- Nov 2021
Huang, who has a background in paleography, warns that many characters do not function as a “signific,” a linguistic term indicating a relationship to the word’s meaning. Additionally, the meanings of numerous characters changed over time, or they were “loaned” to other words with separate meanings. Even though more than 86 percent of characters have radicals that also function as significs, Huang encourages teachers to understand some of the exceptions, saying, “It is all right for Chinese teachers not to lecture on these, but they have to know them because students may ask.”
More than 86% of characters in Chinese function as significs, a linguistic term indicating an association to the word's meaning. Sometimes these meanings can change with time and drift from original meanings.
The drift can be interesting and important from the perspective of historical linguistics as well as to give clues to changes in culture.
An example in English might be the use in computer user interfaces that include telephone handset images or old 3.5" floppy disk images used to respectively indicate "call" or "save" despite the fact that these items have either changed shape or are no longer commonly used.