Chinese dictionary
Chinese dictionaries
A dictionary is a collection of words in one or more specific languages, often listed alphabetically, with usage information, definitions, etymologies, phonetics, pronunciations, and other information; or a book of words in one language with their equivalents in another, also known as a lexicon...

 date back over two millennia to the Eastern Zhou Dynasty
Zhou Dynasty
The Zhou Dynasty was a Chinese dynasty that followed the Shang Dynasty and preceded the Qin Dynasty. Although the Zhou Dynasty lasted longer than any other dynasty in Chinese history, the actual political and military control of China by the Ji family lasted only until 771 BC, a period known as...

, which is a significantly longer lexicographical history than any other language. There are hundreds of dictionaries for Chinese, and this article will introduce some of the most important. For additional information, see Jerry Norman (1988:170-180) for an overview or Paul Fu-mien Yang (1985) for a scholarly bibliography.


Chinese has two words for dictionary: zidian "character/logograph dictionary" for written forms, and cidian "word/phrase dictionary", for spoken forms.

For character dictionaries, zidian combines zi (字 "character, graph; letter, script, writing; word") and dian (典 "dictionary, encyclopedia; standard, rule; statute, canon; classical allusion").

For word dictionaries, cidian is interchangeably written (辭典/辞典; cídiǎn; tz'u-tien; "word dictionary") or (詞典/词典; cídiǎn; tz'u-tien; "word dictionary"); using cí (辭; "word, speech; phrase, expression; diction, phraseology; statement; a kind of poetic prose; depart; decline; resign"), and its graphic variant cí (詞; "word, term; expression, phrase; speech, statement; part of speech; a kind of tonal poetry"). Zidian is a much older and more common word than cidian, and Yang (1985:xxii) notes zidian is often "used for both 'character dictionary' and 'word dictionary'."

Traditional Chinese lexicography

The precursors of Chinese dictionaries are primers designed for students of Chinese characters. The earliest of them only survive in fragments or quotations within Chinese classic texts
Chinese classic texts
Chinese classic texts, or Chinese canonical texts, today often refer to the pre-Qin Chinese texts, especially the Neo-Confucian titles of Four Books and Five Classics , a selection of short books and chapters from the voluminous collection called the Thirteen Classics. All of these pre-Qin texts...

. For example, the Shi Zhou Pian
Zhou standard
The Zhou standard is an attempt of character standardisation, made about 800 BC by the Zhou Dynasty, and aiming to reduce regional variants of the Dazhuan characters. The set was constituted by about 1000 characters....

 (史籀篇) was compiled by one or more historians in the court of King Xuan of Zhou
King Xuan of Zhou
King Xuan of Zhou was the eleventh sovereign of the Chinese Zhou Dynasty. Estimated dates of his reign are 827-782 BC or 827/25-782 BC.He worked to restore royal authority after the Gong He interregnum. He fought the 'Western Barbarians' and another group on the Huai River to the southeast. In...

 (r. 827 BCE- 782 BCE), and was the source of the 籀文 zhòuwén variant forms listed in the Han dynasty
Han Dynasty
The Han Dynasty was the second imperial dynasty of China, preceded by the Qin Dynasty and succeeded by the Three Kingdoms . It was founded by the rebel leader Liu Bang, known posthumously as Emperor Gaozu of Han. It was briefly interrupted by the Xin Dynasty of the former regent Wang Mang...

 Shuowen Jiezi
Shuowen Jiezi
The Shuōwén Jiězì was an early 2nd century CE Chinese dictionary from the Han Dynasty. Although not the first comprehensive Chinese character dictionary , it was still the first to analyze the structure of the characters and to give the rationale behind them , as well as the first to use the...

 dictionary. The Cang Jie Pian (倉頡篇 "Compilation by Cang Jie"), named after the legendary inventor of writing, was edited by Li Si
Li Si
Li Si was the influential Prime Minister of the feudal state and later of the dynasty of Qin, between 246 BC and 208 BC. A famous Legalist, he was also a notable calligrapher. Li Si served under two rulers: Qin Shi Huang, king of Qin and later First Emperor of China—and his son, Qin Er Shi...

, and helped to standardize the Small seal script during the Qin Dynasty
Qin Dynasty
The Qin Dynasty was the first imperial dynasty of China, lasting from 221 to 207 BC. The Qin state derived its name from its heartland of Qin, in modern-day Shaanxi. The strength of the Qin state was greatly increased by the legalist reforms of Shang Yang in the 4th century BC, during the Warring...


The collation
Collation is the assembly of written information into a standard order. One common type of collation is called alphabetization, though collation is not limited to ordering letters of the alphabet...

 or lexicographical ordering of a dictionary generally depends upon its writing system
Writing system
A writing system is a symbolic system used to represent elements or statements expressible in language.-General properties:Writing systems are distinguished from other possible symbolic communication systems in that the reader must usually understand something of the associated spoken language to...

. For a language written in an alphabet
An alphabet is a standard set of letters—basic written symbols or graphemes—each of which represents a phoneme in a spoken language, either as it exists now or as it was in the past. There are other systems, such as logographies, in which each character represents a word, morpheme, or semantic...

 or syllabary
A syllabary is a set of written symbols that represent syllables, which make up words. In a syllabary, there is no systematic similarity between the symbols which represent syllables with the same consonant or vowel...

, dictionaries are usually ordered alphabetically. Samuel Johnson
Samuel Johnson
Samuel Johnson , often referred to as Dr. Johnson, was an English author who made lasting contributions to English literature as a poet, essayist, moralist, literary critic, biographer, editor and lexicographer...

 defined dictionary as "a book containing the words of any language in alphabetical order, with explanations of their meaning" in his dictionary
A Dictionary of the English Language
Published on 15 April 1755 and written by Samuel Johnson, A Dictionary of the English Language, sometimes published as Johnson's Dictionary, is among the most influential dictionaries in the history of the English language....

