means the ‘sun has escaped’ or that the ‘rabbit has escaped with the sun’ – nevertheless, I feel it does hint at the delights hidden in written Chinese.