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This question is regarding when 幺 appears in traditional Chinese.

What is the simplified variant of 幺?

I asked this question on the cantodict forums recently, and one member gave this excellent response:

http://www.cantonese.sheik.co.uk/phorum/read.php?14,129472,129515#msg-129515

But it's still not clear to me what the answer is. I'm quite confused why so many online dictionaries seem to give 么 as the answer. Could it be that simplification in Cantonese is different to simplification in Mandarin?

I found over 20 words in ABC Comprehensive Chinese Dictionary where the traditional contained 幺 and the simplified form uses 么. This is a consistent mapping in that dictionary.

  • 幺 and 么 is a troublesome pair because they look alike especially in ancient handwritten text. – Henry HO Sep 7 '14 at 1:29
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幺 is used formally in the PRC, as in 幺女, 幺妹, 幺三五, meaning "one" or "youngest".

Therefore, it is part of the simplified script, but it was never simplified to begin with. It is a standard character. 说文 says: 小也。通俗文曰。不長曰幺。細小曰麼。許無麼字。象子初生之形。子初生,甚小也。俗謂一爲幺。亦謂晚生子爲幺。皆謂其小也。於堯切。二部。凡幺之屬皆从幺。

康熙字典 also describes this character, and adds at the very end: 俗作么

么 is therefore an 异体字 that seems to have been normalized within the traditional script, at least as it is used in Taiwan and other locations. It is also used in China, though, as in 么妹. 么 in China is of course the interrogative particles "me" or "ma" in its own right.

It is 么麼 in traditional, but 幺麽 (or even 幺么) in simplified.

This is gonna bake your noodle further: note how the traditional 么 is part of the simplified 麽, whereas the simplified 幺 is part of the traditional 麼.

  • Thanks! When you say "standard character that was never simplified to begin with" do you mean it existed in traditional script before simplification and did not undergo a change during simplification? – gaozhen Sep 7 '14 at 1:41
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    Yes. Shuowen is a very old source, and Kangxi is from the 18th century. The latter says that 么 is a vulgar usage of 幺. This vulgar usage is a classic ”simplification” that has survived in the traditional script wherever it is used, whereas in China 么 has been used to simplify 麼 (as in 什么/什麼). If this seems illogical, one can note that 庅 is an older simplification of 麼. – user4452 Sep 7 '14 at 6:43
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    Wenlin: 么 originated as another way of writing 幺 (yāo) 'small', depicting two tiny silk cocoons. Another word meaning 'small' is 麽 or 麼 mó, written with 么 or 幺 plus 麻 má phonetic on top. The second syllable of the modern words shénme 'what', zěnme 'how', nàme 'so', etc., also came to be written with the character 麽 or 麼. Now among simple form characters, 么 is used instead of 麽 in 那么 nàme etc., but 麽 is used in the word 幺麽 yāomó 'insignificant'. On the other hand, among full form characters, 麼 is used for writing 那麼 nàme etc., and 么 is used to write yāo in 么麼 yāomó 'insignificant'. – user4452 Sep 7 '14 at 6:46
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The character 幺 wasn't changed in the process of simplification. The picture below may help you understand the current relation between 麼, 麽, 幺 and 么 in light of their evolution. Note that grey nodes represent variant characters.

Historical character information is taken from 說文解字 (121) and 康熙字典 (1716). Modern data about Hong Kong are based on the Longman Advanced Chinese Dictionary (2003, available in Pleco), data about Taiwan are based on MOEDict (2016), created by the ROC Ministry of Education, and data about Mainland China are taken from the Table of General Standard Chinese Characters (通用规范汉字表) (2014), which is an official document describing simplification.

The evolution of 幺麼.

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