. But Johnson's definition cannot be applied to the Chinese dictionaries, as Chinese is written in character
Chinese character
Chinese characters are logograms used in the writing of Chinese and Japanese , less frequently Korean , formerly Vietnamese , or other languages...

s or logograph, not alphabets. To Johnson, not having an alphabet is not to the Chinese's credit, as in 1778, when James Boswell
James Boswell
James Boswell, 9th Laird of Auchinleck was a lawyer, diarist, and author born in Edinburgh, Scotland; he is best known for the biography he wrote of one of his contemporaries, the English literary figure Samuel Johnson....

 asked about the Chinese characters, he replied (Boswell 1907:822) "Sir, they have not an alphabet. They have not been able to form what all other nations have formed." Nevertheless, the Chinese made their dictionaries, and developed three original systems for lexicographical ordering: semantic categories, graphic components, and pronunciations.

Semantically organized dictionaries

The first system of dictionary organization is by semantic categories. The circa 3rd century BCE Erya
The Erya is the oldest extant Chinese dictionary or Chinese encyclopedia. Bernhard Karlgren concluded that "the major part of its glosses must reasonably date from" the 3rd century BC....

 (爾雅 "Approaching Correctness") is the oldest extant Chinese dictionary, and scholarship reveals that it is a pre-Qin compilation of glosses to classical texts. It contains lists of synonyms arranged into 19 semantic categories (e.g., "Explaining Plants," "Explaining Trees"). The Han Dynasty
Han Dynasty
The Han Dynasty was the second imperial dynasty of China, preceded by the Qin Dynasty and succeeded by the Three Kingdoms . It was founded by the rebel leader Liu Bang, known posthumously as Emperor Gaozu of Han. It was briefly interrupted by the Xin Dynasty of the former regent Wang Mang...

 dictionary Xiao Erya
Xiao Erya
The Xiao Erya was an early Chinese dictionary that supplements the Erya. It was supposedly compiled in the early Han Dynasty by Kong Fu , a descendent of Confucius...

 (小爾雅 "Little Erya") reduces these 19 to 13 chapters. The early 3rd century CE Guangya
The Guangya was an early 3rd century CE Chinese dictionary, edited by Zhang Yi during the Three Kingdoms period. It was later called the Boya owing to naming taboo on Yang Guang , which was the birth name of Emperor Yang of Sui.Zhang Yi wrote the Guangya as a supplement to the centuries older...

 (廣雅 "Expanded Erya"), from the Northern Wei
Northern Wei
The Northern Wei Dynasty , also known as the Tuoba Wei , Later Wei , or Yuan Wei , was a dynasty which ruled northern China from 386 to 534 . It has been described as "part of an era of political turbulence and intense social and cultural change"...

 Dynasty, followed the Eryas original 19 chapters. The circa 1080 CE Piya
The Piya was a Chinese dictionary compiled by Song Dynasty scholar Lu Dian . He wrote this Erya supplement along with his Erya Xinyi commentary...

 (埤雅 "Increased Erya"), from the Song Dynasty
Song Dynasty
The Song Dynasty was a ruling dynasty in China between 960 and 1279; it succeeded the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period, and was followed by the Yuan Dynasty. It was the first government in world history to issue banknotes or paper money, and the first Chinese government to establish a...

, has 8 semantically-based chapters of names for plants and animals. For a dictionary user wanting to look up a character, this arbitrary semantic system is inefficient unless one already knows, or can guess, the meaning.

Two other Han Dynasty lexicons are loosely organized by semantics. The 1st century CE Fangyan
The Fāngyán , edited by Yang Xiong, was the first Chinese dictionary of dialectal terms. The full title is Yóuxuān shǐzhĕ juédài yǔ shì biéguó fāngyán "Local speeches of other countries in times immemorial explained by the Light-Carriage Messenger," which alludes to a Zhou Dynasty tradition of...

 (方言 "Regional Speech") is the world's oldest known dialectal dictionary. The circa 200 CE Shiming
The Shìmíng is a Chinese dictionary that employed phonological glosses, and "is believed to date from c. 200 [CE]" . Its 1502 definitions attempt to establish semantic connections based upon puns between the word being defined and the word defining it, which is often followed with an explanation...

 (釋名 "Explaining Names") employs paranomastic glosses to define words.

Graphically organized dictionaries

The second system of dictionary organization is by recurring graphic components or radicals
Radical (Chinese character)
A Chinese radical is a component of a Chinese character. The term may variously refer to the original semantic element of a character, or to any semantic element, or, loosely, to any element whatever its origin or purpose...

. The famous 100-121 CE Shuowen Jiezi
Shuowen Jiezi
The Shuōwén Jiězì was an early 2nd century CE Chinese dictionary from the Han Dynasty. Although not the first comprehensive Chinese character dictionary , it was still the first to analyze the structure of the characters and to give the rationale behind them , as well as the first to use the...

 (說文解字 "Explaining Simple and Analyzing Compound Characters") arranged characters through a system of 540 bushou (部首 "section header") radicals. The 543 CE Yupian
The Yupian is a circa 543 CE Chinese dictionary edited by Gu Yewang during the Liang Dynasty. It arranges 12,158 character entries under 542 radicals, which differ somewhat from the original 540 in the Shuowen Jiezi...

 (玉篇 "Jade Chapters"), from the Liang Dynasty
Liang Dynasty
The Liang Dynasty , also known as the Southern Liang Dynasty , was the third of the Southern dynasties in China and was followed by the Chen Dynasty...

