Radical (Chinese character)
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A Chinese radical (from the Latin radix, meaning "root") is a component of a Chinese character. The term may variously refer to the original semantic (meaning-bearing) element of a character, or to any semantic element, or, loosely, to any element whatever its origin or purpose. The term is commonly used to describe the element under which a character is traditionally listed in a Chinese dictionary, which is often semantic but may sometimes be a phonetic or merely artificially extracted portion of the character. When used in this way as dictionary section headers (Chinese: 部首; pinyin: bùshǒu), radicals form the basis of an indexing system that has classified Chinese characters throughout the ages, from ancient Shuōwén Jiézì characters to their modern successors.
Some academics have criticised the usage of the word radical because of its supposed ambiguity. At one time radical referred to the semantic component of a Chinese character, because most (but not all) dictionary section headers are closely linked with the meaning of the characters listed under them. There is a widespread perception that the character elements used as section headers are always, by definition, semantic in their role, but this is not always the case. For example, 木 ("tree"), a common character element with semantic purpose in many characters, is actually phonetic in the character 沐 ("bathe", "wash"), and the character's meaning-bearing radical is the left-hand element, 氵, "water".
Semantic roots 
The word radical is coined with the meaning "semantic root" (original portion, bearing meaning), from Latin radix, meaning "root". As Wieger (1927, p. 14) explains:
The inflected words of European languages are decomposed into radical and termination. The radical gives the meaning; the termination indicates case, time, mood. The first sinologists applied those grammatical terms belonging to inflected languages, to the Chinese language which is not an inflected one.
For example, 采 cǎi "to pick, pluck" is an associative compound comprising two elements or components, a hand 爫 (zhǎo or zhuǎ) picking items from a tree 木 (mù); that is, it is originally a two-part graph. Later, a redundant hand 扌 (shǒu) element was added in the traditional form of the graph to form the character 採 (the simplified version used in the PRC then dropped this extra element). The compound then comprised a later-added semantic determinative, 扌, plus what is now often termed an etymon (the original part, or "root"), 采. According to the coinage of radical based on "root", the etymonic 采 portion would be the radical, colored in red in Figure 1, though in dictionaries the character is actually classified under the left-hand element 扌.
Those who focus on the root meaning of radical (that is, those who equate radical with root and etymon) criticize other uses of the term radical. However, even critics of other uses of the term radical will generally avoid the usage of it in the "semantic root" sense due to the confusion over the term, instead calling such original graphs the original form, or etymon. One reason for avoiding this usage is that people may generally now refer to some other part of a character as the radical (e.g., 扌rather than 采 in the above example), based on the use of "radical" to mean "any semantic element" or the section header under which the character appears in a Chinese dictionary, as described below.
Semantic elements 
Since the radical of a European word is not only its root but also the portion bearing the core of its meaning, some have applied the term radical not to the original root of a character, such as the 采 in the above example, but to any portion bearing meaning. Ramsey (1987, pp. 136–137) uses the term this way, equating any "meaning determinant" with "radical". Wieger (e.g., p. 14–15) also used the term radical this way, for the "formal element which gives meaning", and divided components into radicals and phonetics depending on their usage in particular characters; e.g., he interpreted 木 mù "tree" as radical in 柏 bó "cypress", but as phonetic in 沐 mù "to bathe". In neither character is there an original root portion, as both characters were created as is, as phonetic-semantic compounds. To avoid confusion with the "section header" meaning described below, this meaning of "any portion bearing meaning rather than purely sound" is now generally termed a semantic component or element, a determinative, or a signific.
Section headers of a Chinese dictionary 
The term radical may also be applied to the graphic portion of a character (regardless of its role—phonetic, semantic, both, or none—in that character) under which it is listed in the dictionary, known in Chinese as 部首 bùshǒu (Japanese bushu, Korean busu). Section headers is the literal translation, but these are also known as dictionary classifiers or index keys.
