My Pleco always tells me two little hashes on the top of 汉字 such as.

are "kwukyel".

Can anyone point me to a reference that explains this term as it relates to Chinese language?

ps -- I already know the explanation about older Korean. That is not the question.

I'm asking about why this is in my Chinese language dictionaries (at least two).

[ -- this premise is not quite correct ----
I don't believe these dictionaries are intended to be abstract Hanzi references.]

They are Chinese language dictionaries.

  • Is there any good reference that explains the mapping to "kwukyel" for Chinese language is wrong?
  • If the term "kwukyel" is not meaningful for Chinese language, what definition should the marks be mapped to?
    • If the answer is "nothing", please provide some evidence/references so I can give credit to your answer. :-)
  • In linguistic terms, it's and interesting Korean thing, but as a learner of Chinese you can just ignore it.
    – imrek
    Jan 4 '16 at 13:13
  • That's the short answer I'm seeing for myself, but I'm trying to understand it. If it is true that it is irrelevant, I'm wondering if it's essentially an error in my electronic dictionary.
    – Mike M
    Jan 4 '16 at 13:46
  • 1
    The answer by @dda explains the reason: Unihan database, or even CC-CEDICT has it, and Pleco relies on these sources, so that's why "kwukyel" is included in the app. There is no practical reason to have this in a Chinese-English dictionary, however.
    – imrek
    Jan 4 '16 at 15:30
  • @DrunkenMaster - yes, that is a helpful answer. But maybe there is still the second half of the answer...... is there a better definition that I should substitute for Chinese? It's hard to believe there wouldn't be :)
    – Mike M
    Jan 6 '16 at 7:30
  • the top two strokes of 兑 is not a separate character.
    – Henry Chan
    Jan 12 '16 at 17:18

kwukyel or gugyeol is a Korean system to write Chinese characters phonetically that predates Hangul. As for itself, to quote from Wiktionary:

This is a kwukyel note. Kwukyel was a system formerly used in Korea whereby correct interpretation of texts written in Classical Chinese was aided by small interspersed notes such as this one. The notes represent Korean morphemes but were only used within Chinese text.

  • Yeah, I did see that by searching online.... I'm trying to learn what it means to me as a Chinese learner. Why is this definition used for Chinese characters? I'm not looking at a Korean dictionary.
    – Mike M
    Jan 4 '16 at 13:45
  • So maybe to help get this more on track... this may well be a question about the "Unihan" dictionary inside Pleco... is it functionally wrong in this case, since I'm interested in modern Chinese? If so, I'd like to find that out with some evidence.
    – Mike M
    Jan 4 '16 at 13:48
  • 1
    Well the dictionary is saying that it is not a meaningful character. The definition in a Chinese-Chinese dictionary here: zdic.net/z/15/js/4E37.htm indicates that it's pretty much only used as a 偏旁.
    – Ringil
    Jan 4 '16 at 13:53
  • I improved my question to be more explicit about "Chinese language". I really appreciate your link to the other dictionary. For me that just doubles-down on the question, though. Why is this mapping in a Chinese dictionary..... is the mapping wrong? I'd like to get through that part of this here, and I don't think we're there yet.
    – Mike M
    Jan 7 '16 at 2:08
  • I think the mapping is wrong AND it's a meaningless character. The correct English definition would look like A kwukyel symbol made from a Chinese character component. (unused) But plenty of English dictionaries have junk information in them as well. For example, dictionary.reference.com/browse/yu defines yu as the person Yu the Great, but that isn't how English speakers would see Yu, which I'm pretty sure people would consider a surname. Regardless, this word shouldn't even exist in an English dictionary and the definition is garbage as well. is similar in a CE dictionary.
    – Ringil
    Jan 7 '16 at 14:45

As a learner of Chinese it means nothing to you. But since Chinese characters were and are used to write other languages, diacritics used in 口訣 (kwukyel/gugyeol) belong to the Hanzi (in Unihan just "Han") world. So if Pleco uses the Unihan database as its source, kwukyel signs are bound to appear.

Also, regarding the added question of what to name them in Chinese, the name kwukyel maps to 口訣. Hence calling them just that, [Hánguó] kǒujué, 韓國口訣, could work.

  • This sounds a lot more like what I'm asking. At least half of it :-). So are you saying that the "Unihan" reference is intended for many uses, potentially outside encoding modern Chinese? That could explain the inclusion of "kwukyel" as a definition. But then is there a better definition that I should substitute for Chinese?
    – Mike M
    Jan 6 '16 at 7:28
  • 1
    Unihan is for CJK. That's why your question is, I think, flawed: the title mentions "Chinese Characters", but the body of the questions says "Chinese". It is wrong to equate Chinese Characters and Chinese language. Per the UniHan page: "The Unihan database is the repository for the Unicode Consortium’s collective knowledge regarding the CJK Unified Ideographs contained in the Unicode Standard. It contains mapping data to allow conversion to and from other coded character sets and additional information to help implement support for the various languages which use the Han ideographic script."
    – dda
    Jan 6 '16 at 8:06
  • Great. So I think I understand Unihan better now. Thank you @dda. But I don't feel a need to throw out the question. These "kwukyel" are being treated as character Components in at least 2 Chinese dictionaries. If they aren't "kwukyel" in Chinese language, what are they?
    – Mike M
    Jan 7 '16 at 1:29
  • Or maybe that's a new question... I'm thinking about that :-)
    – Mike M
    Jan 7 '16 at 1:30
  • I decided "no", it's not a new question. I see the confusion of "Chinese Language" versus "all Hanzi". But I definitely intended to ask about "Chinese Language"... I edited the question to say "language" very explicitly. If you can provide some references that say the marks really have no meaning, I can give you credit for the answer! ( and then I will ask a new question about the dictionaries being wrong )
    – Mike M
    Jan 7 '16 at 1:56