, rearranged them into 542. The 1615 CE Zihui
The Zìhuì is a Chinese dictionary, edited by Mei Yingzuo during the late Ming Dynasty and published in 1615, the forty-third year of the Ming Wanli Emperor. The work is divided into 14 fascicles and contains a total of 33,179 Chinese characters. It was the first dictionary to introduce the...

 (字彙 "Character Glossary"), edited by Mei Yingzuo (梅膺祚) during the Ming Dynasty
Ming Dynasty
The Ming Dynasty, also Empire of the Great Ming, was the ruling dynasty of China from 1368 to 1644, following the collapse of the Mongol-led Yuan Dynasty. The Ming, "one of the greatest eras of orderly government and social stability in human history", was the last dynasty in China ruled by ethnic...

, simplified the 540 Shuowen Jiezi radicals to 214. It also originated the "radical-stroke" scheme of ordering characters on the number of residual graphic strokes
Stroke order
Stroke order refers to the order in which the strokes of a Chinese character are written. A stroke is a movement of a writing instrument on a writing surface. Chinese characters are used in various forms in Chinese, Japanese, and in Korean...

 besides the radical. The 1627 Zhengzitong
The Zhengzitong was a 17th century Chinese dictionary. The Ming Dynasty scholar Zhang Zilie originally published it in 1627 as a supplement to the 1615 Zihui dictionary of Chinese characters, and called it the Zihui bian...

 (正字通 "Correct Character Mastery") also used 214. The 1716 CE Kangxi Zidian (康熙字典 "Kangxi Dictionary"), compiled under the Kangxi Emperor
Kangxi Emperor
The Kangxi Emperor ; Manchu: elhe taifin hūwangdi ; Mongolian: Энх-Амгалан хаан, 4 May 1654 –20 December 1722) was the fourth emperor of the Qing Dynasty, the first to be born on Chinese soil south of the Pass and the second Qing emperor to rule over China proper, from 1661 to 1722.Kangxi's...

 of the Qing Dynasty
Qing Dynasty
The Qing Dynasty was the last dynasty of China, ruling from 1644 to 1912 with a brief, abortive restoration in 1917. It was preceded by the Ming Dynasty and followed by the Republic of China....

, became the standard dictionary for Chinese characters, and popularized the system of 214 radicals. As most Chinese characters are semantic-phonetic ones (形聲字), the radical method is usually effective, thus it continues to be widely used in the present day. However, sometimes the radical of a character is not obvious. To compensate this, a "Chart of Characters that Are Difficult to Look up" (難檢字表), arranged by the number of strokes of the characters, is usually provided.

Phonetically organized dictionaries

The third system of lexicographical ordering is by character pronunciation. This type of dictionary collates its entries by syllable rime
Syllable rime
In the study of phonology in linguistics, the rime or rhyme of a syllable consists of a nucleus and an optional coda. It is the part of the syllable used in poetic rhyme, and the part that is lengthened or stressed when a person elongates or stresses a word in speech.The rime is usually the...

 and tones
Tone (linguistics)
Tone is the use of pitch in language to distinguish lexical or grammatical meaning—that is, to distinguish or inflect words. All verbal languages use pitch to express emotional and other paralinguistic information, and to convey emphasis, contrast, and other such features in what is called...

, and comprises the so-called "rime dictionary
Rime dictionary
thumb|upright=1.0|A page from Shiyun Hebi , a rime dictionary of the [[Qing Dynasty]]A rime dictionary, rhyme dictionary, or rime book is an ancient type of Chinese dictionary used for writing poetry or other genres requiring rhymes. A rime dictionary focuses on pronunciation and collates...

". The first surviving rime dictionary is the 601 CE Qieyun
The Qieyun is a Chinese rime dictionary, published in 601 CE during the Sui Dynasty. The title Qieyun literally means "cutting rimes" referring to the traditional Chinese fănqiè system of spelling, and is thus translatable as "Spelling Rimes."Lù Făyán was the chief editor...

 (切韻 "Cutting [Spelling] Rimes") from the Sui Dynasty
Sui Dynasty
The Sui Dynasty was a powerful, but short-lived Imperial Chinese dynasty. Preceded by the Southern and Northern Dynasties, it ended nearly four centuries of division between rival regimes. It was followed by the Tang Dynasty....

; it became the standard of pronunciation for Middle Chinese
Middle Chinese
Middle Chinese , also called Ancient Chinese by the linguist Bernhard Karlgren, refers to the Chinese language spoken during Southern and Northern Dynasties and the Sui, Tang, and Song dynasties...

. During the Song Dynasty, it was expanded into the 1011 CE Guangyun
The Guangyun is a Chinese rime dictionary that was compiled from 1007 to 1008 under the auspices of Emperor Zhenzong of Song. Chen Pengnian and Qiu Yong were the chief editors....

 (廣韻 "Expanded Rimes") and the 1037 CE Jiyun
The Jiyun is a Chinese rime dictionary published in 1037 during the Song Dynasty. The chief editor Ding Du and others expanded and revised the Guangyun. It is possible, according to Teng and Biggerstaff , that Sima Guang completed the text in 1067...

 (集韻 "Collected Rimes").

The clear problem with these old phonetically arranged dictionary is that the would-be user needs to have the knowledge of rime. Thus, dictionaries collated this way can only serve the literati.

