Was Chinese simplification a way to make the characters look less like pictures?

Sept. 20, 2011

Class 3

Berkeley Extension
425 Market Street
San Francisco, CA

Professor: Virginia Mau (pronounced “Mew”)

Notes taken and commentary (marked by“Note:”) by Jennifer Ball (because of the typeface which I must use to render the Chinese characters correctly, extra spaces are occasionally seen before and after apostrophes and quotes).

Pinyin on top, my pronunciation (Californian) on bottom

ao ei ou ui un
ow A o way wan
ai ie uo iu ün
I yay waw you you-in(g)
an en in
eng ying
ang eng ing ong

“g” sound made at back of nose

Traditional/Simplified (see below; the slash denotes traditional first when it exists)

Only examples of “R”:



入 口
ru4 kou3 (ru co) = entrance

老虎 lao3 hu3 = old tiger

Tone Sandhi (so we can all learn…)
From: http://www.shlrc.mq.edu.au/masters/students/raltwarg/di_tone.htm

“Tones vary based on their context. These changes, and the rules with which they are associated, are called tone sandhi. The canonical sandhi of Mandarin relate primarily to Tone 3:

1. Tone 3 + Tone 3: When two tone 3…syllables are adjacent, the first one changes to tone 2….This applies to strings of any length of tone 3 syllables (but may be affected by phrasing):

“would like to buy a good horse…”
xiang3 mai3 hao3 ma3 => xiang2 mai2 hao2 ma3 (Pinyin)

2. Tone 3 + Tones 1,2,4: When a third tone syllable is followed by a syllable with a tone other than third tone, it changes to a low-rising tone with the pitch contour 21. [Chao68] calls this the “1/2 third tone”:

“a good book…”
hao3 shu1 => hao1/2 of 3 shu1 (Pinyin)

3. Tone 2 => Tone 1: In a 3-syllable string, when a tone 2 syllable is preceded by a tone 1 or 2 and followed by any tone other than neutral tone, the 2nd syllable changes to tone 1:

“the third grade…”
san1 nian2 ji2 => san1 nian1 ji2”

An example of Mandarin speech from the same website:


“[Chao68] also indicates ‘morpho-phonemic’ tone sandhi, tones which change four different characters in different contexts. These are…the words for seven, eight, one, and not (Pinyin: qi, ba, yi, bu). Of these, the tone sandhi for seven and eight are ‘optional’, and I will therefore refrain from further explanation of them here. In citation form, ‘bu’ is a tone four syllable, and ‘yi’ is a tone one syllable. In connected speech, they both appear in tone 2 before a tone 4, and in tone 4 before other tones.”

This analysis of speech suggests that my earlier quote about Tone 1 being a “D” is incorrect. It is clearly more complicated than that.


  常 忙
fei1 chang mang = very busy

Kai1 = open bottle, lights on

开 心
kai1 xin1 = open
(That’s the official form of “heart” on the right; keep in mind that major characters have more than one form.)

爸爸 妈 妈 Traditional “ma1” character:
ba4ba ma1ma

Also, Ms. Mau said we can use a character which means “duplicate” instead of repeating characters.

I couldn’t find this online, so I asked my native-speaking friend, Ms. Lin. This is what she said:

“I learned this [character] from my mom a long time ago. However, I have never seen it written in a text book or any sort of formal writing. My mom calls it the lazy way of writing the second character. maybe that’s why you won’t find it in a dictionary. I just did a search, I can’t either. Other than seeing it in handwritten form…I haven’t seen it typed in text before. I don’t even think it has a sound or pinyin. Also, I believe it’s a rather ‘new’ character.”

爸  妈 
ba4ba ma1ma


This example illustrates the coherence Chinese culture. Here is a character that is not in any dictionary and it has no name, yet it is known. It only passes through word of mouth. This is why so much of Chinese can be understood by native speakers through context.

This character  almost looks like one of these two characters meaning “many” duo1: , except that the foot is cut off. So a truncated, single version could mean just one more. Interesting that the word is “duo” and you see two characters, which is consistent with our word “duo.” Chinese and English are much closer than most people realize. It’s all a matter of perspective. Take the “map view.”

Uncle: Why do you suppose it means “surrender”?

