Talk:Radical (Chinese characters)

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Character examples need to be completely revised[edit]

The character examples under each radical given in this page give the impression that they may be under that radical. As such, I am of the opinion that the entire list of example characters should be edited and repopulated with characters which does reflect the radical, rather than the current case where any old character with that radical element is used.

Dylanwhs 19:51, 3 Jun 2004 (UTC)

But how do you know which radical a character is listed under? In almost all cases, I listed characters under the same radical that they were listed under in the Unihan database. In most cases it is arbitrary which radical a character is listed under, isn't it? ☞spencer195 20:00, 3 Jun 2004 (UTC)
I wouldn't say in most cases the character radical is arbitrary. The characters in Unicode are listed by Kangxi order, even those which are simplified have been shoehorned into the Kangxi 214 radical scheme. If you look at the source code for the characters examples and compare it to the radical character code, you will note that if they differ by from +/-10 to +/- 500 in some radicals, the likelihood is that they are not correctly assigned to that radical. For a list of Unicode CJK characters along with their codes as used in Wiki, have a look at my site, of CJK Characters in Unicode. Notice that since the CJK Ext.A characters and more recent updates in Ext. B (not in the site) have been created, characters lie outside the U+4E00 (19968) and U+9FA5 (40869) range. The characters within the range are those which were found in encodings of CJK character using countries, and one could refer to them as Unicode 2.1. The extensions A and above were published in 1999 and later, and now I think the whole lot amounts to around 70,000+ characters, taking in stuff from larger sets like CNS. As yet, I don't think there is a font which has all these characters in, and the wait may be a while. Unless you have SimSum 18030 you won't be able to display Unicode 3.0 which has the 20900 plus characters of Unicode 2.1 and Extension A of around six thousand extra.
Dylanwhs 07:07, 4 Jun 2004 (UTC)
I have found several non-kangxi radicals have been added, probably by simplified character users. We should clean them up. I also think it's best to list only ideophonetic (形聲) characters in traditional shapes, because their radicals are clear. - TAKASUGI Shinji 04:43, 3 Mar 2005 (UTC)
I think it would be best to list the Kangxi radicals as one set, and non-Kangxi ones as a separate table so that both are not conflated into one confusing mass. I understand that Japanese character dictionaries also have 'extra' radicals too, at least from my Kanwa Jiten at home. This could also be a feature. Dylanwhs 18:24, 4 Mar 2005 (UTC)
I have completely rewritten the Kangxi radical list. All characters are traditional forms and they belong to correct radicals. - TAKASUGI Shinji 18:11, 15 Mar 2005 (UTC)

Major revision based on the French version[edit]

I've incorporated the text from my translation of the French version of this article (Talk:Radical (Chinese character)/French Translation, started by User:Adjusting). I've tried to integrate the information in the existing text as much as possible, but fairly little of the actual previous text remains. The Kangxi radicals have been moved to List of Kangxi radicals with minimal change. So, any issues related to that content should go there.

Please read the new text and check it as well as copy-edit it. I do know Chinese (poorly), but I am used to looking words up in Chinese dictionaries and I know a lot about the linguistics of Chinese and of CJK languages in general, so I'm not totally out of my depths in this field. But that doesn't mean I haven't made mistakes or misunderstood.

If someone with administrative privileges wants to delete Talk:Radical (Chinese character)/French Translation when they don't feel it serves any purpose for verifying the translation, I'd appreciate it.

I am preparing the article Chinese character classification based on the French fr:Classification des sinogrammes.

--Diderot 13:25, 8 Apr 2005 (UTC)

Clarification request[edit]

The article doesn't make it absolutely clear, at least not without reading it in its entirety, what exactly a radical is. Surely this is the most important thing here? Does it mean any graphically distinguishable part of any Chinese character? Must it be in other characters? Must it be in the modern, commonly used list of about 200 radicals? Must it be in the older list of about 500 radicals? Must it be used in (at least one, commonly, what?) dictionary as an index, or is the index usage separate and has no influence on the definiton of what a radical is? Is bushu exactly the same thing as "radical" in English, and is it used that way in Chinese/Japanese/other languages? Must the radical(s?) of a character denote meaning, or may it be purely phonetical? ("These examples intentionally use the radical for its semantic value, but this not always the case." says so, but the text above contradicts it at least implicitly by classifying characters as "radical+radical" and "radical + phonetic ideo-phonograms", strongly suggesting that these "phonetic ideo-phonograms" that look like radicals are in fact not radicals)

In short, the article, being a definition of what a radical is, should strive to make it absolutely clear what is meant by the word, and this definition should be given at the beginning. As it is, it seems as if the authors themselves have different contradicting ideas of what the word means.

