Discrepancies between sounds and graphs: Irregular readings of Chinese characters

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This article attempts to analyze the causes of the irregular readings of Chinese characters both in Mandarin and in Sino-Korean (i.e. Korean pronunciations of Chinese characters). Cultural taboo, avoidance of confusion and residues of historical and/or regional sound changes are the main causes for irregular readings in Mandarin. Semantic readings, euphony, mismatched palatalization, confusion and erroneous readings are the main reasons in Sino-Korean, among many others. This article also examines how well the graph of a Chinese character conveys the sound if it is a phonetic compound, which consists of a phonetic element and a semantic element. The discussion highlights that the function of conveying the exact pronunciation of a Chinese character is not straightforward although DeFrancis (1984b: 19) suggests that “Chinese is basically a phonetic system of writing of the syllabic type.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)188-201
Number of pages14
JournalWritten Language and Literacy
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2009 Jan 1


  • Characters
  • Chinese
  • Discrepancies
  • Erroneous readings
  • Graphs
  • Irregular readings
  • Mandarin
  • Sino-Korean
  • Sounds

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