“Someone you don’t know, you just call ‘Uncle.’” A Ms. Mau quote, explaining the complexity of relationship names in Chinese, but implying that every strange male is “Uncle.” Perhaps this is why Milkah gave eight children to her uncle in the Bible. In a time when you didn’t know your father, every older male was uncle. Keep in mind that genetic testing now shows that 10% of the population tested thinks that their father is someone other than their father. Historians believe this number was a lot larger in the past. Why do you think means good? This is not showing “woman” and “man,” this is showing “woman” and “child.” An important distinction. Men weren’t paired with one woman until very recently.(and even now it’s often serial monogamy). means “child; midnight; son; child; seed; egg; small thing” (MandarinTools.com). Midnight might be the time when someone surprises you and implants a child. We exist because our ancestors liked sex.

哥 哥 Elder Bro: ge1ge (guhguh)

弟 弟
Younger Bro di4di (deedee) Based on the description below, younger brother has an “arrow” inside his “bow.” Read this as euphemism. That’s why you pity him.

related to: = pity “This character is supposed to be a picture of an arrow stayed on the bow [= bow], hence ‘to pity,’” page 74, Reading & Writing Chinese, Traditional Character Edition. Willam McNaughton and Li Ying.

姐 姐
Elder sis jie3 jie3 (jayjay)

Younger sis mei4 mei (maymay)

= not yet; did not; have not; not

She’s the kid sister because you’re not supposed to have sex with her yet. This “not yet” character is a tree with a cross that would seem to signify a barrier. Since women are often associated with trees, this is a tree standing in for a woman. According to China, A History of the Laws, Manners and Customs of the People” by John Henry Gray (America: Dover, ©2002; originally published in 1878), which I bought at the Huntington Library:

“In the beginning, so Chinese writers relate, when all was darkness and confusion, there came from a vast egg, which divided itself into two parts, a human being, who is, and has always been known in Chinese annals as Poon-koo Wong [and he made some stuff similar to God at the beginning of Genesis]….Then he called into existence the five elements of earth, water, fire, metal, and wood…Chinese writers say also that, in order to people the earth, Poon-koo Wong made a cloud of vapour rise from a piece of gold, and a similar cloud from a piece of wood. By breathing on them he gave to the vapour which arose form the gold, a male principle; and to that which ascended form the wood, a female principle. From the union of these two clouds or spirits, sprang a son and daughter….and the descendants of this pair…overspread the whole country.”

Adam and Eve are Gold and Wood. Note that wood is the last element. When do women get a break? They’re wood, they’re animals, they’re beasts. All because we have milk and bear children. Early man, besides being jealous, wanted to control that for himself. Which is why women still cannot control their own bodies in most countries, including the U.S.

Ms. Mau says, “Disrespectful to call your relatives by their actual names.” Much nicer and preferred to refer to relatives with relationship names. Claims kin this way, acknowledges relationship.

ji4 = to continue; to follow after; then; afterwards; to go on with; to succeed; to inherit

继父 jì4 fù4 step father

继母 jì4 mǔ3 step mother

Yì fù xiōngdì = Different parent brothers (Google translate)

xiong1 (A repectful term for “brother.”)

“Xiong1” is also a bear. In fact, “xiong1” is everything scary:

From: http://www.mandarintools.com/cgi-bin/wordlook.pl?word=xiong1&searchtype=pinyin&where=whole&audio=on

How many brothers and sisters do you have?

ni3 you3 ji4 ge4 xiong di4di jie3 mei4?
Do you have any brothers or sisters? (Literally “You have how-many ge-classifier big-bro small-bro, big-sis, small-sis?)

I found this character 計/计 = calculate
was also used for ji3 on the internet

幾/几 (jie3) = how much, many? Also means “small table.”

個/个 (ge4) = individual classifier (note that the simplified form looks like an arrow, which points to “these” individuals)

我有 一 个妹.
Wo3 you3 yi1ge3 mei4 mei
I have one little sister.

Wo3 you3 si4ge3 xiong1di4 jie3mei4.
I have 4 brothers and sisters.

Wo3 you3 liang3ge3 jie3.
I have two older sisters.
Er4 is only used for counting, liang3, meaning “two” is used in terms of relatives.

兩/两 liang3 = two
Here is a case where the simplified is almost as complex as the traditional. An even better example of this is next.

