Youbian dubian

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Youbian dubian (simplified Chinese: 有边读边; traditional Chinese: 有邊讀邊; pinyin: yǒu biān dú biān; literally: "read the side if any"), or dubanbian (simplified Chinese: 读半边; traditional Chinese: 讀半邊; pinyin: dú bàn biān; literally: "read the half"), is a rule of thumb people use to pronounce a Chinese character when they do not know its exact pronunciation. A longer version is youbian dubian, meibian duzhongjian (有邊讀邊,沒邊讀中間 lit. "read the side if any; read the middle part if there is no side").

Around 90% of Chinese characters are phono-semantic compounds that consist of two parts: a semantic part (often the radical) that suggests a general meaning (e.g. the part [shell] indicates that a character concerns commerce, as people used shell as currency in ancient times), and a phonetic part which shows how the character is or was pronounced.

The phonetic part represents the exact or almost-exact pronunciation of the character when the character was first created; characters sharing the same phonetic part had the same reading. Linguists rely heavily on this fact to reconstruct the sounds of ancient Chinese. However, over time, the reading of a character may be no longer the one indicated by the phonetic part due to sound change and general vagueness.[1]

When one encounters such a two-part character and does not know its exact pronunciation, one may take one of the parts as the phonetic indicator. For example, reading (pinyin: yì) as zhǐ because its "side" is pronounced as such. Some of this kind of "folk reading" have become acceptable over time - listed in dictionaries as alternative pronunciations, or simply become the common reading. For example, people read the character ting in 西門町 (Ximending) as if it were ding. It has been called a "phenomenon of analogy", and is observed in as early as the Song Dynasty.[2]


  1. ^ Cf. Qiu Xigui, Chinese Writing, trans. Gilbert L. Mattos and Jerry 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, 2000, §8.6.
  2. ^ Zhu Jianing 竺家寧, "Songdai yuyin de leihua xianxiang" 宋代語音的類化現象, in Jindai yin lunji 近代音論集, Taipei: Taiwan xuesheng shuju, 1994, pp. 159-172.

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