Specifically for the character "兑", the top two strokes are a corrupted form of 八 , which in this case symbolizes air coming out of one's mouth. The character "兑" is an early form of "悅", which means happiness.

Most characters can be classified as Pictographs (象形), Ideograms (指事), Compound-ideograph (會意) or Phono-semantic (形聲). By definition, compound-ideographs are composed by adding two different components to directly infer their meaning. For an example, 林, composed of two 木, which means a forest.

So, attempting to understand Chinese by decomposing them into their respective parts only makes sense for compound-ideograph characters. Unfortunately, compound ideograph characters are only a fraction of the frequent Chinese characters in use. ("兑" is, unfortunately, a pictograph)

Furthermore, many commonly-used Chinese characters take forms and meanings that are many degrees removed from their etymology. Normal people don't learn how to speak and write daily English by learning Latin and Germanic roots, so learning the etymology of Chinese characters would likely be overkill for mastering proficient use of the modern language.

FYI, simply for the sake of correctness, many online sources claiming to explain Chinese character etymology is unreliable and rooted in folk etymology to propagate certain beliefs or religion, such as confucious beliefs or falun gong. For example, many such websites would explain the character "王" by quoting the Confucious saying "a ruler is the person who can connect the heaven, the people and the ground" (一貫三為王).

However, oracle carvings from ~1500BC indicate that "王" is a pictograph for an axe. Confucious is from ~500BC. Chinese characters are far from as "deep" as some propagandish websites would lead you to believe.

But, most native users wouldn't care about the etymology anyway.

  • -- To quote from 說文解字: 兑:从口从八象气之分𢿱 which means composed of a mouth and a "八" which looks like air going in separate directions.
    – Henry Chan
    Jan 12 '16 at 16:58
  • Yeah, that's a good point. My other dictionaries-inside-my-dictionary (Pleco) do point it to 八. For me, the confusing part is why the divergence... that's why the answer ( mine, sorry :/ ) about the meaning and complications of Unihan is most relevant. My next step is learning more about Simplified and how much that is the cause of "kwukyel"... I might be bringing that back as a next question after I learn more.
    – Mike M
    Jan 13 '16 at 3:15

FWIW - when Unihan was first developed and Chinese characters were encoded, it's possible that someone attempted to resolve the components for characters such as "不” and mistakenly tried to decompose 不 into a compound ideograph when perhaps it should have been a single component plus misc strokes.

Perhaps creating a CJK character set itself is rife with built-in inconsistencies.

So, @mikem, you might consider "kwukyel" entries as residual errors that should be corrected in the dictionaries you're using. I believe mdbg has dropped references to kwukyel.

I'm creating my own database of Chinese-only characters and I'm treating kwukyel as simply additonal strokes.

  • yes, it's part of the system. I talked about it a bit in my answer below. (got downvotes by folks I didn't accept, I imagine). It was always intended as a cross-language reference, so it's up to the applications using it - or else the users - to interpret it correctly for the language you are interested in. I didn't dig further to find out if kwukyel is wrongly mapped or just lacks a useful meaning for Chinese and perhaps shouldn't be mapped in my app.
    – Mike M
    May 10 '18 at 10:47

(sorry to toot my own horn, but my prior effort to Edit another answer to give credit didn't work)

The question makes sense, but is not quite correct.
It says

the dictionary is only contemporary Chinese, not for multiple uses for Hanzi.

But if you're looking at

  • Unihan

that very much is an abstract Hanzi reference.

It is not only for contemporary Chinese - not even only for Chinese language.
Here is the Wikipedia on it: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Han_unification

If it is shown inside your electronic Mandarin or Cantonese or other Chinese dictionary, you should expect some confusion.
It's a huge set of characters.
There may be genuine disagreement on a "correct" mapping, as well as mistakes or compromises in your electronic tool.
For a specific Component or Character mapping you are curious about, maybe that should be a new question.

As for the definition "kwukyel"...
as a learner of Chinese it means nothing to you.
That definition is for an old form of Korean writing - also considered in Unihan. It was a mark just to guide the reader, without a "meaning" of it's own.

As a learner of Chinese, if you see "kwukyel" in Unihan you should think

  1. if there is another definition in your tool, from a Chinese-only dictionary, you should use that because it was (hopefully) researched just for Chinese -- ignore the Unihan
  2. if there is no other definition, just take it as "no useful meaning"

If you think your electronic dictionary could be improved, you might report to their support.

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