This is de facto the prevailing usage of the term radical today. Boltz objects to the term, because of confusion due to the other uses of the term radical, meaning root and semantic component, as well as because most (but not all) section headers do happen to play a semantic role in the characters listed under them. As a result, there may be an implication that section headers are by definition either semantic roots or semantic components in those characters, which is not the case. There are numerous instances of characters listed under section headers which are merely artificial extractions of portions of those characters, and some of these portions are not even actual graphs with an independent existence (e.g., 亅 jué or juě in 了 liǎo), as explained by Serruys (1984), who therefore prefers the term "glyph" extraction rather than graphic extraction (p. 657). This is even truer of modern dictionaries, which reduce the number of section headers to less than half the number in Shuōwén, at which point it becomes impossible to have enough section headers to cover semantic elements in every character. In the Far Eastern Chinese English Dictionary for instance, 一 is a mere artificial extraction of a stroke from most of its subentries such as 丁 dīng and 且 qǐe; the same is true of 乙 yǐ in 九 jiǔ; 亅 jué or juě in 了 liǎo, le; 二 èr in 亞 yà and yǎ; 田 tián in 禺 yù; 豕 shǐ in 象 xiàng "elephant", and so on.
There are also instances of section headers which play a phonetic and not a semantic role in those characters, such as 臼 jiù "a mortar" in 舅 jiù "maternal uncle" (Shuōwén lists this under its semantic 男 nán, "male", but modern dictionaries, with only 200-odd section headers, simply do not have enough to cover a semantic for every character) and 舊 jiù "owl; old" (listed in the Far East on p. 1141 under the header 臼); 虎 hǔ "tiger" in 虖 hū "shout"; 鬼 guǐ (originally "helmet"), now "ghost", in 魁 kúi, "leader"; 鹿 lù "deer" in 麓 lù, foothills; 麻 má "hemp" in 麼 ma, mó "tiny"; 黃 huáng "yellow" in 黌 hóng "a school"; 羽 yǔ "feather" in 翌 yì "next" (Qiú 2000, p. 7); 齊 qí in 齎 jī "to present"; 青 qīng in 靖 jìng "peaceful", 靚 jìng "to ornament; quiet"; and 靜 jìng "quiet", and so on. In other words, although most section headers happen to play a semantic role in the characters listed under them, they are not fundamentally semantic, but rather, are somewhat arbitrarily chosen classifiers used to group characters for lexicographic convenience. As Jerry Norman (1988) writes (referring to semantic elements as "significs"):
The Shuōwén Jiézì contains 9,353 characters (Liú 1963). Xǔ 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 characters' significs, but this is not necessarily always the case. (p.69)
Professor Woon Wee Lee (1987) also explains:
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 each 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)
Simplified characters 
Simplified Chinese characters often contain radicals which have been simplified according to two basic rules:
- Replace several lines and/or dots with one line
- Replace the traditional radical with a small, unique portion thereof
The difference between the traditional and simplified version of the same character can therefore lie solely in the visual appearance of the radical. One example is the character for "language"; the traditional character is 語, whilst in the simplified 语 only the radical is altered.
Lists of radicals 
- List of Kangxi radicals
- List of Shuowen Jiezi radicals
- List of Unicode radicals
- List of Xinhua Zidian radicals
See also 
- Boltz, William G. (1994; revised 2003). The Origin and Early Development of the Chinese Writing System. American Oriental Series, vol. 78. American Oriental Society, New Haven, Connecticut, USA. ISBN 0-940490-18-8.
- Wieger S.J., Dr. L. (1927). Chinese Characters: Their Origin, Etymology, History, Classification and Signification. A Thorough Study from Chinese Documents. Translated from the French original ca. 1915 by L. Davrout, S.J., orig. Catholic Mission Press; reprinted in US – Dover; Taiwan – Lucky Book Co. ISBN 0-486-21321-8. p. 14–15
- Chinese huìyì (會意); also termed compound indicative, or logical aggregate
- Some of the oracle bone script graphs of this character show a hand plus a tree with small items on it, which are variously interpreted as fruits (Wú, T.L. 1990, p.200; & Luó Zhènyù 1958, p.177, cited in Wú) or leaves (Prof. Woon 1987, p.112; & Prof. Lǐ Xiàodìng 1970, v.6, pp.2005–13, cited in Woon) being picked; the items were eliminated in simplified forms in bronze inscriptions, leaving only the tree
- e.g., Prof. Boltz (2003 & 1994), pp. 67–8, who writes: "Because such determinatives came later to constitute a basis for lexicographic classification they are sometimes also called semantic classifiers. In modern parlance they are often inaccurately called "radicals". Given that they are, without exception, secondary accretions to an original graph, they are precisely not radicals, i.e., they do not reflect in any way the "root: or "core" of the graph."
