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An Analysis of Same-Phonetic-Radical Characters and Its Application in Teaching Chinese as a Second Language
Teaching Chinese as a Second Language (TCSL)
Pronunciation and Meaning
經過排序，常用教材中的2665 字包括687 個同聲旁字組，其中屬字僅有一或二字的占總組數的59%，屬字在四字以上的占27%，這意味著聲旁的再現率並沒有想像中那麼高。許多字形若非對照古文字，無法解讀；有些字組的發音規則很清晰，但是也有例外；聲符是否兼意不能一概而論，形符則是常表類屬意義。無論形、音、義，在歷史演變的過程中，都曾經發生過訛誤，以致含有部分的不確定性。
With the increasing interest in learning Chinese worldwide, Chinese character instruction has become more and more a focal point of attention. Scholars and researchers have adopted various theories and approaches, aiming to provide an efficient analysis of Chinese characters and thereby, offer better instruction methods. However, in my daily practice as a language teacher, I still found myself running out of repertoire in helping my students to memorize the characters. In a classroom, an instructor always faces a dilemma, swinging between applying the existing theories and making up a story for a character. It’s particularly tough to make sense of how a semantic radical and a phonetic radical are combined to form a Pictophonetic character. This, however, inspired me to look into the characters listed in the existing textbooks, taking the characters with the same phonetic radicals as the focus of my study, hoping to map out some rules that might help learners to acquire the Chinese characters. At the same time, an investigation into the relationship between characters and words is also conducted while some strategies of learning to write and to recognize characters are also suggested. The number of Pictophonetic characters accounts for the biggest proportion among the six categories of Chinese characters. Its number has been increasing steadily as time goes by. However, the origins of the Pictophonetic characters are hard to identify due to their various sources. Some researchers from Mainland China have looked into the commonly-believed theory that the semantic radical of a character represents its meaning while its phonetic radical tells how it is pronounced. However, such investigations are based on simplified characters. Moreover, some characters are pronounced differently in both sides of the Taiwan Strait. The theory -- “semantic radical representing meanings while phonetic radical representing pronunciation” -- despite being held highly ever since the ancient times, is by no means conclusive. The rise of cognitive psychology, especially the studies in saccades, i.e. the study on the rapid intermittent eye movement, and the succession of discontinuous individual movements of eye field, have inspired researches in many ways. According to theories of memory, contexts provided by instructors in a classroom are most helpful for learners to retrieve their memories. According to statistics, out of the 2,665 most-commonly-used characters in current textbooks, 687 of which are same-phonetic-radical ones. However, a closer observation reveals that as high as 59% of the same-phonetic-radical characters find only one or two members with the same phonetic component, while the number of characters that find four members incorporated with one same single phonetic-radical account for only 27% of the said 687 characters. The findings suggest that the recurrence rate of any single phonetic radical is not as high as one might assume. Some characters are unable to be deciphered unless one refers back to their ancient counterparts. Or, while the pronunciation of some same-phonetic-radical characters is governed by distinctive rules, one finds exceptions constantly. It’s pretty safe to say that the semantic radical indicates how a character is classified; but it’s hard to define if a phonetic radical necessarily tells how a character should be pronounced. In the process of historical evolution, the forms, pronunciation and meanings of Chinese characters all have experienced changes; therefore, it’s inevitable that the origins of some characters are unable to be traced down. Our findings and the error analysis of learners’ corpus suggest that for beginners, the instructor should first introduce them the concept of radicals and some basic radicals, before phonetic radicals that follow certain rules in pronunciation and can be easily recognized as one group are introduced. Only when the learners have achieved certain proficiency level and have acquired certain number of Chinese characters, together with certain understanding of Chinese culture, then the concept of “same-phonetic-radical characters” will make sense to the learners. In introducing the meaning of the characters, it is suggested that the instructor should put it in a simple, comprehensible language if there is a theory behind the coding of such a character. Only when the theory is too complicated or obscure, then the instructor is encouraged to make up a story for the said character. Finally, we have designed some supplementary exercises to the main textbook based on our findings. Hopefully, it will help achieve the goal of this study, i.e. to help second language learners to read and write Chinese characters.
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