A great number of modern dictionaries published today arrange their entries by pinyin
Pinyin is the official system to transcribe Chinese characters into the Roman alphabet in China, Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan. It is also often used to teach Mandarin Chinese and spell Chinese names in foreign publications and used as an input method to enter Chinese characters into...

 or other methods of romanisation, together with a radicals index. Some of these pinyin dictionaries also contain indices of the characters arranged by number and order of strokes, by the four corner encoding
Four corner method
The Four Corner Method is a character input method used for encoding Chinese characters into either a computer or a manual typewriter, using four or five numerical digits per character. The Four Corner Method is also known as the Four Corner System.The four digits encode the shapes found in the...

 (四角碼) or by the cangjie encoding
Cangjie method
The Cangjie input method is a system by which Chinese characters may be entered into a computer by means of a standard keyboard...


Some dictionaries employ more than one of these three methods of collation. For example, the Longkan Shoujian
Longkan Shoujian
Longkan Shoujian is a Chinese dictionary compiled during the Liao Dynasty by the monk Xingjun . Completed in 997, the work had originally been entitled Longkan Shoujing , but had its title changed owing to naming taboo when it was later printed by the Song publishers...

 (龍龕手鑑) of the Liao Dynasty
Liao Dynasty
The Liao Dynasty , also known as the Khitan Empire was an empire in East Asia that ruled over the regions of Manchuria, Mongolia, and parts of northern China proper between 9071125...

 uses radicals, which are grouped by tone. The characters under each radical are also grouped by tone.

Functional classifications

Besides categorizing ancient Chinese dictionaries by their methods of collation, they can also be classified by their functions. In the traditional bibliographic divisions of the imperial collection Siku Quanshu
Siku Quanshu
The Siku Quanshu, variously translated as the Imperial Collection of Four, Emperor's Four Treasuries, Complete Library in Four Branches of Literature, or Complete Library of the Four Treasuries, is the largest collection of books in Chinese history and probably the most ambitious editorial...

, the Xiaoxuelei (小學類 "Category of Minor Studies", which includes books on philology and "pre-modern linguistics") subdivides dictionaries into three types: Xungu (訓詁 "exegesis"), Zishu (字書 "character book") and Yunshu (韻書 "rime book").

The Xungu type comprises Erya and its descendants. These exegetical dictionaries focus on explaining meanings of words as found in the Chinese classics.

The Zishu dictionaries comprise Shuowen Jiezi, Yupian, Zihui, Zhengzitong, and Kangxi Zidian. This type of dictionary, which focuses on the shape and structure of the characters, subsumes both "orthography
The orthography of a language specifies a standardized way of using a specific writing system to write the language. Where more than one writing system is used for a language, for example Kurdish, Uyghur, Serbian or Inuktitut, there can be more than one orthography...

 dictionaries", such as the Ganlu Zishu
Ganlu Zishu
Ganlu Zishu is a Chinese orthography dictionary of the Tang Dynasty. The first surviving orthographical dictionary for the regular script, it was authored by Yan Yuansun , a descendant of the famous scholar Yan Shigu. It is roughly based on Yan Shigu's work Ziyang , now surviving only in fragments...

 (干祿字書) of the Tang Dynasty, and "script dictionaries", such as the Liyun (隸韻) of the Song Dynasty. Although these dictionaries center upon the graphic properties of Chinese characters, they do not necessarily collate characters by radical. For instance, Liyun is a clerical script
Clerical script
The clerical script , also formerly chancery script, is an archaic style of Chinese calligraphy which evolved in the Warring States period to the Qin dynasty, was dominant in the Han dynasty, and remained in use through the Wèi-Jìn periods...

 dictionary collated by tone and rime.

The Yunshu type focuses on the pronunciations of characters. These dictionaries are always collated by rimes.

While the above traditional pre-20th century Chinese dictionaries focused upon the meanings and pronunciations of words in classical texts, they practically ignored the spoken language and vernacular literature.

Modern Chinese lexicography

The Kangxi Zidian served as the standard Chinese dictionary for generations, is still published and is now online. Contemporary lexicography is divisible between bilingual and monolingual Chinese dictionaries.

Chinese–English dictionaries

The foreigners who entered China in late Ming and Qing Dynasties needed dictionaries for different purposes than native speakers. Wanting to learn Chinese, they compiled the first grammar books and bilingual dictionaries. Westerners adapted the Latin alphabet to represent Chinese pronunciation, and arranged their dictionaries accordingly.

Two Bible
The Bible refers to any one of the collections of the primary religious texts of Judaism and Christianity. There is no common version of the Bible, as the individual books , their contents and their order vary among denominations...

 translators edited early Chinese dictionaries. The Scottish missionary Robert Morrison wrote Chinese–English and English–Chinese lexicons (1815–1823). The British missionary Walter Henry Medhurst
Walter Henry Medhurst
Walter Henry Medhurst , was an English Congregationalist missionary to China, born in London and educated at St Paul's School, was one of the early translators of the Bible into Chinese language editions.-Early life:...

 wrote Hokkien (Min Nan
Min Nan
The Southern Min languages, or Min Nan , are a family of Chinese languages spoken in southern Fujian, eastern Guangdong, Hainan, Taiwan, and southern Zhejiang provinces of China, and by descendants of emigrants from these areas in diaspora....

) dialect (1832) and Chinese-English (1842) dictionaries. Both were flawed in their representation of pronunciations, such as aspirated
Aspiration (phonetics)
In phonetics, aspiration is the strong burst of air that accompanies either the release or, in the case of preaspiration, the closure of some obstruents. To feel or see the difference between aspirated and unaspirated sounds, one can put a hand or a lit candle in front of one's mouth, and say pin ...

 stops. The American philologist and diplomat Samuel Wells Williams
Samuel Wells Williams
Samuel Wells Williams was a linguist, missionary and Sinologist from the United States in the early 19th century.-Biography:...

 applied the method of dialect comparison in his dictionary (1874), and refined distinctions in articulation.

