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There are (at least) six characters that consist of radical 102 plus 0 strokes: 田 由 甲 申 甴 电

In each of the variants the middle vertical stroke is made shorter, longer or twisted at the end.

Is there a name for this phenomenon? I know radicals can look different depending on where they appear in a character and that is called variants, but this seems to be something different.

Is there a formal system to describe this? E.g. "radical 102 with middle stroke elongated at the top"?

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Difficult to answer. I haven't heard of that (variant radicals in your example) before. And I can't find a academic paper discussing this :( –  Stan Aug 4 '13 at 18:12
    
Personally I would call them like what the page says, 'assimilation of a similar but originally distinct radicals'. Don't know if there is a terminology though. –  NS.X. Aug 4 '13 at 18:39
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1 Answer 1

Chinese native speakers don't treat 田 由 甲 申 甴 电 as related radicals. It is true that those radicals look very similar to each other, but we don't go further than that. We don't have any terms for this phenomenon, because we don't think it is something that needs special attention/study.

Here are more examples: 刀 vs 力, 土 vs 士, 己 vs 已 vs 巳, 冂 vs 几, etc.

In English, there are some words spelling almost same, for example: discreet vs discrete, complement vs compliment, calendar vs calender, etc. Are there any special terms for this phenomenon in English? Do you English native speakers treat them with special attention?

By the way, your question reminds me a character game I played when I was a child: form as many characters as you can by adding another stroke to the character 日. All the characters appearing in your question are part of the answer. There are some more, like 旦, 白, etc.


Edited my answer as suggested by NS.X.

I went too extreme saying "Chinese native speakers don't treat 田 由 甲 申 甴 电 as related radicals." I admit that it was not true. Yes, they are related radicals, but only in the sense that they look very similar to each other, except for 由 and 甴 as pointed out by Stan, that they are variant forms of each other.

The way that those characters 田 由 甲 申 甴 电 are listed under 田 as "radical plus 0 strokes" only reflects what the author(s) / editor(s) thought was appropriate. Are there any fundamental rules behind that? I doubt it.

Alternatively, I believe it could've been done in another way:

  1. list 由 as a new radical, and list the following characters under it: 甹, 畁, and 甴 as a variant form of 由.
  2. list 甲 as a new radical, and list 畢 under it.
  3. list 申 as a new radical, and list the following characters under it: 畅, 畃.
  4. list 电 as a new radical, and list enter image description here under it.

See, characters can be classified in different ways.

I believe the author(s) / editor(s) of Kangxi Dictionary put 由 甲 申 甴 电 in the group of 田 for the sake of simplicity.

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Follow the link. They are literally all listed as being "Kangxi radical 102 + 0 strokes". –  Stumpy Joe Pete Aug 6 '13 at 18:29
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It is a fact that Kangxi Dictionary listed them under the same radical, which seems completely pictographic based and semantically irrelevant, but there might be a linguistic interpretation behind it, which is what OP is looking for. –  NS.X. Aug 6 '13 at 18:44
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I believe putting all those six characters 田 由 甲 申 甴 电 under 田 as "radical plus 0 strokes” is completely artificial. Why was it done this way? I guess it was for the sake of simplicity. The author(s) of Kangxi Dictionary could've created a new group headed by 由 and listed some characters under it, like 甹, 畁, etc. Another evidence for my argument is that since the character 甴 is lised under radical 田, another character 曱 should've been also listed under 田. But 曱 is listed under radical 曰. A third example, 會 is listed under 曰, but 㑹 (another variant form of 會) is listed under 人. WHY? Artifical! –  孤影萍踪 Aug 7 '13 at 20:13
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Partly agree with 孤影萍踪's comment. In the origin, everything was artificial, but still, rules were forming. That would be OK to list 由 as a new radical. But there's reason for why 甴 is under radical 田 and 曱 is under radical 曰 -- 甴 can be considered as a 异体字 (variant Chinese character) of 由, pronounced as yóu; and 曱 sounds yuē烏謔切 and means to fetch取物也, so its etymology might be from 曰 (calling somebody to fetch something). BTW, 曱 and 㑹 hadn't been included in 康熙字典 (曱 appeared in 康熙字典补遗). PS, I know in Cantonese, 曱甴 means cockroach, but I don't know whether they were borrowed characters. –  Stan Aug 9 '13 at 4:13
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说文解字 by Xu Shen lists 申 as a radical, and puts 臾 曳 under it. It lists 甲 as a radical, and lists only a variant form of 甲 under it. –  孤影萍踪 Aug 14 '13 at 19:55
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