Not sure whose comment that was, but I wish to comment on the problem of the term radical, and how it is unfortunately applied to two different animals, the semantic component and the bushou, which may or may not coincide. I believe this will answer part of the above question --
First, when the earliest European sinologists decomposed Chinese characters, they attempted to apply to them the terms for decomposing the inflected words of European languages, namely radix or radical (the semantic root of a word, which provides its core meaning) and termination (the portion which changes when inflected, showing case, time and mood). Since the majority of Chinese characters are semantic-phonetic compounds, they applied the term radical to the semantic part, but they couldn’t apply the word ‘termination’ to the phonetic part since it does not take a terminal position.
Then, the 部首 bùshǒu (section heads) which organize dictionaries somehow got mistranslated as ‘radicals’ as well, creating confusion which has lasted up until the present. Many students are therefore under the misimpression that the component under which a character is indexed in the dictionary is its semantic component. This is not necessarily so, even if it happens to be true in many or even a majority of cases, and a careful examination of the characters under the first half dozen 部首 bùshǒu sections of the dictionary will amply demonstrate this.
The solution is to avoid the term ‘radical’ entirely. For the meaning-bearing component, the term widely used by scholars is ‘semantic’ component, while the section heads in the dictionary may be termed simply bùshǒu, and explained to students as, for example, the ‘header’ or ‘key’ or ‘index’ component under which the character is listed in dictionaries. Dragonbones 09:05, 20 March 2006 (UTC)
A fuller answer to the above should probably delve into the reasons behind the choices of bushou beginning with Shuowen, such as the study of this by Serruys. Dragonbones 09:11, 20 March 2006 (UTC)

Complete revamping of this page underway[edit]

Subsequent to the above comments on the problematic nature of the term "radical", you'll find that if you go through the old page, it jumps from one meaning of radical to the next, completely confusing the issue. It even goes so far as to call phonetic elements and components of any kind 'radicals', completely missing the mark. This chimaera needs to be dissected and rebuilt, more than any other page I've seen on Wiki.

I have begun this attempt by first outlining where the English term 'radical' comes from, and the two meanings unfortunately assigned to it. Then I've gone through the page, looking at each use of the term, and changing it to one of two disambiguating synonyms, semantic element vs. section header; in some cases both meanings were intended by the term, and in others, neither was intended, as the authors randomly threw in the word 'radical' when other things like 'component' or even 'phonetic component' were intended. Biggest mess I've seen in ages.

The clarification of each use of 'radical' in terms of which meaning was intended does two things. One, it fixes erroneous or ambiguous usage, a step forward. Two, it highlights how badly organized the remainder of the page is, even now. Next we need to reorganize the page on this basis so that it doesn't jump from one meaning to the other. Perhaps three pages are needed? One to explain the problem with 'radical' and direct the user to two meanings, semantic element vs. section header; and then a separate page for each of those? I need help doing this, but before joining in, please ensure that you understand the difference between semantic components and dictionary section headers as well as the fact that careless use of the term 'radical' for both is the source of this whole mess.Dragonbones 15:07, 20 March 2006 (UTC)

I don't think two completely separate meanings 'semantic element' and 'section header' is the best explanation. In Xíngshēngzì the radical is clearly a 'categorizer' or 'classifier' which distinguishes morphemes which are written with the same phonetic. The radical has only enough semantic content to make the distinction, and cannot carry most of the semantic content as 'semantic element' would suggest is possible. Even in the Huìyìzì the radical element is not enough to determine the meaning of the word, and as the linked section says, some argue that these were originally Xíngshēngzì anyway. In short, I think a 'categorizer' or 'classifier' which distinguishes morphemes is the best description.--JWB 17:38, 27 May 2007 (UTC)

