Specific creatures in Chinese writing: fish, bird and rodent
Last updated: 18 Apr 2021
This article is part of a compendium of 3500 characters.
(This article has been converted into a course at this Facebook group.)
Please ensure you know these foundational concepts before reading this article:
- Radicals: indexing radicals, abbreviated radicals, improvised radicals
- Writing strokes: our 7 Stroke Types nomenclature
(“right down throw press dot rise hook”)
- Character construction principles: pictorial, semantic, phonetic, and combinations thereof.
Keep these 2 reference sources at hand when you read this article:
In this article, we will discuss 3 radicals that indicate specific types of creatures.
- Radical ‘鱼’ (“fish”, yu2, radical 177)
- Radical ‘鸟’ (“bird”, niao3, radical 114)
- Radical ‘鼠’ (“rodent”, shu3, radical 199)
Radical ‘鱼’ (“fish”)
The earliest form for radical ‘鱼’ (“fish”, yu2, radical 177) has 3 components: head, body and fins (4).
Standardized writing strokes bring us to the Traditional form of the character.
Simplified form simplifies the 4 fins into a single “right” stroke.
Character construction with radical ‘鱼’
This radical provides semantic construction. For example, in ‘鳍’ (“fin”, qi2, character 3446), where fins are found on fishes.
(TODO: See if we will cover ‘耆’, qi2, character 4419.)
Radical ‘鸟’ (“bird”)
The earliest form for radical ‘鸟’ (“bird”, niao3, radical 114) has these components: beak, head, body, tail (blue highlight) and feet (red highlight).
Another early form, a more complex one, features eye (blue arrow) and crest (red arrow).
The current form features crest (red arrow), eye (blue arrow), tail (blue highlight) and feet (red highlight). Note that the open square (opening behind eye) can be thought to indicate a small head, compared to the large head and mane of ‘马’ (“horse”, ma3, radical 58).
Compare this character with ‘马’ (“horse”, ma3) to avoid confusion between them.
Character construction with radical ‘鸟’
This radical provides semantic construction. For example, in ‘鸡’ (“chicken”, ji1, character 928), where “chicken” is a type of “bird”.
Radical ‘鼠’ (“rodent”)
The radical ‘鼠’ (“rodent”, shu3, radical 199) is pictorially constructed. The pictorial rodent is facing right (convention is left), with these components: head (red highlight), body, tail (blue highlight) and crumbs. Note the 3 dots around the head, indicating food crumbs. The head features an open mouth.
The head (red highlight) evolves into a shape of an open mouth with teeth. The legs (seen as 2 from side view) are arranged below the mouth to save vertical space. Further saving vertical space, the tail (blue highlight) is moved to the right of the legs. The food crumbs (now 4) litter around the legs.
Character construction with radical ‘鼠’
This radical provides semantic construction. For example, in ‘鼢’ (“mole”, fen2, character 6260), where “mole” is a kind of “rodent”.