1

I am new to Chinese but have seen documents where the layout of the characters seems to fit certain patterns, and I'm wondering if it is significant in some way.

For example, one is this:

是以成神,名曰石拆神,
次又生神,根拆神,
併有石筒之男神生.自此凡著劍鋒灑淨岩所成神者,有三柱坐矣.
而著刀身之血亦濺,灑落淨石群中,
所成神名,甕速日神,
其次,樋速日神,
又生,建御雷之男神,此神亦名建布都神,豐布都神.凡劍身著血灑落石群所生神者,并三柱.
而著劍柄之血,自伊邪那岐命之指縫漏出.
所成之神,名闇淤加美神,
其次亦生,闇御津羽神.
顧石拆神以下,闇御津羽神以前并八柱神等,皆御刀所生之神也.
而遭殺迦具土神之顱,所生神名,正鹿山津見神,
其胸部所生神名,淤滕山津見神,
其腹所生神謂,奧山津見神,
又陰部所生神喚,闇山津見神,
其左手所生之神,志藝山津見神,
其右手所生之神,羽山津見神,
次,左足生神,原山津見神,
而戶山津見神自其右足生,自正鹿山津見神,迄戶山津見神并八神.

In this case it is sort of like an English peom where you have:

This is a line
And this is another line,
etc.

Here is another example where it looks like broken into "lines".

生子、淡道之穗之狹別嶋【訓別、云和氣。下效此。】
次生、伊豫之二名嶋。
此嶋者、身一而有面四、毎面有名。故、伊豫國謂『愛(上)比賣』【此二字以音下效此】
讚岐國謂『飯依比古』。
粟國謂『大宜都比賣』【此四字以音】
土左國謂『建依別』。
次生、隱伎之三子嶋。亦名『天之忍許呂別』【許呂二字以音】
次生、筑紫嶋。此嶋亦身一而有面四、毎面有名、
故、筑紫國謂『白日別』。
豐國謂『豐日別』。
肥國謂『建日向日豐久士比泥別』【自久至泥以音】
熊曾國謂『建日別』【曾字以音】
次生、伊岐嶋。亦名謂『天比登都柱』【自比至都以音。訓天如天。】
次生、津嶋。亦名謂『天之狹手依比賣』。

But you also find what looks like paragraph structures:

   於是、天神諸命以、詔伊邪那岐命、伊邪那美命、二柱神、修理固成是多陀用幣流之國、賜天沼矛而、言依賜也。故、二柱神立【訓立云、多多志】天浮橋而、指下其沼矛以畫者、鹽許袁呂許袁呂邇【此七字以音】畫鳴【訓鳴云、那志】而、引上時、自其矛末垂落之鹽之累積、成嶋。是淤能碁呂嶋。【自淤以下四字以音。】

   於其嶋天降坐而、見立天之御柱、見立八尋殿。於是問其妹伊邪那美命曰、「汝身者如何成。」答曰「吾身者、成成不成合處一處在。」爾伊邪那岐命詔、「我身者、成成而成餘處一處在。故、以此吾身成餘處、刺塞汝身不成合處而、爲生成國土、奈何。」【訓生云、宇牟。下效此。】伊邪那美命答曰「然善。」爾伊邪那岐命、詔「然者、吾與汝行迴逢是天之御柱而、爲美斗能麻具波比。」【此七字以音。】如此云期、乃詔「汝者自右迴逢、我者自左迴逢。」約竟以迴時、伊邪那美命、先言「阿那邇夜志愛(上)袁登古袁。」【此十字以音。下效此。】後、伊邪那岐命言「阿那邇夜志愛(上)袁登賣袁。」各言竟之後、告其妹曰、「女人先言不良。雖然久美度邇【此四字以音】興而、

Finally, I have seen stuff such as here where it seems to be laid out in a square:

  言但若極無十要非一契兩泯一眼夢迷法六不任執大一境無二二前歸多一止莫圓違毫至 三

  語能不大在方急思切心既其如若幻生無塵好性之道空由咎由見空根言種動逐同順釐道 祖

  道如如同不智相量不平不所體不虚寂異不勞合失體同能無一不轉得多不歸有太相有無 僧

  斷是此小在者應處留等成以玄睡華亂法惡神道度寛兩境法有住變旨慮通止縁虚爭差難 璨

  非何必不十皆唯識無所一不兀諸何悟妄還何逍必無齊能不一慎皆隨轉兩止勿無是天唯 大

  去慮不見方入言情可作何可爾夢勞無自同用遙入易含由生亦莫由照不處更住欠爲地嫌 師

  來不須邊目此不難記倶有方忘自把好愛正疏絶邪無萬境不莫追妄失相失彌空無心懸揀 信

  今畢守表前宗二測憶息爾比縁除捉惡著覺親惱路難象能心守尋見宗應功動忍餘病隔擇 心

   信一有極宗不眞虚狐究止萬心得一將智欲繫放小不欲能一纔不須絶遣唯一良不欲但 銘

   心即即小非二如明疑竟動法若失切心者取念之見見知隨心有用臾言有滯種由識得莫

   不一是同促皆法自盡窮無齊不是二用無一乖自狐精兩境不是求返絶沒兩平取玄現憎

   二切無大延同界照淨極動觀異非邊心爲乘眞然疑麤段滅生非眞照慮有邊懷捨旨前愛

   不一無忘一無無不正不動歸萬一良豈愚勿昏體轉寧元境萬紛唯勝無從寧泯所徒莫洞

   二切即絶念不他勞信存止復法時由非人惡沉無急有是逐法然須卻處空知然以勞存然

   信即是境萬包無心調軌無自一放斟大自六不去轉偏一能無失息前不背一自不念順明

   心一有界年容自力直則止然如卻酌錯縛塵好住遲黨空沉咎心見空通空種盡如靜逆白

Or without the spaces:

  言但若極無十要非一契兩泯一眼夢迷法六不任執大一境無二二前歸多一止莫圓違毫至 三
  語能不大在方急思切心既其如若幻生無塵好性之道空由咎由見空根言種動逐同順釐道 祖
  道如如同不智相量不平不所體不虚寂異不勞合失體同能無一不轉得多不歸有太相有無 僧
  斷是此小在者應處留等成以玄睡華亂法惡神道度寛兩境法有住變旨慮通止縁虚爭差難 璨
  非何必不十皆唯識無所一不兀諸何悟妄還何逍必無齊能不一慎皆隨轉兩止勿無是天唯 大
  去慮不見方入言情可作何可爾夢勞無自同用遙入易含由生亦莫由照不處更住欠爲地嫌 師
  來不須邊目此不難記倶有方忘自把好愛正疏絶邪無萬境不莫追妄失相失彌空無心懸揀 信
  今畢守表前宗二測憶息爾比縁除捉惡著覺親惱路難象能心守尋見宗應功動忍餘病隔擇 心
   信一有極宗不眞虚狐究止萬心得一將智欲繫放小不欲能一纔不須絶遣唯一良不欲但 銘
   心即即小非二如明疑竟動法若失切心者取念之見見知隨心有用臾言有滯種由識得莫
   不一是同促皆法自盡窮無齊不是二用無一乖自狐精兩境不是求返絶沒兩平取玄現憎
   二切無大延同界照淨極動觀異非邊心爲乘眞然疑麤段滅生非眞照慮有邊懷捨旨前愛
   不一無忘一無無不正不動歸萬一良豈愚勿昏體轉寧元境萬紛唯勝無從寧泯所徒莫洞
   二切即絶念不他勞信存止復法時由非人惡沉無急有是逐法然須卻處空知然以勞存然
   信即是境萬包無心調軌無自一放斟大自六不去轉偏一能無失息前不背一自不念順明
   心一有界年容自力直則止然如卻酌錯縛塵好住遲黨空沉咎心見空通空種盡如靜逆白

I'm wondering what the purpose is of these layouts. If it conveys any extra meaning, or if it is purely for stylistic purposes, etc. Given that Chinese doesn't have spaces between words, (and I can't read Chinese yet), I'm not sure if it would be okay to just ignore these "layouts" and instead rewrite them all in the same format. So for example the last one, instead of being a square, could just be a standard left-to-right flow of text like this:

言但若極無十要非一契兩泯一眼夢迷法六不任執大一境無二二前歸多一止莫圓違毫至三語能不大在方急思切心既其如若幻生無塵好性之道空由咎由見空根言種動逐同順釐道祖道如如同不智相量不平不所體不虚寂異不勞合失體同能無一不轉得多不歸有太相有無僧斷是此小在者應處留等成以玄睡華亂法惡神道度寛兩境法有住變旨慮通止縁虚爭差難璨非何必不十皆唯識無所一不兀諸何悟妄還何逍必無齊能不一慎皆隨轉兩止勿無是天唯大去慮不見方入言情可作何可爾夢勞無自同用遙入易含由生亦莫由照不處更住欠爲地嫌師來不須邊目此不難記倶有方忘自把好愛正疏絶邪無萬境不莫追妄失相失彌空無心懸揀信今畢守表前宗二測憶息爾比縁除捉惡著覺親惱路難象能心守尋見宗應功動忍餘病隔擇心信一有極宗不眞虚狐究止萬心得一將智欲繫放小不欲能一纔不須絶遣唯一良不欲但銘心即即小非二如明疑竟動法若失切心者取念之見見知隨心有用臾言有滯種由識得莫不一是同促皆法自盡窮無齊不是二用無一乖自狐精兩境不是求返絶沒兩平取玄現憎二切無大延同界照淨極動觀異非邊心爲乘眞然疑麤段滅生非眞照慮有邊懷捨旨前愛不一無忘一無無不正不動歸萬一良豈愚勿昏體轉寧元境萬紛唯勝無從寧泯所徒莫洞二切即絶念不他勞信存止復法時由非人惡沉無急有是逐法然須卻處空知然以勞存然信即是境萬包無心調軌無自一放斟大自六不去轉偏一能無失息前不背一自不念順明心一有界年容自力直則止然如卻酌錯縛塵好住遲黨空沉咎心見空通空種盡如靜逆白

If it's not okay to remove/replace the layout with something else, I'm wondering why not / what kind of information I am losing if doing that.

  • Just like English text, Chinese text has different layouts and formats too. Actually traditional Chinese text read from top to bottom in columns and from right to left on pages – Tang Ho Oct 24 '18 at 3:07
  • the last sample is "corrupted", it cannot be read in neither styles :( – 水巷孑蠻 Oct 24 '18 at 5:28
  • @水巷孑蠻 I just removed all the spacing from the "square" example, wondering what I did wrong. – Lance Pollard Oct 24 '18 at 5:31
  • the last one? it's still corrupted :) – 水巷孑蠻 Oct 24 '18 at 5:34
  • I didn't reverse it, maybe because the square is top-to-bottom right to left, but I just removed all the spacing and made it top-to-bottom left-to-right. Maybe if I reversed the character order for each line first. – Lance Pollard Oct 24 '18 at 5:35
2

if the layout of the chinese characters is relevant to the meaning

it's a no. the meaning of chinese text does not change, in relation to the style of "character flow".

in text samples provided, the fifth one is the traditional style, used for several thousands of years. it should be read from top to bottom, from right to left. without punctuations, readers need certain level of skill to chop it into verses, then, grasp the meaning.

roughly after may fourth movement in 1919; people adopted western writing styles, that texts are written from left to right, from top to bottom; with punctuations, line breaks and paragraphs. sample 1-3 are in this style.

mainly, texts in such writing style are easier to comprehend, and less fuzzy.

for beginner, one ought to learn this modern style.

may i say that, the old, traditional style is, too adventurous for you at this moment.

have fun :)

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1

In Chinese, the number is syllables is quite important even in everyday speech; speakers tend to produce sentences with even numbers of syllables. As a result, I've often see them shorten two syllable words into one just to fit into that pattern, or skip some grammatical particles to conform to that format.

That's not always observed, or even possible, but the tendency is definitely there. Since Chinese is a tonal language (you have 5 ways each syllable can be "sung") and Eastern Asians—this is well documented especially for the Japanese—process languages mostly in one hemisphere—the very same one we all use for processing of music.

Also, the Hanzi writing system is based on rhymes—compound characters are made of smaller elements called radicals which either give you a clue about meaning of the character or it's pronunciation. For instance, the word 氧 yǎng 'oxygen' is made of the character 样 yáng 'ocean' and 气 qì 'sky, air'—here it's basically the same syllable save for tone difference. However, sometimes the hint requires a bit more effort: 包 bāo 'package, wrap' can be found in 跑 pǎo 'to run'. You can find more about that here.

It leads me to believe that in Chinese you can play with rhythm much more, even in writing, which some poems can make a great use of. In this case, however, it seems to be a logical distinction. Paragraphs, verses and lines in many Asian languages have been adopted from European languages and their use hasn't stabilized completely.

Still, I am not advanced enough in that language to make a definitive claims about linguistic aesthetics in Mandarin just yet, so take it with a grain of salt.

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