Ryakuji in Mandarin

In Japanese they’re called ryakuji りゃくじ. In Korean, yakja 약자. The corresponding characters are 略字, pronounced lüè zì in Mandarin. They are the unorthodox simplifications that are seen in handwritten texts from time to time. They are not in any official list of approved kanji/hanja/hanzi, and you won’t really learn them in school. But they are used.

Think 仃 for 停 but lacking the authority once (briefly) held by 仃. Or, think of all those times you wrote 旦 in place of 单 蛋 or 弹 in your notes in class, because you couldn’t be bothered by all those strokes at the time. I know I’m not the only one to do this.

Some are included in Unicode, such as 㐧 for 第, but not all. Of those that are I rather like 㐰 for 個, dropping the 古 component altogether. Still a bit more than 个, but then I have my suspicions about 个. Of those only partially supported, the variation of 门 shown in the upper right is a personal favourite. The 门 ryakuji is actually in fairly wide use in Japan, even in official capacities, from what I’ve heard. Unfortunately some of the simplifications, even as shinjitai (read: official), aren’t all that much simpler to me. 両 isn’t much quicker for me than 两.

What I like most about these variations is that to me it’s a continuation of regional simplifications seen leading up to the May Fourth Movement on the Mainland. It’s 靣 for 面 but on a much larger scale in terms of acceptance. In Mandarin dictionaries, at least the ones that have such characters, they are called “vulgar” characters. They are the writing of the uneducated. I don’t buy it. They’re a grassroots simplification, standards be damned. It’s descriptivism in writing.

In fact I had just about given up on tracking down some concrete example of a Mandarin ryakuji, when the on Twitter I saw a tweet by Kane Gao giving me just what I needed. While in America, he posted this photo of a receipt from a local Chinese restaurant.

The receipt includes the line


We’ve spoken here about third-round simplifications* (3RS) before. They were simplifications that were reverted after only a short time. 街 became 亍 and 停 became 仃. You don’t see these often, but they are out there.

菜 was temporarily simplified to

12 responses to “Ryakuji in Mandarin”

  1. Jean says:

    The most complete reference I found on the different simplifications is in :

    If you can’t access blogspot, you can directly download the pdf file at http://std.dkuug.dk/jtc1/sc2/wg2/docs/N3695.pdf

    It uses the same 第二次汉字简化方案(草案) but the author (Andrew West) made a beautiful pdf for a proposal to encode these characters.

    According to this page (and the scans posted by Syz), 椒 was simplified as 茭 during this short-lived secound-round. 虾 was not simplified again. 萝 was not simplfied either.

    What I find strange is that 下 is used for 虾, but there is also a 虾 on this receipt, in 虾米粉.

  2. Carl says:

    I’ve seen Japanese teachers handwrite the simplified gate on the blackboard, but I wouldn’t call it “official” per se. You wouldn’t see it in signage or books, for example.

    両 on the other hand is official in Japan. 两 is never used. Actually, I’m a big fan of the Japanese simplifications over the PRC simplifications. The PRC ones all make the characters look half-finished. Sure, there’s not much practical advantage to writing 気 instead of 氣, but at least it doesn’t look like it’s going to fall over from lack of support!

    • WordPress is eating my comments. Twice on this post already.

      If anyone else is having this happen, please email me at kellenparker at sinoglot.com. Sorry for the trouble.

      My original comment/s were as follows:

      Hard to imagine how 下 and 虾 both got in there, either accidentally or intentionally.

      For 气, I think I like the shinjitai version 気 better than the fantizi version 氣, but 飞 doesn’t bother me at all unless it’s in a typeface that makes it left-heavy (like 乙 with a very short top line), and the jiantizi 气 doesn’t bug me much either, so falling over isn’t really an issue for me I guess.

  3. 慈逢流 says:

    “””In Mandarin dictionaries (…) they are called “vulgar” characters”””

    —they’re called all sorts of things: 古字,本子,別字,俗字,略字,誤字,異體字,通假字,簡體字,選用字 and so on. it is sometimes quite hard to see why a given character has been given the one and not the other label.

    “””I’m a big fan of the Japanese simplifications over the PRC simplifications. The PRC ones all make the characters look half-finished.”””