- Woon (1987) p.147–8
- Boltz (1994 & 2003), pp.67–8, for instance, uses the term determinative here, specifically for the later-added semantic components
- Norman (1988), p.68
- Woon 1987, p.291 gives an extensive list of the various translations of 義符 yìfú: semantic element, radical, determinative, signific, signifying part, significant, significant part, semantic part, meaning element, meaning part, sense-indicator, radical-determinative, lexical morpheme symbol, ideographic element, and logographic part. Among these, "radical" and "ideographic" have both been strenuously objected to as misleading.
- 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. In the case of 陷 xiàn "pit trap; fall into", for instance, 段玉裁 Duàn Yùcái notes in his annotation of Shuōwén Jiézì (v.14, p.732) that the Dà Xú 大徐 edition acknowledges that 臽 plays the dual roles of phonetic and semantic in 陷, stating "从阝, 从臽 , 臽 亦聲".
- Boltz 1994 & 2003, for instance, uses this translation of "classifiers" for 部首 bùshǒu (p.68), explicitly rejecting "radical" due to its connotation of "root" or "core"
- Wieger 1927 p.14 uses the terms "keys of the dictionary" and "the 214 keys of K'ang-hsi" for 部首 bùshǒu, reserving the term "radical" for any element (not just the root portion) bearing meaning. Note that Shuōwén had 540 such section headers.
- Boltz 1994 & 2003
- Prof. Woon (1987) p.148
- Wú 1990, p.350
Further reading 
- Boltz, William G. (1994; revised 2003). The Origin and Early Development of the Chinese Writing System. American Oriental Series, vol. 78. American Oriental Society, New Haven, Connecticut, USA. ISBN 0-940490-18-8
- Norman, Jerry (1988). Chinese. Cambridge University Press, UK. ISBN 0-521-22809-3, ISBN 0-521-29653-6.
- 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 Yánjiūyuàn Lìshǐ Yǔyán Yánjiūsuǒ Jíkān, v.55:4, pp. 651–754.
- Wieger, Dr. L., S.J. (1927). Chinese Characters: Their Origin, Etymology, History, Classification and Signification. A Thorough Study from Chinese Documents. Translated from the French original ca. 1915 by L. Davrout, S.J., orig. Catholic Mission Press; reprinted in US – Dover; Taiwan – Lucky Book Co. Dover paperback ISBN 0-486-21321-8
- Woon, Wee Lee (雲惟利, 1987). Chinese Writing: Its Origin and Evolution. (in English; Chinese title漢字的原始和演變). Originally publ. by the Univ. of East Asia, Macau (no ISBN); now available through Joint Publishing, firstname.lastname@example.org (be sure to provide Chinese author and title).
- Wú, Teresa L. (1990). The Origin and Dissemination of Chinese Characters (中國文字只起源與繁衍). Caves Books, Taipei ISBN 957-606-002-8
- Xǔ Shèn (許慎) Shuōwén Jǐezì (說文解字), is most often accessed in annotated versions, the most famous of which is 段玉裁 Duàn Yùcái (Tuan Yu-tsai; 1815). 說文解字注 Shuōwén Jǐezì Zhù (commentary on the Shuōwén Jíezì), compiled 1776–1807, and still reproduced in facsimile by various publishers. The reproduction by 天工書局 Tiāngōng Books (1998) in Taibei is useful because the seal characters are highlighted in red ink.
|Look up Index:Chinese radical in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
- Chinese Character Radicals List of Chinese Character Radicals
- 汉语大词典部首表 a list of radicals in the Hanyu Da Cidian