I'm sorry, but I think you're confusing the two concepts, and it will be difficult to have a clear discussion if you use the term 'radical' in the process. For example, you write "In Xíngshēngzì the radical is clearly a 'categorizer' or 'classifier' which distinguishes morphemes which are written with the same phonetic." If by 'radical' you mean the bushou, then the statement is most definitely incorrect, as the bushou in some xíngshēngzì is the phonetic element (e.g., 舅 jiu4 maternal uncle, comprising 臼 jiu4 mortar phonetic, and 男 nan2 male semantic, and listed in the dictionary under the jiu4 bushou). It is a demonstrable fact that bushou does not equal semantic element, even for semantic-phonetic compounds. It is not true in *all* cases, therefore it is inaccurate and confusing if such a general statement is made without caveat. If on the other hand by 'radical' you mean a (not 'the') semantic element (I say 'a' because there may be multiple), then the statement is circular (semantic elements function as semantic elements) and furthermore by applying the outdated term 'radical' to what scholars appropriately now term 'semantic elements' or 'semantic components', you're confusing matters vis-a-vis the bushou, commonly termed 'radicals'. ERGO two completely separate terms with completely separate meanings are indeed the only way to go. Now, I will concede this: if one wishes to make the extremely carefully worded point that "in xíngshēngzì, semantic-phonetic compounds, the component chosen as the bushou (often termed 'radical') for dictionary indexing purposes is usually but not always a common semantic element, which as you say 'distinguishes morphemes which are written with the same phonetic'," then the statement is unobjectionable. Dragonbones 02:34, 28 May 2007 (UTC)
I use the word radical only because that is the name of this article and therefore what we are trying to explain.
I acknowledge your counterexample. What proportion of characters are this kind of exception, though? The great majority of characters are xíngshēngzì, and the great majority of these have a determinative which is the bushou plus a phonetic which is not. We must explain what the predominant case is, as well as the exceptions, which would seem to be bushou = phonetic and bushou = neither determinative or phonetic as a whole, but a graphic subset small enough to be found in the limited list of bushou. And we should explain that the reason for the exceptions is because the dictionary compiler is trying to limit the total number of bushou. Instead of saying radical as determinative and radicals as bushou may just happen to coincide in a particular example, we should say something like that they coincide 90% or 95% of the time.
My main point which you did not comment on is that 'semantic element' is a vague description and that determinative, classifier, or categorizer give a better idea of what the element's function actually is. The reader needs to understand that most characters are a phonetic with a disambiguator, and that the semantic content of the determinative is very thin, not comparable to the semantic content of the whole word. --JWB 03:37, 28 May 2007 (UTC)
Good answer, thanks JWB. "I use the word radical only because that is the name of this article and therefore what we are trying to explain." But hopefully you can see that since many people have confused the two uses of 'radical', careful distinction between 'radical (bushou)' versus 'radical (radix)' versus 'semantic/determinative element' (not a 'radical') becomes necessary if we continue to use the term.
As to bushou which play a phonetic role, yes, the exceptions are a small proportion of the whole, but add to this the number which are merely graphic extractions like 丿 for 乍, 十 for 午, 田 from 畏, 方 from 旅, 日 from 者, etc., plus those which are not what they appear to be (e.g., 夕 in 多, 月 in 青, etc.) and the total which are not the semantic/determinative half of a phonetic-semantic pair are certainly numerous enough to invalidate a general description of bushou (radical) as semantic/determinative/classifier. I have no problem with telling readers that 'a majority of bushou (radicals) happen to be a semantic determinative element, but there are many which are phonetic elements, portions of hui4yi4 compounds, or even simply extractions of a graphic component which does not constitute a phonetically or semantically meaningful element', but I find it completely unnecessary to go into descriptions of what percentages of bushou play what kinds of roles in their characters -- the purpose of bushou is nothing more or less than a way to group characters in a dictionary so that they can be looked up; the confusion of this concept with the semantic root/radix/radical concept is a problem, and we need to find a way to avoid that. Getting away from descriptions of how some bushou are or are not semantic accomplishes this.
As for your main point, I fully realize that the semantic content of many of these elements is thin, but it is semantic in nature (as opposed to phonetic). In 杯 bei1 cup, the 木 mu4 'wood; tree' element hardly contains 'the meaning' of the compound. Indeed, it serves to complement the phonetic 不 bu4 (pei1), along the lines of 'the object referred to by the word pronounced bei1 which is made of wood'. In 反 fan3, it is the 又 hand-action (to turn over) pronounced han3 (now fan3). I realize you're thinking of wood as 'in the general wood class', as opposed to 'this compound means 'wood. But the term 'semantic' is well established, and communicates in one very transparent word the approximate role of the component -- to convey a general category of meaning (vague semantic info). Words like 'determinative' won't immediately communicate to learners the role of the component without extensive explanation, and so they're less desirable. A phonetic element 'determines' the sound; a semantic element 'determines' the meaning; you see, 'determine/determinative' is not intuitively clear.
Insisting that such non-phonetic elements are determinative additions to or classifiers of purely phonetic elements opens up a whole new can of worms, and one unnecessary to a simple, clear treatment of what 'bushou' are. I would strongly prefer to leave behind such arguments, as they are not really relevant to the function of bushou, by which I mean, the function in the dictionary, of grouping characters graphically for ease of reference. Dragonbones 08:23, 28 May 2007 (UTC)
I don't object to the use of the word "semantic" - it's not that it's untrue, it's that it is vague and needs more explanation. I can't agree that the word by itself properly "communicates in one very transparent word" - the connotations of "semantic" to the average reader, if s/he even knows the word, are more like "full meaning", "underlying meaning independent of syntax", "analysis of meaning". And, the first paragraph of the article makes a direct comparison with roots in European languages (that do carry most of the meaning) without explaining that this comparison is misleading.
"Determinative" is a technical term and not transparent, but it is worth noting in passing that it is the standard term used in the literature on the other logographic scripts, for those readers interested in cross-linguistic comparison. "Category" is the plain English most likely to give the reader the right idea. I do not insist on this or any particular word, but the explanation of the nature of the semantic content needs to be adequate.
If you make a case for something based on the argument that it is established terminology, you should add references. Right now the article is almost completely unreferenced. I have seen the word "semantic" in many other treatments, but some aspects of your exposition like the strict division into your two categories are in danger of being considered original research, and while I am conservative about deleting content for this reason, many editors are fanatical. Quick googling of characteristic phrases like '"semantic components" and "section headers"' seems to only turn up Wikipedia, mirrors, and other sites that include Wikipedia articles, all not acceptable as references. If an original approach with creative control, and emphasis on tutorial over reference, is in fact what you are interested in, Wikibooks might be more appropriate than Wikipedia.
The viewpoint that most base elements, or more than usually recognized, are phonetic in origin, does not need to be hashed out in this article - it should simply be mentioned briefly and linked to The Chinese Language: Fact and Fantasy where a detailed treatment belongs.
I'm not sure how "Getting away from descriptions of how some bushou are or are not semantic" avoids "confusion of this concept with the semantic root/radix/radical concept", since you have resorted to exactly such descriptions while trying to dispel such confusion on this talk page. Some of those examples could shed some light in the article.
I don't see how statistics can hurt. You may find them "completely unnecessary", but I and many other learners like to have some idea of how much to expect in further study of a language and find them valuable. --JWB 11:50, 9 June 2007 (UTC)

removal of 好 'good' image[edit]