The British diplomat and linguist Herbert Giles
Herbert Giles
Herbert Allen Giles was a British diplomat and sinologist, educated at Charterhouse. He modified a Mandarin Chinese Romanization system earlier established by Thomas Wade, resulting in the widely known Wade-Giles Chinese transliteration system...

 compiled a lexicon (1892, 1912) that Norman (1988:173) calls "the first truly adequate Chinese–English dictionary". It contained 13,848 characters and numerous compound expressions, with pronunciation based upon Beijing Mandarin, which it compared with nine southern dialects such as Hakka, Cantonese, and Min. Giles modified the Chinese romanization system of Thomas Francis Wade
Thomas Francis Wade
Sir Thomas Francis Wade, GCMG, KCB , was a British diplomat and Sinologist who produced a syllabary in 1859 that was later amended, extended and converted into the Wade-Giles romanization for Mandarin Chinese by Herbert Giles in 1892...

 to create the Wade-Giles
Wade–Giles , sometimes abbreviated Wade, is a romanization system for the Mandarin Chinese language. It developed from a system produced by Thomas Wade during the mid-19th century , and was given completed form with Herbert Giles' Chinese–English dictionary of 1892.Wade–Giles was the most...

 system, which was standard in the West until 1979 when pinyin was adopted. The Australian missionary Robert Henry Mathews
Robert Henry Mathews
Robert Henry Mathews was an Australian missionary and Sinologist, best known for his 1931 Chinese-English Dictionary . Revised American edition . Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0674123502.-References:...

 updated and condensed Giles for his (1931, 1943, 1960) Chinese–English dictionary, which was popular for decades.

Trained in American Structural linguistics
Structural Linguistics
Structural linguistics is an approach to linguistics originating from the work of Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure. De Saussure's Course in General Linguistics, published posthumously in 1916, stressed examining language as a static system of interconnected units...

, Yuen Ren Chao
Yuen Ren Chao
Chao Yuen Ren was a Chinese American linguist and amateur composer. He made important contributions to the modern study of Chinese phonology and grammar....

 and Lien-sheng Yang wrote a Concise Dictionary of Spoken Chinese (1947), that emphasized the spoken rather than the written language. Main entries were listed in Gwoyeu Romatzyh
Gwoyeu Romatzyh
Gwoyeu Romatzyh , abbreviated GR, is a system for writing Mandarin Chinese in the Latin alphabet. The system was conceived by Y.R. Chao and developed by a group of linguists including Chao and Lin Yutang from 1925 to 1926. Chao himself later published influential works in linguistics using GR...

, and they distinguished free morphemes from bound morpheme
Bound morpheme
In morphology, a bound morpheme is a morpheme that only appears as part of a larger word; a free morpheme is one that can stand alone.Affixes are always bound. English language affixes are either prefixes or suffixes. E.g., -ment in "shipment" and pre- in "prefix"...

s. A hint of non-standard pronunciation was also given, by marking final stops and initial voicing and non-palatalization in non-Mandarin dialects.

The Swedish sinologist Bernhard Karlgren
Bernhard Karlgren
Klas Bernhard Johannes Karlgren was a Swedish sinologist and linguist who pioneered the study of Chinese historical phonology using modern comparative methods...

 wrote the seminal (1957) Grammata Serica Recensa
Grammata Serica Recensa
The Grammata Serica Recensa is a dictionary of Old Chinese published by the Swedish sinologist Bernard Karlgren in 1957.Bernard Karlgren made fundamental contributions to the study of the phonology of Middle and Old Chinese, which he called Ancient and Archaic Chinese respectively.In the course of...

 with his reconstructed pronunciations for Middle Chinese and Old Chinese
Old Chinese
The earliest known written records of the Chinese language were found at a site near modern Anyang identified as Yin, the last capital of the Shang dynasty, and date from about 1200 BC....


Chinese lexicography advanced during the 1970s. The translator Lin Yutang
Lin Yutang
Lin Yutang was a Chinese writer and inventor. His informal but polished style in both Chinese and English made him one of the most influential writers of his generation, and his compilations and translations of classic Chinese texts into English were bestsellers in the West.-Youth:Lin was born in...

 wrote a semantically sophisticated dictionary (1972) that is now available online. The author Liang Shih-Chiu
Liang Shih-Chiu
Liang Shih-chiu , a renowned educator, writer, translator, literary theorist and lexicographer.-Biography:Liang was born in Beijing in 1903. His father, Liang Xianxi , was a Xiucai in the Qing Dynasty. He was educated at Tsinghua College in Beijing from 1915 to 1923...

 edited two full-scale dictionaries: Chinese-English (Liang and Fang 1971) with over 8,000 characters and 100,000 entries, and English-Chinese (Liang 1975) with over 160,000 entries.

The linguist and professor of Chinese, John DeFrancis
John DeFrancis
John DeFrancis was an American linguist, sinologist, author of Chinese language textbooks, lexicographer of Chinese dictionaries, and Professor Emeritus of Chinese Studies at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa....

 edited a groundbreaking Chinese–English dictionary (1996) giving more than 196,000 words or terms alphabetically arranged in a single-tier pinyin order. The user can therefore in a straightforward way find a term whose pronunciation is known rather than searching by radical or character structure, the latter being a 2-tiered approach. This project had long been advocated by another pinyin proponent, Victor H. Mair
Victor H. Mair
Victor Henry Mair is a Philologist specializing in Sinitic and Indo-European languages, and holds the position of Professor of Chinese Language and Literature in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, United States...


