Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Cultural Conundrum #2: Computers, Characters, and Compatibility

In light of my last post, I think it is fitting to give you your one and only Chinese character (symbol) lesson and explain why it will be the only one you’ll be receiving on this blog.

There are some interesting things to learn about Chinese characters, especially how they were formed and why they look the way they do. Additionally, you can learn how to say them (some have multiple pronunciations), and you can see the logic behind how certain words are formed by pairing them together. Unfortunately, with the exception of this post, I won’t be teaching you any of this due to one little problem: your computer.

Most computers purchased in the U.S. don’t come with the Chinese language already installed. Want to know if your computer has Chinese installed? Here’s your test:


If all you see is a row of boxes, then you don’t have Chinese installed on your computer. If you see the characters, then read this post from a different computer if you want it to make sense :)

If you don’t have Chinese installed on your computer, it’s not very difficult to do. You can simply go to your control panel and download the language for free. But since most of the readers of this blog will never need (or want) to read Chinese, I won’t waste your precious time or hard drive space.

But WAIT! If you want to learn something about Chinese characters but don’t want to download anything, there is still hope!

Your computer is sitting there all smug, thinking to itself, “Ha ha, I’m going trap you in your English-centric world, and you’re never going to escape!”

Ah, but you’ve overlooked one small detail, Mr. Computer. The very box that blocks out the Chinese character
IS a Chinese character.

Behold, the Chinese character “kou” (pronounced like the “co” in “Coke”): 口

That’s right. This character is simply a square. But it’s kind of interesting. It doesn’t really scream “Chinese”…but it does scream. And it shouts, too. And talks. And whispers. And kisses. And eats. And hates the dentist—well, actually it likes the dentist, but it just doesn’t know it yet.

You guessed it. “口” is the Chinese character for “mouth.” And it makes sense, doesn’t it? It kind of looks like a mouth. As I mentioned before, you can actually decipher the meaning of some characters by how they look. This is one of them.

口 can also be paired with a whole array of other characters to form words dealing with your mouth, such as “sing” and “speak.”

So, this one time we’ve beaten the system. Your computer can’t stop us. I can write to you in Chinese, and you can understand it—though there’s not much meaning to the sentence “Mouth mouth mouth mouth….” But, hey, why not?


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