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For example, in https://ceritabahasa.co/2015/01/07/tabel-radikal-bushou-hanzi/

character 犬 quǎn means dog seems to contain character 大 which means big.

It seems to me that quan is just da with extra apostrophe or something.

What am I missing?

Radical for two and three also obviously contains radical for one. It's just radical one done three times, for example, for three.

4

You're right and not missing anything, 犬 quan 'dog' is written as 大 da 'big' plus 丶 zhu/dian 'dot'. There are more examples like that, for example, 金 jin 'gold' contains 人 ren 'person' and 王 wang 'king', and 食 shi 'food' also has 人 ren 'person' in it. However, no published dictionary that I know of will list 犬 under 大, or 金 under 人 or 王; in that sense, 犬 does not 'have 大 as its radical'.

Keep in mind that radicals are a fairly modern and post-hoc invention; learners frequently believe that 'X has radical Y' has some kind of deep meaning. In fact, that only means that 'in this dictionary, X is listed in the group labeled Y', and the same character may be listed under another radical in the next dictionary. This is also borne out by the Chinese word for 'radical', which is 部首 bushou, literally, 'chapter heading' or 'section leader'.

Also learners tend to believe that all Chinese characters are completely decomposable into the 214 radicals as listed in the famous Kangxi dictionary. This is not true; many characters have parts that are not on that list.

Update This discussion has some pretty good insights and points to keep in mind when learning about radicals: How to differentiate "radical plus 0 strokes" characters?

5

To ask an analogous question about the shapes of the letters in the Latin alphabet:

Does the letter "E" contain the the letter "F"?

It seems that "E" is just "F" with an extra horizontal line on the bottom.

In terms of shapes in the modern script, it is trivially obvious that "E" contains the strokes of "F". What "E" does not contain is any functionality of "F"; the sound of "F" does not contribute anything to the sound of "E".

"E" containing the strokes of "F" does not explain any functional relation between "E" and "F", if there is any at all. Similarly,「犬」containing the strokes of「大」provides no explanation of the functional relationship between those two, and this is what you're missing.

For reference, "E" and "F" are unrelated. From Wikipedia:

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The Latin letter 'E' differs little from its source, the Greek letter epsilon, 'Ε'. This in turn comes from the Semitic letter hê, which has been suggested to have started as a praying or calling human figure (hillul 'jubilation'), and was probably based on a similar Egyptian hieroglyph that indicated a different pronunciation. In Semitic, the letter represented /h/(and /e/ in foreign words); in Greek, hê became the letter epsilon, used to represent /e/. The various forms of the Old Italic script and the Latin alphabet followed this usage.

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The origin of 'F' is the Semitic letter vâv (or waw) that represented a sound like /v/ or /w/. Graphically it originally probably depicted either a hook or a club. It may have been based on a comparable Egyptian hieroglyph such as that which represented the word mace (transliterated as ḥ(dj)):

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The Phoenician form of the letter was adopted into Greek as a vowel, upsilon (which resembled its descendant 'Y' but was also the ancestor of the Roman letters 'U', 'V', and 'W'); and, with another form, as a consonant, digamma, which indicated the pronunciation /w/, as in Phoenician. Latin 'F,' despite being pronounced differently, is ultimately descended from digamma and closely resembles it in form.

「犬」and「大」are similarly unrelated, but you wouldn't be able to immediately know this without exploring a bit of history. Their shapes converged because of the way writing was stylised and streamlined.


「犬」was originally a picture of a dog.



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「大」was originally a frontal view of an adult person, indicating the meaning adult > big, large. Choosing samples from roughly the same location and period in time, the comparable development looks like



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Of course, there are modern shapes containing the strokes of「大」which really did contain「大」historically, such as「因」.



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There are also things that originally contained「大」, but which is not recognisable in the modern script anymore, such as「達」. In this case,「羊」was a later addition which eventually squashed「大」into a shape identical to「土」.



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「大」would have been more obvious if「羊」was not added.



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  • 1
    That's a great and detailed treatment of the question. It'd bear mentioning though that at least in one case, namely 鼻 bí 'hidung' a composite radical is indeed related to one of its component radicals, 自 zì 'diri sendiri'. Following your analogy with the Latin alphabet, G is indeed an intentional variant of C, so there's indeed a C inside of G; same with U, W and V, and again with J and I. – John Frazer Oct 22 '18 at 6:41
  • @JohnFrazer Indeed! My point is that we wouldn't know any of this unless we looked into the history. One letter containing the strokes of another isn't enough to establish a functional relationship. – droooze Oct 22 '18 at 6:44
  • 1
    Quite so. One last thing, there's a number of simple components that pop up all over the place, like 一口日大土十士㔾厶月, that were originally differentiated into several distinct forms but have become indistinguishable in modern writing, e.g. 月 is both yue 'moon' and the bound form of 肉, but sometimes 月 also serves as abbreviation for 舟 and 丹. Such syncretisms are often not followed throughout. Learners should be aware of this before jumping to conclusions. – John Frazer Oct 22 '18 at 8:55
  • I'm sorry, this analogy is nonsense. First, I cannot see any functional relation, of course, if you have no working definition for functional. Second, the exposition of the graphemes' evolution is not as illustrative as you make it out to be. The associations to Egyptian are very speculative, so wiki/Phoenician_alphabet lists "window, feather, pen" for the apocryphic meaning of He, for example. Greek Di-Gamma seems to have much to do with the Greek letter Gamma (Γ), whereas double Yaw looks closer to, well, double-u, which was occasionally represented by di-gamma in various rotations. – vectory Oct 27 at 10:32
  • @vectory perhaps take the time to learn how Chinese characters work, before you accuse me of not having a working definition for functional. I've already drawn the relation between characters and Egyptian Hieroglyphs elsewhere. Your comment is nonsense. – droooze Oct 27 at 10:35

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