江 / 川 / 河

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elianecanspeak

Senior Member
English - EEUU
Could you give me some idea of the differences between the following characters (can I say kanji?) for river.

(I have no background in Chinese languages, but can read English, Spanish, French, and Italian, if you want to respond in those languages.)

: My understanding is that this is a swift deep river that runs through canyons, and the leftmost part of the character is the symbol for water.

: Why does this not include the water symbol?

: From what I have found, this includes the water symbol and originally referred to the Hwang Hé only, then was generalized to 1)any river or 2)broad, shallow rivers


I do not know how reliable my sources are, and I would appreciate any help you can give me about the origin and evolution of these words (do they come from different dialects?, earlier time periods?, etc)

Many thanks
 
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  • viajero_canjeado

    Senior Member
    English - Southeastern USA
    Greetings, elianecanspeak!

    First, the word kanji (漢字) is a Japanese term. If you're inquiring specifically about Chinese characters you should use the word Hanzi (漢字).
    From my rudimentary understanding (and after a bit of discussion with some Taiwanese classmates) I hazard to offer the following comments:
    Oftentimes the naming of rivers in ancient times didn't conform to any set of guidelines but was somewhat arbitrary in nature. That is why you will encounter rivers of comparable size with different designations. My classmates also spoke of a certain vague impression they have of the degrees of river size. From largest to smallest: 江, 河, 川, 溪. Again, there is some grey area between the levels in the same way we might find it hard to distinguish between a mesa and a plateau or a ravine and a gorge. Interestingly, Taiwan has no 江, but only 河. Paradoxically, one of the largest rivers in the world - the Nile - is called a 河. I guess I think of it like this: 河 most closely corresponds to my idea of a river. 江 is like a "big river". 川 is like a small river or large stream. 溪 is like a stream.
    I reckon 川 doesn't have the water root (often referred to as 三點水 - the three water dots) because it already resembles three streams flowing side by side.
    I'm afraid I don't have ready access to a dictionary which adequately explains the etymology and history of the characters in question, so hopefully someone better equipped can respond to that portion of your inquiry.
     

    Ghabi

    Senior Member
    Cantonese
    Etymologically speaking, 河 and 江 are proper names (i.e. 黃河 and 長江) while 川 is the general word for "river". As far as modern usage is concerned, we use only 河 when we want to say a "river", thus you won't find 江 and 川 among the names of foreign rivers.
     

    snooprun

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    Well , to my knowlege, 江 is typically bigger than 河. Regarding 川, it is used to describe 江 or 河 surrounded by mountains altogether. Hope this helps.
     

    Ghabi

    Senior Member
    Cantonese
    Call me a simpleton, but I don't think we need to complicate the picture. Suffice it to say:

    -when you want to say a "river", use 河, and when you want to say a "creek/brook", use 溪/小溪

    -when you read books, remember that 江 and 川 also mean "river"; and that 河 and 江 are sometimes used for their original meanings (i.e. 黃河 and 長江, e.g. in the place names 河南 and 江南). It's necessary to recognize 江 and 川, but you don't need to have them in your active vocabulary.

    Perhaps someone will tell you about the supposed difference between 江/河/川 (there're always people who knows how many angels can dance on the head of a pin), but I don't think he can back up his argument.
     

    indigoduck

    Senior Member
    Canadian English
    Call me a simpleton, but I don't think we need to complicate the picture. Suffice it to say:

    -when you want to say a "river", use 河, and when you want to say a "creek/brook", use 溪/小溪

    -when you read books, remember that 江 and 川 also mean "river"; and that 河 and 江 are sometimes used for their original meanings (i.e. 黃河 and 長江, e.g. in the place names 河南 and 江南). It's necessary to recognize 江 and 川, but you don't need to have them in your active vocabulary.

    Perhaps someone will tell you about the supposed difference between 江/河/川 (there're always people who knows how many angels can dance on the head of a pin), but I don't think he can back up his argument.
    What does this mean:

    "there're always people who knows how many angels can dance on the head of a pin"

    Are you saying that if it were explained any further, it'd become absurd ?
     

    viajero_canjeado

    Senior Member
    English - Southeastern USA
    I suppose it means something like "people will claim to know obscure and trivial information", probably because it makes them look smart.
     

    elianecanspeak

    Senior Member
    English - EEUU
    Many thanks to all of you.

    My question came up because I have been looking at place names of regions, cities, etc., and I am interested both in the etymology and differences in modern usage.

    I really don't have any active vocabulary, Ghabi, because I don't speak the language, although I hope to learn a little someday. But the answers you all provided me are just what i was looking for.
     

    Smrtman5

    New Member
    English - East Coast US
    Youve got it viajero_canjeado, thats what it means.

