[From Bill Powers (2005.08.23.2036 MDT)]
I have found a marvelous resource: a Chinese-English dictionary that
can be accessed in Pinyin as well as English.
The root of this URL leads to many useful aids.
Of course I tried immediately to decipher the characters in the title
of my book in Chinese. Two early discoveries: the word for control is
zhi4, and for perception is zhi1 jue2 (the numbers indicate the tone:
1-steady, 2-rising, 3 falling from low then rising, or just falling
from low, and 4-falling from high. The characters check out with two
of the characters in the title, though I'm obviously missing some
details. It's not as interesting as you may think that "control" and
"perception" both contain the syllable "zhi" The tones are different,
and the characters that go with zhi are different in the two words.
Another discovery. As I said, the word for perception is zhi1 jue2
(that is, zhijue; it has two syllables). If you look up the
individual Pinyin syllables, the meanings are all listed with all the
tones. Zhi, for example has 105 meanings. Jue, the second syllable,
has 42 meanings. This would imply that these two syllables can be
combined to give 4410 meanings. But that is not the case.
Each meaning for an individual line in the dictionarysyllable is a
different character (I assume on the basis of an incomplete sample).
So what we have here are words being made up of pairs of syllables,
as well as each syllable having multiple meanings. However, an
interesting regularity shows up. Among the 18 meanings of zhi1, the
first syllable of "perception", only one of them pertains to anything
like perception: it is given as
zhi1: /to know/to be aware
The second syllable with the rising tone has 39 meanings, among which
only one pertains to perception:
jue2: /feel/find that/thinking/awake/aware
The only common term is "aware". So to perceive is to be aware, or to
be aware of feel?. I can see that I will have some explaining to do
about "perceptual" signals that do not reach awareness.
I'm beginning to see a structure in this Pinyin language. Each
syllable has multiple possible meanings (i.e., multiple possible
characters). Attached is the table generated by looking up jue. As it
happens almost all the meanings of jue go with the second tone; there
are only three with the first tone and none with the others. But the
meanings vary all over the place, with only a few near duplications (
like /dig/ for one and /dig/pick/ for the next one).
Obviously, for most words more than one Pinyin syllable is required.
The process is very much like intersecting categories. The first
syllable of zhi1 jue2 designates not a single meaning but an
arbitrary category many up of many different meanings. The same for
the second syllable, but the set of meanings is completely different.
So intersecting the two categories, as in set theory, results in only
a single meaning for the combination. Clearly, converting syllables
into meanings involves intersecting categories, with a limited number
of meanings going with single categories (when no valid second
Well, isn't this the case for English? We have fireplace and
firetrap. You could look up all the words that have "fire" in them
and list the meanings, which of course would be all over the map. And
you could look up all the words with "place" in them, and get another
long list, probably just as long as the attached list or longer. Each
syllable may have a meaning by itself, and each different combination
has different meanings. Many combinations of syllables in English
are, given their individual meanings, nonsensical unless you happen
to know the etymology.
What we lack in English is a unique character for each meaning. But
that may be true in Chinese, too. The two characters that make up
zhi1 jue2 are different from each other, and each one can be
associated with multiple meanings of the Pinyin syllable. However,
the key is in the number of meanings that go with each character.
Often it is just one, as in jue2: to chew, or in jue2: torch
(different character). Though the same syllable is spoken or written
in pinyin in each case, the characters are different. Obviously there
is enormous potential for punning, as well as for misunderstanding,
in spoken Chinese. I think I will chew my house for the insurance. I
think Martin Taylor or his wife commented that when conversing,
Chinese will often sketch characters in the air to clarify what
they're saying. Listening to the radio must be an adventure in wrong
interpretations. I should think that the danger of misunderstanding
must lead to a lot of stereotyped phrases that are long enough and
familiar enough to eliminate ambiguities.
I think the dictionary is misleading, after all this. It's not that
jue2 has a lot of meanings -- its just that a lot of words contain
this syllable, so the syllable's meanings given in the dictionary are
just lists of all the meanings of the words that contain this
syllable. A funny way to organize a dictionary. I suppose that if a
character has a single meaning listed opposite to it, that is a
unique character, but characters with multiple meanings given do not
have multiple meanings; it simply takes more than one character to
select which of the multiple meanings is wanted. So just as in
English, a word can consist of multiple syllables. I'm sure that has
been obvious to Martin and Bruce N. and others with some expertise in
linguistics, but it wasn't to me.
The language is looking somewhat less complex right now. I don't have
much progress to report, but Xulai (Francesca, Autumn Winter's wife)
says I am doing quite well at speaking correct Chinese (as good as
her parents, she says). So I have the talents of an excellent parrot
with a poor short-term memory, and right now it feels like a brain of
parrot size, too. We are using Gary Cziko's language facility at the
U of Illinois, which allows us to see and hear each other, and type
pinyin when I can't hear what Francesca is saying (being a bit deaf
doesn't help, but I can turn up the audio). I am very slow and
Francesca is very patient, so it may yet work out.
jue2.html (9.98 KB)