Forma, Vol. 15 (No. 4), pp. 409-414, 2000
Original Paper

Complexity of Chinese Characters

Tatsuo Togawa1, Kimio Otsuka1, Shizuo Hiki2 and Hiroko Kitaoka3

1Institute of Biomaterials and Bioeng., Tokyo Medical and Dental University, 2-3-10 Kanda Surugadai, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 101-0062, Japan
2School of Human Sciences, Waseda University, Tokorozawa, 2-579-15 Mitsugashima, Tokorozawa-shi 359-1192, Japan
3Biomedical Research Center, Osaka University Medical School, 2-2 Yamadaoka, Suita-shi 565-0871, Japan

(Received May 1, 2000; Accepted June 13, 2000)

Keywords: Chinese Character, Logogram, Complexity, Stroke Number, Coding

Abstract. Chinese characters are logograms each of which corresponds to one or only a few ideas. To express many ideas, many characters have to be used. Thus, in order to distinguish different characters, great complexity of form is necessary. If Chinese characters had evolved so as to maximize efficiency in conveying ideas, character complexity would depend on the necessary number of characters. Therefore we examined the distributions of stroke numbers of Chinese characters taught from the first to sixth grade of Japanese elementary school, Chinese characters for normal daily use, and all the Chinese characters listed in large dictionaries. A fairly linear relationship was found between the logarithm of the number of characters and the average number of strokes in each groups (r = 0.998). This result suggests that the morphology of the Chinese character system is well organized so as to distinguish given number of ideas with minimum complexity.

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