In the section entitled “Identifying Semantic Elements versus Section Headers in Characters”, there is a serious problem with the inclusion of 好 as semantic plus semantic. That represents the spurious folk etymology rendition of this compound as a 會意 huìyì associative compound. However, it is not at all clear that its etymology is associative in nature; it is more likely that it is semantic-phonetic (like the majority of compounds), although the specifics of its origin are unclear. We should not be presenting it as clearly semantic-semantic when this is quite possibly not the case. Off the top of my head, more likely candidates for this category which include 女 are for example 姦 jian1, 妻 qi1, or perhaps 姆 mu3, 姥 lao3 or 姜 jiang1 (although whether the latter should be considered a compound is unclear). I haven't had the time to thoroughly vet these, but 姦 jian1 *has* to be semantic-semantic-semantic, right? I'd suggest replacing 好 with 姦 jian1 'adultery', but don't know the process for uploading the image to Wiki. Can sb please help? Dragonbones 08:17, 13 September 2006 (UTC)

Until you figure that out, please leave the table and images as they are. If you have some serious evidence to prove your point, then the situation is perhaps different. None the less, even if the etymology were unclear, it's a good enough example character in my opinion (with the added note that the etymology may be spurious).
By the way, I gather from the explanation that the character has in a way become semantic + semantic over time, although it might have been something different in the distant past. It would be good to have some more diverse examples though.Wipe 00:38, 16 October 2006 (UTC)

deleted confusing external reference[edit]

The external reference "http://www.chinaknowledge.de/Literature/radicals.html - A good detailed introduction on section headers" is a perfect example of the confusion between the two meanings of the word radical. It is also not well written, so I have removed this external link, which will only confuse readers. (In general, I like Chinaknowledge.de, by the way -- but I would expect to see a drastic improvement in that particular page before it would qualify as a useful and informative link.) Here is an example of the confusion, with highlighting added for emphasis:

"The classifiers, determinants or radicals (bushou 部首) of a Chinese character serve to categorize words according to their meaning and to place them into a dictionary...Having a closer look at some characters, wrong attributions can easily be found, for instance the character for dao 到 "arriving" seems to be compounded from a standing "knife" 刀 to the right and the character 至 as a second part. Indeed, all characters deriving from the radical "knife" have the same shape. But looking at the meaning of the character, we see that in fact, the "knife" is not the radical, but the phonetical part of the character (pronounced dao), and the left part is in fact the radical 至 zhi "arriving"."

You can see that the author alternates between using radical in the meanings of bushou and semantic without explaining the difference, thus completely confusing matters. Dragonbones 09:47, 13 September 2006 (UTC)

Fair use rationale for Image:Character Palette.png[edit]

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BetacommandBot (talk) 13:47, 25 February 2008 (UTC)

Confusion of "Pinyin" and "section header"[edit]

Are not the terms "Pinyin" and "section header" confused in the first paragraph? These are different things, thus "Pinyin" is not the correct term here?--Wickey-nl (talk) 08:57, 23 March 2008 (UTC)

It's saying that "bushou" is Pinyin for the preceding characters, not that Pinyin is synonymous with section header. --JWB (talk) 09:26, 23 March 2008 (UTC)
You can easily read: The second meaning is Pinyin, meaning section header.
So it would be better:
Later, the term was also borrowed for a second meaning, the 部首 (in Pinyin written as: bùshǒu, Japanese bushu, Korean busu), literally meaning "section header", under which a character is listed in the dictionary.--Wickey-nl (talk) 11:19, 23 March 2008 (UTC)

Editorial comment in text[edit]

The last line of the current content, "This is of course fundamentally incorrect." is clearly editorial comment and not information. For one, it includes the phrase, "of course" which is a question-begging tactic of intrusive editorialism. If the fifth meaning is in use, then it is just as valid as the others. The historical meaning of the term is not the same as the fundamental or correct meaning of the term and the historical meaning is a tangle of confusion.

Extracting the partial meanings of "radical" from the other four usages and synthesizing a discrete new meaning as a useful term is how languages work and therefore cannot be otherwise than "fundamentally correct." Halfelven (talk) 17:00, 5 June 2009 (UTC)

Evidence for two distinct concepts?[edit]

Currently the article strongly reflects Dragonbones's viewpoint that there are two distinct concepts "semantic component" and "section header" which Westerners have conflated under the word "radical".

Can we produce any references showing that either Western or Chinese scholars have made a clear distinction between the two concepts and identified both? If not, it is WP:OR. --JWB (talk) 22:35, 2 June 2008 (UTC)

部首 Bu + shou, means literally 'section'+'head'. In the Kangxi dictionary, and dictionaries where the Kangxi order and number of 'radicals' are not used, this is the literal meaning.
As for the semantic component, in relation to Bushou, for the majority of characters, there is an element of a vague semantic relationship, since this class of characters are composed of "semantic" + "phonetic". It's easy to see where the concept comes from. For instance, the character 問 (wen : to ask) is classed under the radical 口 (kou : mouth) rather than 門 (men : door/gate), since 門 'men' is seen to be the phonetic, whilst the semantic, the act of asking, is mouth related. Dylanwhs (talk) 23:06, 2 June 2008 (UTC)

Yes, bushou is the Chinese term, but I don't know of a Chinese term referring to "semantic component" as opposed to bushou.

