Article in Discover magazine

Curtis Clark jcclark-lists at EARTHLINK.NET
Mon Mar 14 17:53:28 CST 2005

on 2005-03-14 14:35 Richard.Zander at MOBOT.ORG wrote:
> I think it has a lot to do with context. I've heard that there are only 400
> words in Chinese, and these are vastly augmented by pronunciation, and then
> further made useful by context in a sentence.

I'm not sure the Chinese see it that way; I think ma1, ma2, ma3, and ma4
are four separate words, even though to my English ear they differ only
by tone.

I have read (I believe the paper was in Taxon) that there are only 500
common family names in China, and only around 1000 ethnic Han family
names it toto, so that abbreviating a Chinese name as Zhou, L. P. is
much more ambiguous than the same abbreviation in a European language,
where there are more family names and fewer given names.

Curtis Clark        
Web Coordinator, Cal Poly Pomona                 +1 909 979 6371
Professor, Biological Sciences                   +1 909 869 4062

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