Chinese–Chinese dictionaries

When the Republic of China
Republic of China
The Republic of China , commonly known as Taiwan , is a unitary sovereign state located in East Asia. Originally based in mainland China, the Republic of China currently governs the island of Taiwan , which forms over 99% of its current territory, as well as Penghu, Kinmen, Matsu and other minor...

 began in 1912, educators and scholars recognized the need to update the 1716 Kangxi Zidian. It was thoroughly revised in the (1915) Zhonghua Da Zidian
Zhonghua Da Zidian
The Zhonghua Da Zidian was an unabridged Chinese dictionary of characters published in 1915. The chief editors were Xu Yuan'gao , Lu Feikui , and Ouyang Pucun . It was based upon the 1716 Kangxi Zidian, and is internally organized using the 214 Kangxi radicals...

 (中華大字典 "Comprehensive Chinese-Character Dictionary"), which corrected over 4,000 Kangxi Zidian mistakes and added more than 1,000 new characters. Lu Erkui's (1915) Ci Yuan (辭源 "Sources of Words") was a groundbreaking effort in Chinese lexicography and can be considered the first cidian "word dictionary".

Shu Xincheng's (1936) Cihai (辭海 "Sea of Words") was a comprehensive dictionary of characters and expressions, and provided near-encyclopedic coverage in fields like science, philosophy, history. The Cihai remains a popular dictionary and has been frequently revised.

The (1937) Guoyu cidian (國語辭典 "Dictionary of the National Language") was a four-volume dictionary of words, designed to standardize modern pronunciation. The main entries were characters listed phonologically by Zhuyin Fuhao and Gwoyeu Romatzyh. For example, the title in these systems is ㄍㄨㄛㄩ ㄘㄉ一ㄢ and Gwoyeu tsyrdean.

Wei Jiangong's (1953) Xinhua Zidian
Xinhua Zidian
The Xinhua Zidian is a Chinese language dictionary published by the Commercial Press. It is the best-selling Chinese dictionary and the world's most popular reference work. This pocket-sized dictionary of Chinese characters uses Simplified Chinese characters and pinyin romanization...

 (新华字典 "New China Character Dictionary") is a pocket-sized reference, alphabetically arranged by pinyin. It is the world's most popular dictionary, and the 10th edition was published in 2004.

Lu Shuxiang's (1973) Xiandai Hanyu Cidian
Xiandai Hanyu Cidian
Xiandai Hanyu Cidian , also known as the Contemporary Chinese Dictionary, is an authoritative one-volume Chinese language dictionary published by the Commercial Press, now into its 5th edition. It was originally edited by Lu Shuxiang and Ding Shusheng as a reference work on modern Standard Chinese...

 (现代汉语词典 "Contemporary Chinese Dictionary") is a middle-sized dictionary of words. It is arranged by characters, alphabetized by pinyin, which list compounds and phrases, with a total 56,000 entries (expanded to 65,000 in the 2005 edition). Both the Xinhua zidian and the Xiandai Hanyu cidian followed a simplified scheme of 189 radicals.

Two outstanding achievements in contemporary Chinese lexicography are the (1986–93) Hanyu Da Cidian
Hanyu Da Cidian
The Hanyu Da Cidian is the most inclusive available Chinese dictionary. Lexicographically comparable to the OED, it has diachronic coverage of the Chinese language, and traces usage over three millennia from Chinese classic texts to modern slang...

 (漢語大詞典 "Comprehensive Dictionary of Chinese Words") with over 370,000 word and phrase entries listed under 23,000 different characters; and the (1986–89) Hanyu Da Zidian
Hanyu Da Zidian
The Hanyu Da Zidian is one of the best available reference works on Chinese characters. A group of more than 400 editors and lexicographers began compilation in 1979, and it was published in eight volumes from 1986 to 1989. A separate volume of essays documents the lexicographical complexities...

 (漢語大字典 "Comprehensive Dictionary of Chinese Characters") with 54,678 head entries for characters. They both use a system of 200 radicals.

In recent years, the computerization of Chinese has allowed lexicographers to create dianzi cidian (電子詞典/电子词典 "electronic dictionaries") usable on computers, PDAs, etc. There are proprietary systems, such as Wenlin Software for learning Chinese
Wenlin Software for learning Chinese
Wenlin Software for Learning Chinese is a software application designed by Tom Bishop, based on his experience of the needs of learners of the Chinese language, predominantly Mandarin. It contains a dictionary function as well as a text reader/writer function for reading and creating Chinese text...

, and there are also free dictionaries available online. After Paul Denisowski started the volunteer CEDICT
The CEDICT project was started by Paul Denisowski in 1997 and is presently maintained by MDBG, under the name CC-CEDICT, with the aim to provide a complete Chinese to English dictionary with pronunciation in pinyin for the Chinese characters.- Content :...

 (Chinese–English dictionary) project in 1997, it has grown into a standard reference database. The CEDICT is the basis for many Internet dictionaries of Chinese, and is included in the Unihan Database.

Specialized dictionaries

Chinese publishing houses print diverse types of zhuanke cidian (專科詞典/专科词典 "specialized dictionary
Specialized dictionary
A specialized dictionary is a dictionary that covers a relatively restricted set of phenomena. The definitive book on the subject includes chapters on dictionaries of:*synonyms*pronunciations*names...

"). One Chinese dictionary bibliography (Mathis et al. 1982) lists over 130 subject categories, from "Abbreviations, Accounting" to "Veterinary, Zoology." The following examples are limited to specialized dictionaries from a few representative fields.

For dialects

Twenty centuries ago, the Fangyan (see above) was the first Chinese specialized dictionary. The usual English translation for fangyan (方言 lit. "regional/areal speech") is "dialect
The term dialect is used in two distinct ways, even by linguists. One usage refers to a variety of a language that is a characteristic of a particular group of the language's speakers. The term is applied most often to regional speech patterns, but a dialect may also be defined by other factors,...