As for Western sources, which ones make the strong distinction between "semantic component" and "section header"? ( The example you just cited seems to support the case for one concept rather than two separate concepts. --JWB (talk) 23:17, 2 June 2008 (UTC)

Hi JWB, thanks for bring this up for discussion -- it's an excellent question. When I wrote that section I was not yet in the habit of heavily referencing things (my bad). But it's not just my opinion, and certainly not original research. Rather, it's a very basic, established fact, but one which has not been broadly disseminated to the English-speaking non academic audiences. I will provide clear references for you here and will then add some of them to the main page shortly (thanks again for the reminder!). Note that I disagree that we should be looking for 'Western' references. We should be looking for quality references -- such as those written by professors of Chinese rather than cartoon-laden coffee table books (especially those written by amateurs) on the language. My philologist mentor at the Academia Sinica's Institute of History and Philology introduced me to a book by Professor Woon, Wee Lee, University of East Asia, Macau, who writes in English for us: "It is important to note that the concepts of semantic element and 'section heading' (部首 bùshǒu) are different, and should be clearly distinguished. The semantic element is parallel to the phonetic element in terms of the phonetic compound, while the section heading is a terminology of Chinese lexicography, which is a generic heading for the characters arranged in eeach section of a dictionary according to the system established by Xu Shen. It is the 'head' of a section, assigned for convenience only. Thus, a section heading is usually the element common to all characters belonging to the same section. (Cf. L. Wang, 1962:1.151). The semantic elements of phonetic compounds were usually also used as section headings. However, characters in the same section are not necessarily all phonetic compounds. ...In some sections, such as 品 pin3 'the masses' (S. Xu 1963:48) and 爪 zhua3 'a hand' (S. Xu 1963:63), no phonetic compound is incorporated. In other words, the section heading was not commonly used as a semantic element...To sum up, the selection of a section heading is to some extent arbitrary." (p.147-8)
That should be clear, and adequate as a reference. It reflects the consensus of the academic community and is in no way a minority opinion. I imagine that the confusion primarily occurs among English speakers, because I have never seen this mistake made in Chinese language materials or among the Mandarin-speaking students or professors of Chinese here in Taiwan. The confusion is due to mistranslation of bushou into English using the same English word as that for the semantic component; it is not a fundamental confusion in Chinese. Once you have the same word in English referring to two concepts, (and especially given that for more than half of the bushou, there happens to be a semantic role), the confusion is inevitable, which is why the translation 'radical' needs desperately to be chucked in both cases or at least explained very very carefully. Note how Woon did not use the term 'radical' for EITHER meaning. This was an intelligent choice in order to help clear up the confusion, and one which we sorely need to emulate.
I can't quote every Chinese language source here for you, but I can assure you that consistent with Woon above, Chinese scholars use the term bushou to mean ONLY the heading under which a character is indexed, and use the term yi4fu2 義符 or xing2pang2 形旁 (and supposedly sometimes ding4fu2 or lei4fu2 in grammatology, although I've not heard these) for an element carrying semantic information. For more references in English supporting this, see for instance:
  • Qiú Xīguī (2000), pp.16, 246-7, and 244-6-- Note that in translating the Qiu, who is btw one of the most esteemed scholars in the Chinese world, the highly regarded Western scholars Norman and Mattos translated the yi4fu2 義符 / xing2pang2 形旁 concept as 'significs', not 'radicals', which shows they have a clue. (Qiu2, Chinese Writing. Translation of 文字學概論 by Mattos and Norman. Early China Special Monograph Series No. 4. Berkeley: The Society for the Study of Early China and the Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley. ISBN 1-55729-071-7.)
  • Woon, Wee Lee (1987) full reference is: Woon, Chinese Writing: Its Origin and Evolution. Originally publ. by the Univ. of East Asia, Macau (no ISBN); now available through Joint Publishing, fax: 852-28104201; email: jpchk@jointpublishing.com (attn: Edith Ho kit-sheung). Note: the Joint Publishing staff can’t seem to handle English titles well; be sure to send the author and title in Chinese by fax to get the right book: 作者: 雲惟利, 書名: 漢字的原始和演變.)
I'll try to add more references later if I haven't convinced you yet, LOL. Dragonbones (talk) 01:42, 3 June 2008 (UTC)
From Jerry Norman's Cambridge Language Series textbook entitled "Chinese", here is a demonstration of how the two terms should not be translated using the same word. Also, it is evidence that modern scholars do not use the term 'radical' for semantic elements (that's a very dated term); furthermore, like Woon, Dr. Norman clearly disambiguates the two concepts. Bolding is my addition: (p.68) "In modern nomenclature the semantic component is referred to as the signific..." and (p.69) "The Shuōwén Jiézì contains 9,353 characters (Liú 1963). Xŭ arranged these characters under 540 radicals or graphic classifiers. These radicals are elements which a number of characters have in common, and which can thus be used as a means of classifying those characters' graphic shapes; frequently they correspond to the charcters' significs, but this is not necessarily always the case." (Note the emphasis on the bushou being "graphic" classifiers and not "semantic" classifiers. A discussion of the various bases, graphic, semantic and so on, used by Xu Shen when deriving the bushou in the first place is not really in order here, but I would refer you to the article by Prof. Serruys, Paul L-M. (1984) "On the System of the Pu Shou 部首 in the Shuo-wen chieh-tzu 說文解字", in 中央研究院歷史語言研究所集刊 Zhōngyāng yánjiùyuàn lìshĭ yǔyán yánjiùsuǒ jíkān, v.55:4, pp.651-754.) Note that while some scholars stick with the word 'radical' as a translation of bushou, due to precedent, none in their right mind would call semantic elements 'radicals'. All the references to semantics as 'radicals' that I've seen have been internet entries by Western students, and the same goes for the even more egregious error of confusing 'radical' with 'element' or 'component' (leading to horrifying sentences like "phonetic compounds are made up of both semantic and phonetic radicals"). Oh, full reference for Norman is:
  • Norman, Jerry (1988). Chinese. Cambridge University Press, UK. ISBN 0521228093; 0521296536. Dr. Norman is at the Dept. of Asian Languages and Literature, Univ. of Washington.Dragonbones (talk) 03:19, 3 June 2008 (UTC)
The original page was written with a mixture of meanings of 'radical' in mind, including quite a bit simply referring to basic components of characters and not radicals in the major senses used. Thus, the page had grown over time into an obscene chimera reflecting various uses, without clarifying why the meaning was jumping from one definition to the next; editors are rarely prepared to tackle problems of this magnitude. In line with the extensive referencing which I have added, including quotes from various well-known professors in the field, showing the various documented uses of the term 'radical', it became clear to me that a disambiguation page was needed for the term. I have thus revamped the page to be such, stripping out all unexplained and unreferenced usages. However, it is also a basic fact that most people mean the section headers of a dictionary when they say 'radical', and as such, I have given this usage a prominent link in the first paragraph and created a new page for that particular meaning (retaining in the process as much of the good and relevant stuff from the original page as was practical), so that people can bypass the in-depth disambiguation. I have also repeatedly stated that section header is what most people mean when they say radical. I hope that by doing so I have achieved clarity of disambiguation as well as balance in representing the mainstream modern usage. Note that without avoiding using the word 'radical' throughout these two pages, such disambiguation is not easily achieved, so I hope editors will not simply start changing the carefully worded pages back to that. Dragonbones (talk) 15:41, 7 June 2008 (UTC)

