Specific creatures in Chinese writing: fish, bird and rodent

More radicals that refer to specific categories of creatures

All creatures big and small (Bejeh Rebogop)

Last updated: 18 Apr 2021

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In this article, we will discuss 3 radicals that indicate specific types of creatures.

Radical ‘鱼’ (“fish”)

The earliest form for radical ‘鱼’ (“fish”, yu2, radical 177) has 3 components: head, body and fins (4).

Head, body and fins of “fish”. (zdic.net)

Standardized writing strokes bring us to the Traditional form of the character.

Head (blue), body (red) and fins in Traditional form for “fish”. (zdic.net)

Simplified form simplifies the 4 fins into a single “right” stroke.

Current form for “fish”. (zdic.net)

Character construction with radical ‘鱼’

This radical provides semantic construction. For example, in ‘鳍’ (“fin”, qi2, character 3446), where fins are found on fishes.

“Fin”, featuring radical ‘鱼’. (zdic.net)

(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).

Early form with tail (blue) and feet (red). (zdic.net)

Another early form, a more complex one, features eye (blue arrow) and crest (red arrow).

Eye (blue) and crest (red). (zdic.net)

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).

Crest, eye, tail and feet of “bird”. (zdic.net)
Current form for “bird”. (zdic.net)

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”.

“Chicken” is a type of “bird”. (zdic.net)

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.

An early form for “rodent”. (zdic.net)

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.

“Head” (red), “tail” (blue), “legs” and “food crumbs”. (zdic.net)
Writing strokes for current form for “rodent”. (zdic.net)

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”.

“Mole” is a kind of “rodent”. (zdic.net)

Jon writes technology tutorials, fantasy (a dream), linguistics (phonology, etymologies, Chinese), gaming (in-depth playthrough-based game reviews).

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