Linguistic variation in Chinese characters: Knowledge essential for teachers

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“Hong Kong and Taiwan adopt the same standard of traditional Chinese characters.” “Characters are pronounced only in those ways specified in the dictionary.” These are some simplistic notions that teachers commonly hold about the standard of correctness of characters. But if we closely examine the actual usage of characters in everyday practice, there exists subtle variants of the characters. This paper reports on the results of our project to identify linguistic variation in characters for raising teachers’ awareness in a teacher education course. Our project focused on those characters in the curriculum and, by gathering multiple sources of data, endeavored to find out what categories of variation existed in these characters. Two such categories of variation, namely, variation in written form and variation in stroke order, are explained in full detail. These results have practical implications to teaching since problems often arise when children adopt a variant of characters different from that of the teachers. Knowledge about possible variants of characters is thus necessary for teachers to appropriately respond to the children. Multiple standards, which teachers should interpret as helpful references rather than dogmatic rules, are recommended. We conclude the paper with suggestions for future research on practical linguistic knowledge for teachers. Copyright © 2020 Centre for Language Studies, National University of Singapore.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)489-504
JournalElectronic Journal of Foreign Language Teaching
Issue numberSuppl. 2
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020


Lam, H. C. (2020). Linguistic variation in Chinese characters: Knowledge essential for teachers. Electronic Journal of Foreign Language Teaching, 17(Suppl. 2), 489-504.


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