    —i can’t second that across the board, although it is certainly true for 广,厂,飞, and also a bit for 气, which is the only one i find acceptable. i never understood why it is found so important to distinguish 氣 from 汽 and not just leave it with 气. 氣 means ‘gas’, 汽 is ‘steam’, ok, but then why write 汽油? steam oil? the carburator or gasifier is likewise called the 汽化器, where 气化器 would be much more appropriate. also, there shouldn’t be a 米 below the 气, it should be 火, so only

  4. I rather like 號, certainly more than 号, though I always write 号.

  5. Walter says:

    The ryakuji for 门: What perfect timing! Why? That’s because while using the iPhone in English mode and using the Chinese input keyboard, that exact ryakuji for 门 is used instead of the “orthodox” version!

    I was looking around for something that could explain why Apple chose to be creative in their, erm, interpretation of the character, but couldn’t find anything. Well, now I know. Thanks!

  6. 慈逢流 says:

    “As has been pointed out by Zev Handel here before, this is actually the third round of simplification, and not the second. I don’t know why we keep calling it the second round. Habit, I guess. I’ve attempted to remedy that here.”—no need to remedy, it’s the official name: 《第二次汉字简化方案(草案)》, the publications from 1956 and 1964 being both counted as the ‘first round’. the 1977 characters are also known as 二簡字, so i guess it’s better to stick to that term.

  7. Kellen Parker says:

    You’re giving Apple too much credit. It’s not something they did or didn’t do, other than choosing a default font for kanji/hanzi that happens to use that variation.

    Yep. I could go either way on it really.

  8. Walter says:

    Hmm yeah, they probably just used a character set that’s around. Not sure why they chose that, though, because that particular character set has a lot of variant characters that deviate from the normal ones we’re used to seeing. Sometimes I hesitate a little when one of these characters pop up, or I try desperately to look for the character I want in spite of it being right there, but just in disguise. Hahaha…

    Would be funny if some phone application that teaches Chinese characters uses these characters to teach. We’ll probably be learning the non-standard ways to write them. :)

    Anyway, Apple uses a different font/character set if the iPhone’s language is set to Chinese. The variant character set is used when in English mode (and probably other non-Chinese languages as well).

  9. matt says:

    “they’re called all sorts of things: 古字,本子,別字,俗字,略字,誤字,異體字,通假字,簡體字,選用字 and so on. it is sometimes quite hard to see why a given character has been given the one and not the other label. ”

    I’m not sure all of these are always applied consistently, but in a good dictionary, they have distinct meanings.

    古字: Ancient form – a pre-clerical script 隸書 form.
    本字: Original form – an earlier form that differs from the present form.
    別字: Variant form – I’m not sure if this is any different from 異體字.
    俗字: Popular or vulgar form – a nonofficial simplification. This doesn’t necessarily mean uneducated, though – an educated person in imperial China would have used these forms for some purposes (such as legal case records, ledgers, etc.).
    略字: This is not really a Chinese term, but I think it is equivalent to 俗字.
    誤字: Incorrect character – while many might have used these forms, they (unlike the 俗字) would have been considered “incorrect” (at least in the eye of the person who uses this term).
    異體字: I think this is basically the same as 別字.
    通假字: Interchangeable character – this is when a character which is normally used to write another word is sometimes used to write another word, which typically has a similar pronunciation and related meaning.
    簡體字: This refers to the official PRC simplified characters.
    選用字: This has something to do with the official PRC simplifications, but I’m not sure exactly what.

  10. Zrv says:

    To me it looks like the people who programmed in the text for these receipts deliberately mimicked the handwritten shorthand commonly used by restaurant waitstaff. There’s no need for absolute consistency when taking handwritten notes — I’m sure 下 and 虾 are both frequently used — so it’s not surprising to find a similar inconsistency in the printed versions.

    Incidentally, some of the other example characters that appear in Kellen’s post were also in the second = third round of character simplifications, just like 仃. Jean already pointed out 茭 for 椒, but the list also includes 旦 for 蛋 and a modified 靣 — lacking the internal box — for 面. This isn’t at all a coincidence; many of these proposed simplified characters had their origins in abbreviated handwritten forms that were already in common use.

    For this reason I sometimes think of simplification as more or less equivalent to English writers deciding that, from now on, “nite” and “lite” will be official spellings instead of “vular” forms, and “its” and “it’s” will both be written the same way (“its”) from now on. That is, it’s not so much the invention of new graphs for the script as the officialization of unofficial graphs.

  11. […] errors in writing: it’s possible that the examples I listed are not errors but are actually an accepted form of shorthand. In other words, it’s possible that non-dictionary matching characters in the recipe I gave […]

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