Hi, I have delayed posting while doing more research myself, but I need to break in and say that splitting the page is a very bad idea.

  • There are not two separate articles in the other language Wikipedias. The corresponding one article in each Wikipedia has a name cognate to Radical, Key, or Bushou, and the other-language English Wikipedia link of each points back to Radical (Chinese character). Splitting the article will make consistency between various language Wikipedias harder, especially since there are bots that traverse the Other Language links and try to fix problems automatically.
  • Section headers of a Chinese dictionary is a clumsy title and section header is not a standard term in English for radical/bushou; I don't think I've seen it in any references either you or I have collected so far, and a quick Google search turns up only your usage on Wikipedia and mirrors.
  • There is also already the Chinese dictionary article which is a natural place for some of this information, but presently only has a brief paragraph on radical-stroke lookup.
  • Disambiguation pages usually separate completely unrelated usage of the same term in different fields, different individuals with the same name, etc. For example, see the existing Radical disambiguation page. For related but slightly differing usages in the same field, usually they are discussed together in an article.

--JWB (talk) 08:29, 9 June 2008 (UTC)

Hi JWB, thanks for the thoughtful response. It could be that the split was not the best idea; you and other editors can merge the two if desired. I would recommend against changing the terms 'semantic component', 'section header' and so on back to 'radical' however, because use of clearly different terms does help in the disambiguation. The text can say "section header (usually termed 'radical')" at the first mention, for instance, and then after that use the term section header. The term is precedented, but I can't check the exact source (Serruys at least, I believe) till I get home where my references are. Dragonbones (talk) 09:02, 9 June 2008 (UTC)
I'm not sure whether the split is a good thing, but I do think that the way it's currently split is actually the opposite of how I think the words are commonly used. In common English usage, though the concepts are often conflated, radical is used much more often to refer to the section headers (e.g., Kangxi radical) than to the semantic components of characters. If a split is to be done, I'd much prefer that the article currently at section headers of a Chinese dictionary be entitled Radical (Chinese character) while the article currently at Radical (Chinese character) be entitled Semantic component or something similar. —Umofomia (talk) 18:50, 9 June 2008 (UTC)

Resume split/merge discussion[edit]

I'd like to get back to the discussion in the above talk section.

Radical is simply equivalent to bushou. Etymologically the word "radical" was coined by Europeans using a poor analogy to roots in European languages, that are whole words lacking only inflectional endings for tense, number, person, etc., and nothing like the determinatives used in all the logographic scripts that are simply vague categories for disambiguation. The provenance of the word "radical" is not known to most users of Chinese characters and dictionaries, and the etymology is completely irrelevant to modern use. The word is like many words which were coined with a logic that no longer makes sense but has been forgotten.

As for the purported 'semantic' sense: Few people are trained in the origin and classification of Chinese characters, and even among the specialists, it is often unclear or disputed whether a given component of a given character is 'semantic' or not. This cannot be a basis for any fixed classification. As you (Dragonbones) have noted, the character classification scholars avoid the term "radical" entirely, except sometimes using it in its colloquial sense equivalent to "bushou", which is the only meaning the term is actually used for. The 'semantic' sense of radical does not exist at all in current usage, if it ever did, and the people who actually discuss whether character components are 'semantic' use other terms than "radical".

