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If you look at the character 姜, it seems like the top part is ⺷ and the bottom is 女, however some sources, Chinese-Characters, HanziJS and Wikimedia Commons show the phonetic radical as 羊.

I'm the creator of HanziJS and use the data created by Gavin Grover for decomposition. This is why I'm asking. I want to understand why there could be a discrepancy in the decomposition.

The Chinese Characters's page also mentions a term "apparent" components, which seems to refer to the original decomposition of the characters. However, in terms of phonetic radicals, it seems 羊 would be more suitable in determining the pronunciation than ⺷, which seems to be an archaic character. The Chinese wiktionary page says that, ⺷, is made up of 羊. Now it's getting confusing!

I have heard that some have also suggest that the top part is 美?

What would be the correct decomposition and why are there discrepancies? What will a native Chinese person say when asked what components 姜 is made up of?

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Welcome to Stack Exchange, CL. The character you're asking about didn't seem to be encoded properly, so I guessed that it was ⺷. You can roll back my edit if I'm mistaken. –  Don Kirkby May 4 '12 at 16:56

2 Answers 2

I'm also finding conflicting sources. For example according to the reference work Chinese Characters: A Genealogy and Dictionary it's also 羊 + 女.

Similarly, still in the same work, 美 is 羊 + 大.

Often when characters are combined they are slightly changed to make the character more compact and I think that is what has happened here.

However when I look at the following online Classical Chinese dictionary they say that it is ⺷ + 女. However if you look at the seal script of 羊 on the same site and compare it with the seal script of 姜 you'll clearly see the 羊. Also from the ⺷ page, one can interpret that the character ⺷ isn't that old. So it seems more likely that it indeed comes from 羊.

I could be wrong about this, but I think the average Chinese doesn't care about how the character is made up. Their way of learning them is to drill them (rote learning), not by trying to see how there are made-up.

EDIT: I have been doing some more searching and actually ⺷ is 羊, but in radical form. See for example unicodelookup.com. So it doesn't exist as a separate character, but is used when it is used as a radical. Similarly as 手 is changed when used as a radical in 打.

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The link to unicodelookup is apparently altered automatically after submitting it and turns into an incorrect link. Is should be unicodelookup.com/#⺷/1 –  BertR May 4 '12 at 17:07
    
I was able to correct it in the original submission –  BertR May 4 '12 at 17:09
    
BertR, I fixed the link and slightly changed one or two to make the text feel more fluid. :) –  Alenanno May 4 '12 at 17:14
1  
I think it's worth pointing out that (and as well, I believe) were just pictograms of people with headdresses. The analysis of being 羊/⺷ + whatever is post-hoc. However, it's still a relevant what a.) regular people and b.) dictionaries usually say. –  Stumpy Joe Pete Jun 20 '12 at 17:53

In short, ⺷ could be a variant of 羊 in the past, and is the radical form of 羊 when written in the upper of a character.

Historically, ⺷ could be used as 羊 with the same meaning and pronunciation. 《字彙補》, a Qing Dynasty dictionary, gave the definition 『⺷,疑羊字之訛。』 that ⺷ could be a (possibly erroneous) variant of 羊. While Jin Dynasty's 《四聲篇海》 thinks that the pronunciation should be ren4 but still has the same meaning (『⺷,如甚切。稍長亦羊也。』).

As BertR has mentioned, ⺷ is the radical form of 羊. But it is only used when written in the upper part of a character, e.g., 美, 姜, 恙, and 義. It is not used in characters like 鮮, 群, 羚, or 羶.

Footnote: The definitions are from 《異體字字典》 published by the Ministry of Education of Taiwan. Please note that it's a traditional Chinese website in Big-5 encoding rather than Unicode.

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Welcome to the site Hans! :) Really a good quality answer and from a new user! Hope you stick around with us! –  Alenanno May 5 '12 at 17:03
    
Glad to help. I just bumped into the site this week and found it interesting — sometimes hard, though — to discuss my language with people from different cultures. Please feel free to correct my sentences as I'm less skilled in English. –  Hans Tzou May 6 '12 at 8:12

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