'Alphabetizing' in languages with ideographic characters

In languages where words are represented by ideographic characters (for instance, Chinese, Korean, Japanese) how are, for instance, book titles sorted for faster access (in a library, maybe)?


First of all, Korean is written with an alphabet, and it has its own alphabetical order for alphabetization.

Chinese characters are sorted according to the number of strokes in the radical part of the character. The one-stroke radical characters come first, then the two-stroke ones, and so on up.

Japanese kana syllabic characters are arranged according to their phonetic correspondence with the order of the Sanskrit alphabet.

I forgot, you asked about the sorting order of Chinese books in a library. AFAIK, Chinese library books are alphabetized according to their Pinyin romanization. The stroke-number order is used in Chinese and Japanese kanji dictionaries.

Sanskrit?? The Japanese transliterate words into Sanskrit to sort them?

Now Romanji, I could understand. I’m not being snotty here; I’m just genuinely surprised.

By the way, urban1z, a good book on Chinese for a Westerner who is curious about it, but doesn’t have the time or inclination to actually learn it, is Speaking of Chinese. I’m not sure if it’s still in print, but it’s worth finding anyway.

As far as Japanese is concerned, there is a sort of alphabetical order based on the pronunciation of words. Japanese contains the following phonyms:

n  wa  ra  ya  ma  ha  na  ta  sa  ka  a
       ri      mi  hi  ni  chi shi ki  i
       ru  yu  mu  hu  nu  tsu su  ku  u
       re      me  he  ne  te  se  ke  e
   wo  ro  yo  mo  ho  no  to  so  ko  o

The correct order would be to read from top to bottom, and from the right to the left (so start at a and read down to o, then move to ka.

Also, the “k”, “s”, “t”, and “h” columns can be changed from unvoiced to voiced consonents (by a slight alteration to the Japanese kana for the phonym) to become respectively “g”, “z”, “d”, and “b”. The change from unvoiced to voiced does not alter the dictionary order, so you’ll see words like “taishou” and “daishou” right next to each other in the dictionary.

Also also, the “h” column can be modified in a different way to become “p”. The result is the same as above, as far as dictionary order is concerned.

And that ordering for Japanese is based on Sanskrit, as Jomo Mojo said. See this page from the alternative sci.lang.japan FAQ for the history on that.

There is another (older and now less common) ordering in Japanese based on an old poem that uses each character exactly once. This is known as the i-ro-ha ordering, as those are the first three characters. For the full order see this page.

I believe in Chinese the ideograms are organized according to the number of radicals in them? It’s that way in Chinese-English dictionaries, anyway.

Sorry, poor reading comprehension moment.

…<snip most of five hour mnemonic song>…double stew, checks, eye, and tree,
now I’ve said my ray, bee, seas,
next time won’t you sing with me?

Chinese books and dictionaries are basically organised based on sound, eg in a Pinyin system the author Ba Jin would be before Lu Xun, or in the bopomofo (zhuyin) system Lu Xun would be before Cao Yu (l before c in the zhuyin system).

Dictionaries are either

  1. organised by radicals in ascending number of strokes, then
  2. by the number of strokes in the rest of the character, then
  3. by the initial stroke in that portion of the character (which follows a particular system: IIRC horizontal (heng) before vertical (shu) before “slant” (pie) etc)


organised by sound - see above.

I hope this helps!

As for libraries my educated guess, as a professional book sorter, is that no matter where you are, as long as you are within a system that uses a latin alphabet, things are sorted according to the sorting rules in that particular language (or library, or bibliography or whatever) depending on whatever transliteration/transcription system you use.