Radical and bushou both properly mean a component that is actually the head of a section in some dictionary or in the particular dictionary being discussed. The distinction between these components and other components that are not section headers is arbitrary and an artifact of paper book dictionary technology. The fact that students often ignore the distinction and simply refer to both as radicals is not "barbaric" as some pedantically complain, but simply reflects that the distinction is arbitrary and only useful as far as it speeds up dictionary lookup in some cases. (For unclear cases, dictionaries in fact often did include entries indexed under the "wrong" radical, with a pointer to the entry under the "right" radical to save space.) The distinction is even less useful with current technology which can look up characters based on any component, whether the "right" radical, the "wrong" radical, or not a radical at all.

The article should simply document radicals (=bushou) and their usage, and does not need to go over controversy about whether they mean "semantic" components as there is no such actual controversy. The split article Section headers of a Chinese dictionary should be merged back into this article or into Chinese dictionary. The article should also drop the tone of horror at "misuse" of the term to mean any character component. --JWB (talk) 03:17, 16 November 2009 (UTC)


Why does it switch to Japanese terminology?[edit]

Since the title of the article is "Radical (Chinese character)", why does it suddenly start using Japanese names in the "Type of radical and position" section? This seems out of place. Maybe it would be better if it had the Chinese names as well? Jww1066 (talk) 14:03, 14 August 2010 (UTC)

Possibly, but my understanding is that Chinese and Japanese classify radicals somewhat differently, and the section covering Japanese kanji probably does not apply in the same manner as it does in Chinese hanzi. —Preceding unsigned comment added by 76.164.248.148 (talk) 20:03, 4 January 2011 (UTC)
Regardless of the correctness of the actual information, the flow is screwed. This is the first mention of kanji anywhere in the article, and it happens abruptly and without explanation in a section titled "Type of radical and position" -- a topic which would seem to be equally applicable to Chinese use. 86.181.170.47 (talk) 03:43, 22 March 2011 (UTC)
Should use Bushou explanation of radicals, it is the Chinese form. Possibly use this as a reference page?Carmelator (talk) 08:43, 22 May 2011 (UTC)
Is the abruptness due to the split-off of Section headers of a Chinese dictionary? How about if that was reversed? --JWB (talk) 01:44, 23 May 2011 (UTC)
Not sure how relevant the article split is to this particular issue, but, while we're on the subject, I don't see any reason for the split. Everyone calls the "section headers" in Chinese dictionaries "radicals", don't they?. Even Section headers of a Chinese dictionary agrees that these so-called "section headers" are in practice called "radicals", but then says it will avoid the term, which is weird for a start. Why would you want to not call something by its usual name? And then this article refers the reader to Section headers of a Chinese dictionary for what it calls "the most common meaning of the term". Why would "the most common meaning" of a term not be explained in that term's article? It seems that some previous editor(s) have been of the opinion that the term "radical" is mired in confusion, and the only way to present the information clearly is to split the articles. I don't personally see why it's so confusing. Maybe "radical" can be used to mean some slightly different things, but one of them is these so-called "section headers", so why don't we just explain so in this article? 86.160.82.79 (talk) 02:40, 2 July 2011 (UTC)
I have made a couple of small changes that I think help present the article split in a better light. Mainly, I have removed the big warning at the top of the article directing users to Section headers of a Chinese dictionary for "the most common meaning of the term", which seems silly to me. This article always had its own section "Section headers of a Chinese dictionary", so the structure now allows a self-contained article here describing all the meanings of "radical" (including a summary of the "Section headers of a Chinese dictionary" meaning), plus a link to the main article on "Section headers of a Chinese dictionary" which thrashes out that specific subject in more detail. If I have the time and inspiration I also hope to cull some of the sound of axes being ground from this article. 86.160.213.101 (talk) 01:43, 9 August 2011 (UTC)

Character category; Questions about note in References section[edit]

All the way back on 20 March 2006, Dragonbones made an excellent suggestion on this Talk Page: Avoid the term "radical" entirely. I propose to make an attempt to do just that, rewriting the portions in question of the various articles that cover or mention radicals, semantic indicators, section headers etc.

This article is the place to start, and I'm beginning with baby steps, trying to ensure that when readers consult this key article they'll find a presentation consistent with what is written in other articles.

First, I'm tempted to be bold and revise unilaterally the current description of 采 as an associative compound, but I'll solicit input first. I wonder how anyone can doubt that 采 is a phono-semantic compound, with 爪 the phonetic indicator and 木 the semantic indicator. A comparison of the Old Chinese readings of 爪 and 采 makes this rather evident; see the readings given by Sagart/Baxter, the ABC Etymological Dictionary of Old Chinese, Starostin's database etc. (If 爪 as phonetic indicator seems counterintuitive, it's only because we're accustomed to seeing it in the role of semantic indicator.) Does anyone possess evidence that weighs in favor of regarding 采 as an associative compound?

Second, in the References section, a note runs as follows: When an etymon (original "root" form of a graph, such as 采 cǎi "to pick", in 採 cǎi "to pick") is analyzed alongside the remaining element(s), it cannot be said to be playing only a phonetic role. For instance, operating under the two misconceptions that a) all characters have exactly one semantic and one phonetic part, and b) each part can only play one role, many would mistakenly dissect 採 as comprising 扌 shǒu "hand" semantic and 采 cǎi phonetic. However, being the original graph, it must necessarily impart its original semantic meaning (showing as it does a hand picking from a tree) as well as its sound.

