For example, in written Chinese 给 is used a ideograph for "to give" and is read with whatever the word for "to give" is in the various languages, even if the word is not cognate or in any way related to the etymology of 给. Are there words in Mandarin that are written with characters for words that are not etymologically related?

If it's just selecting a phonetic loan for a word that has never been written before, that is understandable because you have to start somewhere. I'm more curious about stuff where the pronunciation/etymology is completely unrelated but a character is used just because of its meaning.

  • 2
    Vague discription Commented Feb 22, 2014 at 18:15
  • 2
    I think this is rarely the case. Chinese characters aren't really "ideographs", at least within Chinese. Characters are usually chosen based on etymology or pronunciation. There might be some examples in, say, HK Cantonese, where the norm is diglossia. People will write in (basically) Mandarin, but they might read the sentence in literally-translated Cantonese. Commented Feb 22, 2014 at 18:27
  • 1
    Firstly, only Mandarin is really a written language. Writing in another Chinese language or dialect generally means writing in Mandarin and finding some way to write words not in Mandarin. Often those words are made of morphemes that have Mandarin cognates so the characters for those will be used. Sometimes a cognate is not known in which case you might see special dialect characters with the "mouth" radical, or you might see re-purposed Latin alphabet letters like "Q". For non-Chinese words you will see transliterations written with a common set of otherwise mostly obscure characters. Commented Feb 23, 2014 at 0:48
  • 1
    I'm not so clear about what you want to ask. As far as I see, everyword in Chinese should have a related translation to other languages such as English.
    – xqMogvKW
    Commented Feb 23, 2014 at 1:16
  • 1
    Voting down because the OP has not taken advantage of the information offered in these comments to come back and clarify the question, without which answering it is really not possible without second guessing what the OP might have meant. Commented Feb 26, 2014 at 10:31

2 Answers 2


A good example is numbers in Chinese.



There are words that have different shapes(uncognated)yet share the same meaning in Mandarin. Written Mandarin is relately a new form of writing, words have been simplifed more than once during the 50s-80s (and even some of the words' pronounciaton have been altered).

Sorry for just answering your TITLE.

If what you meant by "Mandarin" is not the thing I percieved (which I think is a spoken standard based on Beijing dilect),then you may show some e.g to clarify your original question.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.