車/车 che1 = car; a vehicle; machine; to shape with a lathe
The traditional character is much nicer and easier to remember than the simplified, and looks like the axle of a car from an overhead view. This shows that the simplification process may have more to do with making the characters seem less like pictures and more conceptual in the mistaken belief that the alphabet is not pictures (please try to explain the B/V swap as anything other than breasts/vaginas: I dare you). Evolution of script has many pressures, some being societal, some being animal. When one dictator changes an entire script, it remains to be seen how long it lasts. In Korea, Hangul, the alphabet that Sejong the Great was created in the mid-1400s, and is still used today. One might argue that an alphabet is more addictive a writing system than logographic. According to Wikipedia, “Hangul was designed so that even a commoner could learn to read and write; the Haerye says “A wise man can acquaint himself with them before the morning is over; a stupid man can learn them in the space of ten days.”

東/东 dong1 = east
At least these characters have simplified in a similar direction. This character used to depict the sun rising through a tree. Now it would seem to depict a small car.

不知道 = (Bù zhīdào) – Do not know

沒/没mei2 = (negative)

我 没 有 wo3 mei3 you3
I (neg) have = I do not have

不 是 = Is not.
bu4 shi2

You never say “mei shi” or “bu you.”
Think of “bu4” as the sound of “boo” to a ghost with the meaning of “boo” to an errant sports team.

As Harvard linguist Deborah Fallows puts it in Dreaming in Chinese, Mandarin Lessons in Life, Love, and Language, page 119, “One way Chinese makes a lot of compound words is to glue together two antonyms, or opposites, into a new whole. This fits right in comfortably with the concept of yin yang, which still permeates Chinese philosophy….even today.”

有没 有 You3 mei you3?
Have not have = Do you have?

是 不 是 = Is not is = Is it?
Shi4 bu shi4?

Table for male & female grandparents:

father’s side mother’s side meaning note
father on zu3 fu4
 wai4 gong1
grandfather  gong1 = just, honorable, public, common
mother on zu3 mu3
 wai4 po2
grandmother  wai4 means “outside”

These days, “wai4” is not used because it means ‘outside,” and instead “gong gong” is “grandfather” (mother’s side) and po po is “grandmother” (mother’s side).

zhang4 fu4 = husband (“zhang4” also means “ten feet” or “3.3 meters.” Is this, like 10cc, a boastful statement about men’s height or penis capacity?)

qi1 zi = wife (chee-zuh) Like cheese? Women provide a form of cheese.

respectful terms for husband and wife:
xian1 sheng1 = husband, this is also used for teacher, either sex; literally means “first born.” Confucious is a xian1 sheng1 先生
太 太
tai4 tai Mrs., = wife or older lady with respect. (Implies she had children and clearly large breasts; see my other documents about the commonality of the double-T sound representing women and signifying for mammaries.)

Terms wife and husband say only to each other:
老公 lao3 gong1 (male)
老婆 lao3 po (female)

More terms for men and women:
女士 nü3 shi4 = lady 40s-70s (shi4 = “scholar; warrior; knight”)

服务员fu2 wu4 yuan2 = man in his 60s – 70s

= clothes; dress; garment; submit; take (medicine) = affair; business; matter

務/务 = affair; business; matter

員/员 = person; employee; member

小 姐 xiao3 jie3 = young lady not married; Ms. Mau says “Don’t say it; also means ‘prostitute’ in the 80s.”

同 志 = comrade
tong2 zhi4

tóng = boy

tong2 zhi4 ba1 = gay bar

comrade = gay (tong 2 means same, zhi4 interest, goal, will) 1 = gay, 0 = straight

美眉 mei3 mei2 = pretty girl (relate this to kid sister)

= America; beautiful, = eyebrow; upper margin

Nice things to say:

For men:

英 俊 苗 ying1 jun4 = handsome (of face)

= English, brave

= smart; eminent; handsome; talented

These are all jun4, the same character.
Keep in mind that they look different depending upon the typeface.


帥/帅 漂 shuai4 = handsome; graceful; smart; commander in chief; Ms. Mau says, “good overall body”

For women:
漂 亮
piao4 liang4 = pretty

 These are all liang4, the same character.
Keep in mind that they look different depending upon the typeface.


苗条 miao2 tiao2 = slim, slender, good-looking

= Miao tribe; sprout
“Sprout” is key here, because it is really a euphemism for breasts (buds) over the “field” (vagina). See “Meow” is just another word for “cat” for more info.