Two questions, just to clarify my understanding. 1) What evidence is there for the point of view that regarding all characters as having exactly one semantic and one phonetic part is a misconception? 2) Why must an original graph necessarily impart its original semantic meaning, as opposed to, let's say, a broader conceptual significance? (Evidence would be great, but simple logic will suffice.) Thanks. Lawrence J. Howell (talk) 05:51, 29 May 2013 (UTC)

Proposed merge[edit]

I propose merging Section headers of a Chinese dictionary, which was split from this page in June 2008, back into this article. Currently this article is a discussion of three meanings of "radical" and why you shouldn't use them. The first doesn't seem to be used by anyone, while the third is the one everyone uses, but they have to go to Section headers of a Chinese dictionary for the relevant content. Now it's true that "radical" is something of a misnomer for the part of a character used for dictionary lookup, but that's established usage, including in Jerry Norman's Chinese (ISBN 0-521-29653-6). While "Section head" is a literal translation of 部首 bùshǒu, it hasn't caught on in the English-language literature, and it's not our role to campaign to change English usage. The "radical" article should have the content readers will expect (currently in the "section headers" article). The article should also point out that these aren't "roots", and that while they're often also semantic indicators (which Norman calls "significs"), they aren't always. But these are relatively minor points that can be covered in short sections. Kanguole 15:55, 25 June 2013 (UTC)

New article needed in light of Japanese article[edit]

Given what is in the Japanese article, we need a new article or to seriously rethink the naming of this article

(ぶしゅ) is not even listed as Japanese hiragana let alone the katakana that modern English readers use to distinguish the ON-yomi of 部首.

Given the revisions to simplified Chinese and the teaching of Vietnamese under the Hanoi regime, radicals need to be re-thought as no longer "Chinese" except to the Chinese ... but this is English wikipedia !

please consult https://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E9%83%A8%E9%A6%96 and note the title as ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/部首

NOT "chinese" anything !

To view kanji as Chinese after the simplifications of China and Japan ( not to mention ignoring Korea and Vietnam) is like insisting on calling English "Gallicized Low-German" - which Anglo-Saxon + Norman French might seem to be if one were ignorant of the Danish and the Norse in the language at the time of the Battle of Hastings. Or calling English a "Low-German dialect with a half-Gallic lexikon" ( which standard English surely is at a first glance by an objective non-European linguist, given the range of variation across extant natural languages.)

What is more, contemporary Japanese can be taught to language-X speakers by varying the choice of radical - and indeed, various sets are used even to teach Japanese to English-speakers, as is the case with the 181 bushu used at www.quickkanji.com and the different set at jisho.org and the often invented set used by the very popular and successful Heisig "Remembering the Kanji".

"traditional Chinese radical set" would be only a section in an ENGLISH article on 'radical' for characters in CJK+Viet writing systems ...and then there is Okinawan ... or will Wikipedia declare that "colour" is written "color" in English ?

This issue is especially pressing as Japanese language chauvinism itself radically distorts an objective view of kanji ... not to mention the Chinese view of those characters used in China today which in fact have comes back to them from Japan.

Is there a non-European linguist who is neither Chinese nor Japanese who could be consulted ? Perhaps from India or from an Arab university ? From a Baltic university ? From Budapest or Helsinki ? Further: see recent work on Anglo-Franco-German bias in "scientific" linguistics since its beginnings up to and including Chomsky and beyond. Chinese-bias among native Nippon scholars is itself a huge problem which an editor needs to be aware of - unless we are to repeat the biases of E. Britannica, E. Universlis ...

G. Robert Shiplett 13:22, 1 March 2014 (UTC)

Actually it's a bit like calling the letters used to write English a Latin alphabet. Do you have a proposal? Kanguole 14:40, 1 March 2014 (UTC)
The title of this thread is "New article needed in light of Japanese article", but I wonder if it was meant to say "New article title needed". Certainly, I cannot imagine that we need a whole other article to explain the use of radicals in kanji separate from their use in the Chinese characters used in China. I agree that there should be more (i.e. some) mention in the article of Japanese and Korean issues/terminology; there used to be a section "Position of radical within character in Japanese", but it was not properly integrated with the article, and there was no explanation of how/why the information was specific to Japanese, and eventually someone deleted it. I don't personally have a problem with the present article title though. 86.160.86.139 (talk) 02:01, 12 March 2014 (UTC)

Possible Ammendments to the 8 phono-semantic compounds with phonetic part 也 (yě)[edit]

也 is a very complex phonetic component. Besides the examples listed in the table, it is also used as the phonetic component 'yi' for the following characters: 匜 扡 衪 訑 貤 迆 酏 釶 柂 袘 迤

I feel like this point should be mentioned, but don't know how it should fit. Steven Daniels (talk) 06:20, 20 March 2015 (UTC)

That table is offtopic for this article, as 也 isn't a radical. Maybe Chinese character classification#Phono-semantic compound characters would be a better place for it. Kanguole 13:12, 20 March 2015 (UTC)
I found this off-topic table to be confusing, which is why i moved it to Chinese characters#Phono-semantic compounds. --SelfishSeahorse (talk) 09:38, 20 August 2019 (UTC)

Example needed[edit]

"Usually, the radical is also the semantic component, but that is not always the case.[6]" Could sb. please add an example at least? --Backinstadiums (talk) 15:10, 14 December 2017 (UTC)