", but the language situation in China is uniquely complex. In the "dialect" sense of English dialects, Chinese has Mandarin dialects, yet fangyan also means "non-Mandarin languages, mutually unintelligible regional varieties of Chinese
Varieties of Chinese
Chinese comprises many regional language varieties sometimes grouped together as the Chinese dialects, the primary ones being Mandarin, Wu, Cantonese, and Min. These are not mutually intelligible, and even many of the regional varieties are themselves composed of a number of...

", such as Cantonese and Hakka. Some linguists like John DeFrancis
John DeFrancis
John DeFrancis was an American linguist, sinologist, author of Chinese language textbooks, lexicographer of Chinese dictionaries, and Professor Emeritus of Chinese Studies at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa....

 prefer the translation "topolect". Here are some general fangyan cidian (方言词典 "topolect dictionary") examples.
  • Beijing University Chinese Department. Hanyu Fangyin Zihui (汉语方言字汇 "A syllabary of Chinese topolects") Beijing: Wenzi Gaige Chubanshe. 1962.
  • Beijing University Chinese Department. Hanyu fangyan cihui (汉语方言词汇 "A lexicon of Chinese topolects"). Beijing: Wenzi Gaige Chubanshe. 1964.
  • Xu Baohua 许宝华 and Miyata Ichiroo 宫田一郎, eds. Hanyu fangyan da cidian (汉语方言大词典 "A comprehensive dictionary of Chinese topolects"). Beijing: Zhonghua Shuzhu. 1999.
  • Zhan Bohui 詹伯慧, ed. Xiandai Hanyu fangyan da cidian (现代汉语方言大词典 "A comprehensive dictionary of modern Chinese topolects"). Qianjiang: Hubei Renmin Chubanshe. 2002.

For idioms

Chinese has five words translatable as "idiom
Idiom is an expression, word, or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is comprehended in regard to a common use of that expression that is separate from the literal meaning or definition of the words of which it is made...

": chengyu (成語/成语 "set phrase; idiom"), yanyu (諺語/谚语 proverb; popular saying, maxim; idiom"), xiehouyu
Xiehouyu is a kind of Chinese proverb consisting of two elements: the former segment presents a novel scenario while the latter provides the rationale thereof. One would often only state the first part, expecting the listener to know the second...

 (歇後語/歇后语 "truncated witticism, aposiopesis
Aposiopesis is a figure of speech wherein a sentence is deliberately broken off and left unfinished, the ending to be supplied by the imagination, giving an impression of unwillingness or inability to continue. An example would be the threat "Get out, or else—!" This device often portrays its...

; enigmatic folk simile"), xiyu (習語/习语 "idiom"), and guanyongyu (慣用語/惯用语 "fixed expression; idiom; locution"). Some modern dictionaries for idioms are:
  • Li Yihua 李一华 and Lu Deshen吕德申, eds. Hanyu chengyu cidian (汉语成语词典 "A dictionary of Chinese idioms"). Sichuan Cishu Chubanshe. 1985.
  • Wang Qin 王勤, ed. Fenlei Hanyu chengyu da cidian (分类汉语成语大词典 "A comprehensive classified dictionary of Chinese idioms"). Shandong jiaoyu. 1988.
  • Li Xingjian 李行健, ed. Xiandai Hanyu chengyu guifan cidian (现代汉语成语规范词典 "A standard dictionary of modern Chinese idioms"). Changqun Chubanshe. 2000.
  • Zhang Yipeng 张一鹏, ed. Yanyu da dian (谚语大典 "A Dictionary of Chinese Proverbs). Shanghai: Hanyu dacidian Chubanshe. 2004.
  • Wen Duanzheng 温端政. Zhongguo yanyu da quan (中国谚语大全 "An encyclopedia of Chinese proverbs"), 2 vols. Shanghai: Shanghai Cishu. 2004.

For loanwords

The Chinese language adopted a few foreign wailaici (外來詞/外来词 "loanwords") during the Han Dynasty
Han Dynasty
The Han Dynasty was the second imperial dynasty of China, preceded by the Qin Dynasty and succeeded by the Three Kingdoms . It was founded by the rebel leader Liu Bang, known posthumously as Emperor Gaozu of Han. It was briefly interrupted by the Xin Dynasty of the former regent Wang Mang...

, especially after Zhang Qian
Zhang Qian
Zhang Qian was an imperial envoy to the world outside of China in the 2nd century BCE, during the time of the Han Dynasty...

's exploration of the Western Regions
Western Regions
The Western Regions or Xiyu was a historical name specified in the Chinese chronicles between the 3rd century BC to 8th century AD that referred to the regions west of Jade Gate, most often Central Asia or sometimes more specifically the easternmost portion of it The Western Regions or Xiyu was a...

. The lexicon absorbed many Buddhist terms and concepts
Buddhist terms and concepts
Several Buddhist terms and concepts lack direct translations into English that cover the breadth of the original term. Below are given a number of important Buddhist terms, short definitions, and the languages in which they appear...

 when Chinese Buddhism began to flourish in the Southern and Northern Dynasties
Southern and Northern Dynasties
The Southern and Northern Dynasties was a period in the history of China that lasted from 420 to 589 AD. Though an age of civil war and political chaos, it was also a time of flourishing arts and culture, advancement in technology, and the spreading of Mahayana Buddhism and Daoism...

. During the late 19th century, when Western powers forced open China's doors, numerous loanwords entered Chinese, many through the Japanese language
Japanese language
is a language spoken by over 130 million people in Japan and in Japanese emigrant communities. It is a member of the Japonic language family, which has a number of proposed relationships with other languages, none of which has gained wide acceptance among historical linguists .Japanese is an...