條/条= measure word for long, thin things (i.e. ribbon, river, etc.); a strip; item; article
So this is measuring the thinness of the woman, probably in relationship to her breasts.

性 感
xing4 gan3 = sexy (Ms. Mau: “not too good to say”)

= sex; nature; surname; suffix corresponding to -ness or -ity

= to feel; to move; to touch; to affect

xi1 yin3 ren2 = attractive

= to breathe; to suck in; to absorb; to inhale

= attractive to lead; to divert (water); to guide

cong1 ming2 = intelligent

聰/聪 = quick at hearing; wise; clever; sharp-witted; intelligent; acute

甜 胸
tian2 = sweet

xiong1 da4 wu2 nao3 = big boobs, no brains.

xiong1 = chest; bosom; heart; mind; thorax

腦/脑= brains

無/橆/毋/无 wu2 = not
All of these characters are related and mean “negative, not, lack.” According to Reading & Writing in Chinese by William McNaughton and Li Ying, this character 毋 is “a picture of a woman in irons. The relation of that to it’s present meaning is unclear.” I think a woman in irons pretty clearly means “don’t.” Ms. Mau says, “Wu2 is used for ‘not’ in poems and songs”; a poetic negative.

Business equipment:

da3 = beat; strike; break; mix up; build; fight; fetch; make; tie up; issue; shoot; calculate; since; from

shou3 = hand; convenient machine; opportunity; secret

機/机= machine; opportunity; secret

These objects take da3:
shou3 ji1 = cell phone

電/电= electric; electricity; electrical, lightning

dian4 hua3 = telephone

話 话= speech, talk, language; dialect

dian4 nao3 = computer (nao3 is brain, so this is “electric brain”)

kan4 = see (it depends; think; to see; to look at)

These objects take kan4:
dian4 shi4 TV

視/视= to look at; to regard; to inspect

dian4 ying3 = movie

= picture; image; reflection; shadow

傳/传chuan2 = hit with fingers (to pass on; to spread; to transmit; to infect; to transfer; to circulate; to pass on; to conduct (electricity)

These activities take chuan2:

dian4 xun4 = text

訊/讯 = to question; to ask; to interrogate; rapid; speedy; fast; news; information

dian4 you2 = email

郵/邮 = email post (office); mail

er2 = son
Note: er4 = 2, er2 = son; son is second generation from father; it is also depicted with two strokes

nü3 er2 = female children (“female sons”)

er2 zi3 = male children

er2 nü3 = children

Working on these two sentences. I must have written them wrong:
1) ni yao chi ge
2) wo mei yao er

This is what my friend, Ms. Lin, writes:

“(1) ni yao chi ge
what is ge? I don’t get it.

Do you mean this? ‘Do you want to eat food?’ In English, it translates as ‘What do you want to eat?’

ni2 ya4 chi1 shén2 me?
你 要 吃 什 麼 (me can be either or )

(2) wo mei yao er

Do you mean this?
wo3 mei2 you3 er2 nu3?

‘I don’t have son or daughter.’ In English, ‘I don’t have children.’”

= disperse, pay; support; branch

= skill

= prostitute

We are told that the right character (in this case, the one identical in both “prostitute” and “skill”) is solely phonetic and carries no significance in terms of meaning. However, I think it’s pretty clear that in this case—and I believe in many cases—the right character gives meaning as well. So does Geoffrey Sampson in Writing Systems, page 181, when he writes that radicals “are drawn from a small class, while phonetics are very diverse, so that most of the information (in the mathematician’s sense) is concentrated in the phonetic element of a complex graph.” This statement is the opposite of what most Chinese instruction would say, but I believe that Sampson is correct. The phonetic component also carries meaning. In the example below, the “disperse, pay” component from above switches to the left and ”power, capability, influence” (Chinese Text Project) is added, which really is a penis, and you get the meaning:

= totally exhausted

ji4 nü3 = little girl and prostitute?

ji4 nan2 = male prostitute

chuan2 = boat

chuang2 = bed

What do boats and beds have in common? They both rock.

shui2/shei2 (shay) = who/whom
Ni3 ba4ba shi4 shei?
Who is your father?
(Literally, “Your father is whom?”)

Pinyin quiz on today’s first page.

Chinese characters and definitions from:


Jennifer Ball

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