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The etymology of 的 is described here. Is this resource correct is saying that 勺 is this character's phonetic component? I ask because it doesn't seem to hint at the correct pronunciation at all. 勺 is pronounced sháo while 的 is pronounced de. Thanks!

  • My guess is that 勺 must have had a different pronunciation or alternate readings in the past, thinking in centuries or millennia, of course. Although this dictionary does not provide any of that, but it confirms that 勺 is the phonetic part. lcprichi.hkbu.edu.hk/search/show_word.php?id=1794 – Drunken Master Nov 15 '14 at 23:34
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Modern Chinese has underwent many pronunciation changes since characters were first invented and phonetic components often reflect words as they were pronounced in Old Chinese rather than modern Chinese.

The pronunciations of 的 and 勺 were much more similar in Old Chinese. This link explains:

的 and 勺 had roughly similar pronunciations in Old Chinese; Baxter-Sagart reconstruct 的 as *t-lˤewk, compared with 勺 *m-t-qewk.

Note the that 的 character as originally used means "target" and is pronounced in Modern Mandarin. In modern times, it was borrowed to also represent the genitive particle de (this usage ultimately descends from 之; refer to this previous question for more information).

A few other modern Chinese languages still preserve the final -k in both of these words. For instance, Cantonese has the pronunciations dik (IPA: /tɪk/) and zoek (IPA: /t͡sœːk/) for 的 and 勺.

  • Btw, it's interesting that 的 is often pronounced 'di' in songs, when it would be pronounced as 'de' in normal speech. Is there any explanation for that? – Drunken Master Nov 15 '14 at 23:39
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    @DrunkenMaster Your question is covered here: chinese.stackexchange.com/a/1551 In my opinion, the currently second highest voted answer there is the actual correct one. – Claw Nov 16 '14 at 5:10
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    For comparison, Karlgren’s reconstruction of 勺 and 的 were *ɗi̭ok and *tiok, while 藤堂明保 Akiyasu Tōdō reconstructed them as *dhiɔk and *tɔ̈k, respectively, for Classical Chinese. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Nov 17 '14 at 20:41

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