Chinese "alphabetic" order

How do the Chinese (and any other non-alphabetic, ideogramatic culture) file their documents? In what order a Chinese dictionary displays the words? In which way their life is diffent from ours, by not having a alphabetic language?

According to my really spiffy Oxford English Chinese dictionary:

For single character words:

First, by alphabetical order of their spelling in pinyin, the Latin alphabet spelling of their pronunciation.

Then, by tone in the order: Steady, Rising, Falling-rising, Falling.

Then, if the characters are spelled and pronounced identically, by the first stroke of the character in the order: dot, horizontal, vertical, left falling diagonal, turning strokes.

Multiple character entries:

Grouped by the first character and listed under the first character in alphabetical order of pronunciation.

This is Part I, answering your second question, so I don’t get trumped in a simulpost.

–John, First Year Chinese Student

'Twis brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gymble in the wabe.
Mimsy were the borogroves,
And the momeraths outgrabe.

Outstanding answer, Yue Han; however, [channelling Paul Harvey (sp?)] the rest of the story follows.

What Yue Han described above is for dictionaries which use the PinYin system. There are three other systems in use:

(1) Traditional Radical Indexing. This isn’t an older version of the Weathermen; it’s a grouping of characters by their predominant element. “Predominant” is sometimes arbitrarily assigned since this is based on Tradition and not anything else.

(2) Chinese Syllabary (I can’t recall the name at the moment). This is pretty well akin to an Alphabetic indexing, but it orders the words placed on the established order of the syllables. In this particular case, it should be “decreed order” as this is a very recent system.

(3) SKIP. That stands for Simplified Kanji Indexing by Pattern. As the name implies, it’s designed originally for looking up the Chinese characters used in Japanese writing. All characters are divided into one of four classes and then a simple counting of strokes in the elemental divisions is conducted. This is quite rapid and very easy to learn.

Incidentally, there was a book a few years ago, THE ALPHABET EFFECT, that indicated that the lack of a clear alphabetical order in Chinese led to problems. For one thing, bureaucracies became entrenched, since you couldn’t fire the people who kept the records; it could take years to find things, and people tended to have their own personal idiosyncracies and systems.

“What we have here is failure to communicate.” – Strother Martin, anticipating the Internet.

“Yue Han” is the Chinese pronunciation of the Latin (?) name “John”, where “J” carry the “Y” sound.

By the way, I believe Yue Han’s post actually answers the OP’s first question, if you just disregard the “multiple character entry” part, and simply re-iterate the first part for as many times as necessary. That is, take the first word, follow the three rules, then move on to the next word if there are still similar entries.

Monty’s post is excellent as well, but I’d just like to add a little bit to it. For the majority of Chinese dictionaries (and I dare say over 90%), they list the words in what Monty referred to as “Traditional Radical Indexing”. The basic layout consists of the predominant elements being listed in acsending order of the number of strokes required to write them. Under each element, all the words belonging in its family are again sorted in ascending order of strokes. An index at the front of the dictionary will list all the predominant elements, very much like the way chapters are listed in a book. This method, however, requires that you know how to write a word in order to find it, but sometimes you can only remember the pronunciation or maybe you can’t figure out what the predominant element is. To compensate for this, all dictionaries have an index of all the words at its end, either listed in the way Yue Han has described, or the “Chinese Syllabary” Monty has mentioned, whose proper name I can’t recall either :stuck_out_tongue:

As for RealityChuck’s post, I can neither confirm or deny it, although it does found fairly reasonable. I’m under the impression that the Chinese never found it that difficult to file and retrieve their documents, but perhaps that’s because they didn’t have the oppurtunity for making comparisons.

John is an English name. The Latin version would be Johannes. It goes back to Hebrew.

Er… why are we talking about my name? Not that I mind, it’s just that Zor suddenly started talking about as if answering a question that had been asked.

And yeah, Latin Johannes=English John(my IRL name)=Chinese Yue Han(My assigned name for Chinese class, as well as my name here)


Yue Han, if you don’t mind me asking, are you taking Chinese at the high school level? (IIRC, you’ve mentioned that you’re 16 in another thread.) If so, I’m really surprised–unless you’re in Vancouver or San Francisco, maybe.


Ok, fellows, that’s a cute discussion about names and ages, but nobody really answered an important part of my question: how do they file their documents (in school, in libraries, in the army, and so on) ? Please, help me out of my millenary ignorance. Thank you very much .

I’ll make a few calls on Monday to see what the answer to that one is for the Consulates here. But, just to put the filing thing in perspective, the US Navy and the US Coast Guard use a system known as Standard Subject Identification Code (SSIC). Although, we use an alphabetic language, all documents are (or at least are supposed to be) filed in numerical order of the SSIC assigned to it.

DHR: Actually, I live in Indiana. But I attended an honors high school at BSU.(Not bragging. This is only the 3rd time I’ve mentioned my school’s gifted and talented slant since joining the board a while ago)

The school offers a lot of languages you can’t get in an ordinary high school; we have spanish, french, german, russian, japanese, and chinese. At my old high school, (This school is res and its only for jr & sr. years) only frenchy and spanish were offered.

I really like Chinese; I’m actually tryingt to find a career where I would use it. The program here is really good; the teacher is both a Linguistics prof and native Chinese.

Sorry, Cmoreno. Hey. at least your thread is staying at the top, huh?


I am lucky that Monty is so tenacious and persistent in helping me with my question. However, about the SSIC, I must say that somewhere, in the deepest stratum of this system,there must be an alphabetic organization, or the data retrieval would be impossible. Or so I think.

Nope, CM; the SSIC is a strictly numerical indexing system. One takes the Subject line of the document in question, and then decides which is the best SSIC to assign it. “Awards for Military Members” falls under 1650 and thus any document with such a subject line, or conceivably similar subject line, falls into that SSIC and is filed by that number.

Here’s a nifty link for you (my thanks to the United States Coast Guard for this):

You are damn right, Monty: your Coast Guard link was a tremendous surprise to my incredulous eyes. At first, I thought the SSIC was something like the library’s Dewey classification. However, browsing through the site, I was amazed when I saw that, in order to find the code number for “Fraud and Irregularities”, for instance, I had to read, in the Main Title “Logistics”, in the Sub Title “Contracts”, only 65 (I counted) entries, in non-alphabetical ordering. I understand that a computer search would find it instantly; even a trained human would arrive to it easily. But this system deals with a limited subject. Let’s go back to China: I can not imagine the Red Army records, for instance! One million Smiths, two million Joneses, three million Huangs, etc. How do they manage to find a specific individual? I may seem a little stubborn, but I really do not believe a numeric system would do here. Anyway,I learned a lot from your link. Thanks.

CM: I’ll also query the Chinese consulates tomorrow on how they find particular individuals.

At the moment, my guess (and it’s not a WAG given that my ex-wife is from Seoul and her mother is from some village just outside of Peking/Beijing) is that they use something along the following lines:

1st: Family name combined with home village (of family). Since the family name comes first, that’s why I’m listing it here.

2nd: Generation name after family name. This immediately follows the family name, and, at least for my ex’s family, everyone in the clan born in that generation had the same generation name.

3rd: Personal name.

But since this is still Sunday, y’all will have to wait until tomorrow for an update from me. I’ll call the following consulates/embassies for information on this stuff:

(a) Peoples Republic of China,
(b) Republic of China (Taiwan),
© Singapore,
(d) Malaysia,
(e) Indonesia,
(f) Not a governmental outfit, but what the hey: a few of the family associations in Chinatown in San Francisco.