Tone is really important in spoken Chinese. And the way I’ve been learning, via Pinyin, being tone deaf can throw up some interesting conundrums as regards characters (and what they ‘mean’)
Perhaps simply learning character after character ‘for what it is’ would have been easier, but in order to render a word (known) from English into a Chinese character, my process was to write it in pinyin on the keyboard and have it converted into Chinese. Tones are VITAL for this process. Also, it’s kind of cool to know how to pronounce the characters. The relationship between reading and speaking and thinking and understanding is a deep one (beyond my immediate brief.
Pretty quickly when dealing with Chinese you come across the ‘issue’ of Wade-Giles and Pinyin. I’ve gone with Pinyin, not least because at least it was ‘invented’ by a Chinese person. But there is further possible confusion when trying to consider the classical/traditional and modern simplified characters. All of this is way beyond me at present, I’m just beginning on this journey. But at the stage I got to while writing All Moments, creatively, the ability to play around with what seem flexible ‘wordconcepts’ offered by characters was very appealing.
I know that, if my Chinese was better I might have a completely different view to things, but as a learner, struggling to make sense of ‘which character’ to use, I have been able to play with characters almost as one would play with ‘sounds’ - the tones affect the written character and if one doesn’t know the appropriate tone one can come us with some interesting character choices. The concept of the ‘typo’ in Chinese is therefore amusing to me (and pretty scary!) If you use the wrong tone, you find you’re saying a completely different word. And so, when trying to discover the most appropriate character, there’s many levels to explore.
Here’s some examples of the liminality between word and character as I have experienced it. (I’m using the world liminality just for my own amusement, generally I hate these kind of words are not within the basic lexicon - another of them - of the ordinary or non-academic person)
To a Westerner, wuxing and wuxin might seem pretty similar. However:
Wuxing The five elements -( literally five rows) is revealed in the characters 五行 whereas
Wuxin means Invisible or ‘no mind/essence’ (literally without shape) and is revealed in the characters 无 形
But if you use Wuxin with a different tone you the following it can mean to falsely believe which is represented by these characters 误信
Obviously, if you know the characters themselves, understanding how the ‘radicals’ and ‘finals’ are constructed you’d not make this mistake, but I’m interested in the flexibility of the word/concept which is represented through character (as we represent it in alphabetised words) And such flexibility (or confusion) became fundamental to my creation/understanding of ‘word dancing’ as a creative force.
I find thinking and working in Chinese characters very freeing (perhaps because I don’t know the ‘rules’ and so am free to experiment). Now, it must be said, I resist the ‘rules’ in English too, and that has always got me into trouble. I’ve found that stating one doesn’t ‘believe’ in either numbers or grammar rules tends to create something of a stir.
Here’s another example:
Wuji is a Daoist concept and so most obviously found in traditional Chinese characters (which I've not learned) 無極. It 'means' ‘without ultimate’ or ‘no ultimate’ , no limits’ or boundless… therefore, infinity. It's a very complex concept, and some suggest it's the original void, or the state of being before YinYang - the eternal nothing. It's really significant both to Daoism and to my 'story' but
when trying to find its simplified alternative, I struggled. So I looked where I knew. Tai Chi. This is composed of the ‘wu’ radical for 'no/without/empty' and the ‘chi’ from Tai chi [WG} or ji) [pinyin]
Thus I arrived at Wújí , rendered 无极 in simplified chinese. But is this the right 'tone'?
If you say wuji with a different tone, it means promise represented by the following characters: 无极
I’m intrigued by the possible connections between boundless and promise. But that didn't help me decide which characters to use for my Complete Balance 24 Forms. I may have 'invented' a version to suit myself. But I think that's in the 'flexible' spirit of both Chinese characters and my narrative.
Find out more about the theory, process and meanings - an exercise in creating a brain in a virtual vat.