. While some foreign borrowings became obsolete, others became indispensable terms in modern vocabulary.
  • Cen Qixiang 岑麒祥 ed. Hanyu Wailaiyu Cidian (汉语外来语词典 "Dictionary of Loanwords in Chinese"). Beijing: Commercial Press. 1990.
  • Liu Zhengtan 劉正談, et al. eds. Hanyu Wailaici Cidian (漢語外來詞詞典 "Dictionary of Loanwords in Chinese"). Hong Kong: Commercial Press; Shanghai: Shanghai cishu chubanshe. 1985.
  • Shi Youwei 史有为, ed. Hanyu wailaici (汉语外来词 "Loanwords in Chinese"). Beijing: Commercial Press. 2000.

For vernacular literature

The 20th century saw the rapid progress of the studies of the lexicons found in the Chinese vernacular literature, which includes novels, dramas and poetry. Important works in the field include:
  • Zhang Xiang 張相, Shiciqu Yuci Huishi (詩詞曲語辭匯釋 "Compilation and Explanations of the Colloquial Terms Found in Classical Poetry and Dramas"). Pioneering work in the field, completed in 1945 but published posthumously in 1954 in Shanghai by Zhonghua Book Company. Many reprints.
  • Jiang Lihong 蔣禮鴻, Dunhuang Bianwen Ziyi Tongshi (敦煌變文字義通釋 "A Comprehensive Glossary of the Special Terms Found in the Genre of Dunhuang Bianwen"), revised and enlarged edition with supplements. Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe. 1997. First published 1962.
  • Wang Ying 王锳, Shiciqu Yuci Lishi (诗词曲语辞例释 "Explanations of the Colloquial Terms Found in Classical Poetry and Dramas, Illustrated by Examples"), 2nd revised and enlarged edition. Beijing: Zhonghua Book Company. 2005. First published 1980.
  • Gu Xuejie 顧學頡 & Wang Xueqi 王學奇, Yuanqu Shici (元曲釋詞 "Explanation of the Special Terms Found in the Yuan Operas"). Beijing: Zhongguo shehui kexue chubanshe. 1983–1990. 4 volumes.
  • Wang Ying 王锳, Tangsong Biji Yuci Huishi (唐宋笔记语辞汇释 "Compilation and Explanations of the Colloquial Terms Found in the Biji
    Biji (Chinese literature)
    Biji is a genre in classical Chinese literature. It roughly translates "notebook". A book of biji can contain anecdotes, quotations, random musings, philological speculations, literary criticism and indeed everything that the author deems worth recording. The genre first appeared during the Wei...

     of the Tang and Song Dynasties"), revised edition. Beijing: Zhonghua Book Company. 2001. First published 1990.
  • Wang Ying 王锳, Songyuanming Shiyu Huishi (宋元明市语汇释 "Compilation and Explanations of the Jargon and Slang used in the Song and Yuan Dynasties"). Guiyang: Guizhou renmin chubanshe. 1997.
  • Fang Linggui 方龄贵, Gudian Xiqu Wailaiyu Kaoshi Cidian (古典戏曲外來语考释词典 "A Dictionary of Loanwords in Classical Dramas of China"). Shanghai: Hanyu da cidian chubanshe; Kunming: Yunnan daxue chubanshe. 2001. First published in 1991 as Yuanming Xiqu Zhong De Mengguyu (元明戲曲中的蒙古語 "Mongolian Expressions in Yuan and Ming Dramas") by Shanghai: Hanyu dacidian chubanshe. Covering mainly the loanwords form Mongolian.

For Chinese learners

Employing corpus linguistics
Corpus linguistics
Corpus linguistics is the study of language as expressed in samples or "real world" text. This method represents a digestive approach to deriving a set of abstract rules by which a natural language is governed or else relates to another language. Originally done by hand, corpora are now largely...

 and lists of Chinese characters arranged by frequency of usage (e.g., Xiandai Hanyu changyong zibiao
Xiandai Hanyu changyong zibiao
The List of Commonly Used Characters in Modern Chinese is a list of 7,000 commonly used Simplified Chinese characters in Chinese. It was created in 1988 in the People's Republic of China.It is comparable to the Standard Form of National Characters in Taiwan....

), lexicographers have compiled dictionaries for learners of Chinese as a foreign language
Chinese as a foreign language
Chinese as a foreign or second language is the study of the Chinese languages by non-native speakers. Increased interest in China from those outside has led to a corresponding interest in the study of Standard Chinese as a foreign language, the official languages of mainland China and Taiwan....

. These specialized Chinese dictionaries are available either as add-ons to existing publications like Yuan (2004) and Wenlin or as specific ones like
  • Fenn, Courtenay H. and Hsien-tseng Chin. 1926. The Five Thousand Dictionary; A Chinese-English Pocket Dictionary. Mission Book Company. 1942. rev. American ed. Harvard University Press. 1973. 13th reprinting.
  • Huang, Po-fei. 1973. IFEL Vocabulary of Spoken Chinese. Yale University Far Eastern Publications.
  • Liu, Eric Shen. 1973. Frequency dictionary of Chinese words (Linguistic structures). Mouton.
  • Ho, Yong. 2001. Chinese-English Frequency Dictionary: A Study Guide to Mandarin Chinese's 500 Most Frequently Used Words. Hippocrene Books. Cover image
  • Burkhardt, Michael. 2010. TPS Frequency Dictionary of Mandarin Chinese: A Study Guide to 2,500 Characters and Over 24,000 Words and Phrases. Raleigh, NC: Lulu Press.

Online Chinese dictionaries

External links

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