    As far as the characters themselves tho, my understanding is thus:

    川 is a pictogram, that looks like a river.

    江 is a ....ideaogram, or ideaogram compound? the water radical + 工 work...so 水 + 工...water doing work...a river. Think waterwheel driven factory :)

    as far as 河, i think thats a phonogram for water radical + ke (sounds like he) so 水+可 = 河.

    $.02
     

    aggeloskina

    New Member
    Chinese Mandarin

    it could also mean 'plain' / 'area'.
    冰川 ('ice area') = glacier
    一马平川 = a wide expanse of flat land;
    I think 川 is more like the streams flowing from the mountain. the usage of 冰川 is because glacier looks like that. and 一马平川 means the plain that the steams create after flowing out of mountain.

    According to my experience. 江 is more frequently used in Southern part of China when naming rivers. 河 is more used in the north. some small rivers in the south can be called 江, in the north, only a few major rivers called 江 e.g. 松花江,黑龙江. I guess there is a preference in difference dialects. hope it's helpful, lol i just drew that from my experience.
     

    Ghabi

    Senior Member
    Cantonese
    Im pretty sure this is an ideaogram compound. Second opinion anyone?
    I wonder why you think so ... perhaps because the pronunciation of 江 in Mandarin (i.e. jiang1) has led you astray? Actually the palatalization of the series k-g-h in the Northern dialects was a rather recent thing, and 江 is still pronounced with a hard, inasprated /k/ in the Southern dialects. As to the vowel difference between 江 and 工, the two words probably had different vowels when the character 江 was coined, and the difference is not a result of sound change. For example, 燈 is pronounced deng1, but was simplified as 灯, using 丁 ding1 as its phonetic indicator. Bottom line is, a character and its phonetic indicator don't need to be homophones.
     

    hkenneth

    Member
    Chinese - Mandarin & Shanghainese
    As a native speaker, I would think 河 is the most general term for 'water running across the land'. It can be anything wider than a stream to the largest and longest river in the world such as the Niles and the Amazon. Adjectives like 大 and 小 are always attached before 河 to describe its size.

    江 also means river, but only the large ones. Adjectives like 大 and 长 are used to describe 江. Generally 江 would also have several tributaries. When to use 江 instead of 河 is sort of arbitrary though.

    川 is much more literary than both 江 and 河. I never use it in daily language. It will be seen in songs and poems.

    浜(bang1) instead of 河 is commonly used in Wu-Chinese for river, therefore it will be seen in areas where people speak dialects of Wu-Chinese, such as Shanghai, Zhejiang and Jiangsu Province. (Think about lake vs. loch.) It might also be used in somewhere else but I am not sure.

    溪(xi1) and 涧(jian4) both mean stream. 溪 is more general, while 涧 is for stream in the mountain.

    Additionally, 池(chi2) means pool, 塘/溏(tang2) means pond, 湖(hu2) means lake, 湾(wan1) means gulf, 海(hai3) means sea and 洋(yang2) means ocean. Another word meaning pond is 潭, which also gives a feeling of deep, clean and quiet water. 沼泽 means swamp.
     
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    elianecanspeak

    Senior Member
    English - EEUU
    As a native speaker, I would think 河 is the most general term for 'water running across the land'. It can be anything wider than a stream to the largest and longest river in the world such as the Niles and the Amazon. Adjectives like 大 and 小 are always attached before 河 to describe its size.

    江 also means river, but only the large ones. Adjectives like 大 and 长 are used to describe 江. Generally 江 would also have several tributaries. When to use 江 instead of 河 is sort of arbitrary though.

    川 is much more literary than both 江 and 河. I never use it in daily language. It will be seen in songs and poems.

    浜 instead of 河 are commonly used in Wu-Chinese for river, therefore it will be seen in areas where people speak dialects of Wu-Chinese, such as Shanghai, Zhejiang and Jiangsu Province. It might be also used in somewhere also but I am not sure.

    溪 and 涧 both means stream. 溪 is more general, while 涧 is for streams in the mountain.

    Additionally, 池 means pool, 溏(塘) means pond, 湖 means lake, 湾 means gulf, 海 means sea and 洋 means ocean. Another word meaning pond is 潭, which also gives a feeling of deep, clean and quiet water.
    This is an very useful summary.
    I would be grateful (if and when you had the time and were willing), you could provide the pronunciation with tone for the characters, since I am a non-speaker.
     

    viajero_canjeado

    Senior Member
    English - Southeastern USA
    Eliacanspeak,
    A decent dictionary will give you ready access to pronunciation. I recommend mdbg.net, but of course there are others. In the meantime:
    溪xi1
    涧jian4
    池chi2
    溏(塘)tang2
    湖hu2
    湾wan1
    海hai3
    洋yang2
    潭tan2
     
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