Chinese: New (Written) Words

Q about Chinese and other languages that don’t use alphabets but have shapes representing whole words. Suppose a new word comes into the language. Who gets to decide how it should be written? And how does a person encountering a new word (whether recently invented or simply not previously encountered) figure out how it is pronounced?

I am (vaguely) aware that the shapes used are not randomly constructed, and may be combinations of other pre-existing shapes that have known meanings. Still, it seems like it would be hard to figure out.

A lot of new Chinese words are written with a combination of existing characters.

Train, for example, might be written with the characters for transportation and mechanical (I don’t actually remember what it’s composed of).
You would pronounce the word with the pronunciations of the composite charters (You might modify the pronunciations a bit for pronounceablity, though)

I’m sure that someone who actually knows a Chinese language will come along and give real examples soon enough.

Words these days are usually made up of older words–in English these are either compounds of existing words or borrowed words from Greek or Latin, etc. Rarely does a neologism consist of a previously completely random assortment of letters, a la “kwijibo”
Chinese will make a compound word and use the respective characters or may take some word from Classical Chinese and use the existing characters for that.

the word for** “movie”** in Chinese literally translates to “electric shadows”—both pre-existing words. (Electric probably comes from some poetic classical Chinese word lightening or spark or something)

First word “fire,” second word “car” or “cart.”

To the extent that this is true, then Chinese effectively has evolved into an alphabet-based language, just an alphabet that has thousands of “letters”.

I don’t think this is true. The ideographs in Chinese still have meaning. There is no meaning to the letter ‘B’.

From Wikipedia:
‹B›started as a pictogram of the floorplan of a house in Egyptian hieroglyphs or the Proto-Sinaitic alphabet. By 1050 BC, the Phoenician alphabet’s letter had a linear form that served as the beth.

So technically you could say that “B” has the meaning of floorplan.

But no one knows that meaning, and seeing the letter B doesn’t conjure up the ancient literal meaning of the character. But it does in Chinese–if “train” is written by combining the characters for “fire” and “car”, the reader can still see the literal meaning of the “fire” part and the 'car" part.

True, but on the other hand Chinese has built up a large inventory of radicals which are parts of characters. Based on the radical and where it is in a character, you can devine some meaning without any prior knowledge of the character. For example, the character 们 is made up of two parts, 亻 and 门. 亻is a variant of 人, meaning “person” and 门 is the character for gate, pronounced “men” (as in Tianamen square - 天安广场 , “Gate of the Heavenly Peace”).
Since 门 is on the right, it is a phonetic element, giving an indication to pronuciation. 亻being on the left gives an indication to its meaning. All together then, we know that 们 is a character that has to do with people and sounds like “men”. A Chinese person then should realize what the character means (it’s a plural marker for personal pronouns.)

A new character could be created in a similar way using existing radicals if needed. So in that sense, radicals are a lot like letters.

Nope. It had the meaning in another language long ago. Today, it’s a letter in an alphabet and has no intrinsic meaning.

“B” also has the intrinsic meaning of “second in a series” as in, “I have two points to make: A, this one, and B, that one.”

I know it’s my fault not yours, but it’s funny (chuckle, not guffaw) how uninformative your post is when every Chinese character is rendered as an identical square box. It’s almost like Python or Who’s on first?.

I came in here for an argument, this is just contradiction!:slight_smile: