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.


An Answer to Character Encoding Problems

A long while back I wrote a short series of posts on a small range of topics centered around the creation of characters, both modern an old. At the end of one such post, I mentioned that I had a solution to the problem, however I never got around to posting my solution, in part because I felt I couldn’t articulate the idea as completely as it seems to be in my head. Then a recent comment by 慈逢流 got me thinking an answer was fair. This post is my attempt to provide one.

The Problem: Limited Characters

There are a number of characters that have existed in traditional sources that simply cannot exist on computers today, at least not with any wide use. There are obscure characters like the rare family name ben 㡷, which is composed of 本 under 广. These are characters which are encoded in unicode, however unavailable at least on the device with which I am currently writing this post. That’s primarily a font issue, but it goes beyond that. A character exists, for example, composed 林, four times in a square format. Even if one were to create a font with this character, one would need to either have it replace another existing glyph, or assign it to a special use area and then do some fancy replacement string coding for it to be shown. Either solution is not really a solution. Font encoding as we currently know it is insufficient for the full range of Sinitic characters. Even if more glyphs were added to the Unicode standard, which is constantly being done, it is insufficient.


On the Limitations of Characters and Dictionaries

I have a few friends who are in the very early stages of character acquisition. As a result a few questions have come up, such as “how many characters are there?” which inevitably leads to the question of whether or not someone could just go and make up their own character.

So to illustrate, I bring your attention to a character allegedly created by Du Dingyou 杜定友 in 1914. Leading up to the May Fourth Movement, it was a good time for characters, seeing the invention of 她 tā (she) by Liu Bannong 劉半農 a few years later and subsequently popularised by our old friend YR Chao 趙元任 (Zhāo Yuánrèn).


Mr. Who? The long, long tail of Chinese names

I was schadenfreudically surprised the other day when a friend of mine, native Mandarin speaker, stopped short while reading through a list of teachers and asked her daughter: “Uh, what’s that teacher’s name?”

鄢老师!Yān Lǎoshī: Teacher Yān, of course!

One of the pleasant surprises in Chinese characters is how few surnames you have to learn, at least in the beginning. The common man isn’t called 老百姓 (lǎobǎixìng, roughly “old one hundred surnames”) for nothing. Heck, you can probably get away with a dozen, speedreading through business cards like, well, like nobody’s business: “Mr. Liu! Ms. Wang! Lawyer Zhang…”

But then the long tail hits. Continue…