2012-04-04

Blogging from A to Z April Challenge (sort of)

Every year in April, several blogs participate to the A-Z April Alphabet Blogging Challenge, which consists in writing every day a post that starts with a letter of the alphabet, and in the order of the alphabet.
I have toyed with the idea of creating a 'Blogging from 一 to 龠 challenge' myself, but it would last ⅔year because of the sheer number (214) of Chinese radicals...

For those unfamiliar with the intricacies of the Chinese language, I will write a few words about sorting order in Chinese.

Chinese is not an alphabetic language, and the two native Chinese initiatives at alphabetising the language for ordering purposes, Zhùyīn fúhào and Pīnyīn, both date from the 20th century and are hence unknown in Imperial China — and thus in your Celestial Empire game.




So how did the Chinese order their documents, their books, etc. and the names within the books themselves, before the 20th century? There were two main systems in use.

The first system is aimed at ordering tomes, much like we do with 1, 2, 3... or I, II, III... This system is based on two sets of Chinese characters specifically designed for reckoning and called 'the ten heavenly stems and the twelve earthly branches' (gānzhī 干支). The ten heavenly stems used alone: 甲, 乙, 丙... are equivalent to our numbering method 1, 2, 3... but only enable to number up to 10 since there are only ten such characters. If the amount of items to be numbered is >10, then the ten heavenly stems and the twelve earthly branches are used in combination: 甲子, 乙丑, 丙寅... The first term combines the first heavenly stem with the first earthly branch; the second term combines the second heavenly stem with the second earthly branch; this continues, generating a total of 60 different terms (the least common multiple of 10 and 12), after which the cycle repeats itself. This sexagesimal cycle is closely related to the sexagenary cycle mentioned on p15 of TCE.

The second system is aimed at collation, much as we do when ordering names according to their first letter: Alice, Bob, Charlie... This system is based on the elements that constitute a Chinese character. I won't go into too much detail here, but it is sufficient to know that amongst the many elements that make up a Chinese characters, there is a unique one that is called its radical, e.g., the character 安 (ān, 'peace') is made up of two elements, 宀 and 女, the former being the radical. The radical 宀 is radical No.40 in the canonical order of radicals. So any word or name starting with the character 安 will find itself collated with any other words or names that start with a character having 宀 as its radical — thus after words or names starting with a character having a radical in the 1-39 range, and before any other words or names that start with a character having a radical in the 41-214 range.
Within the words or names starting with a character having 宀 as its radical, there is a further sub-ordering based on the number of strokes that make up the character: 安 is made up of the radical 宀 and of the element 女, written with three strokes. Thus words or names starting with 宊 (radical 宀 + an element made up of four strokes) would be listed after 安, whereas words or names starting with 宄 (radical 宀 + an element made up of two strokes) would be listed before 安.

Now you can start and use this post to devise language-based riddles and enigmas in your TCE games :)

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