As it turns out, by joining sound with meaning. This fourth way of inventing Chinese characters makes up 80% of Chinese characters today.
In Chinese, xing2 sheng1 means “form plus sound”.
This is easy to understand.
It involves putting together a meaning component (known as the radical) with a sound component (its pronunciation).
This way of creating Chinese characters has two advantages:
1. They are easy to create.
By adding different phonetics to the radicals, large numbers of Chinese characters can be formed.
2. They are easy to pronounce.
For instance take the Chinese word qu3.
The upper part of the character is qu3 “to get” (same sound)
The bottom part is nu:3 “woman” so the word means to take a woman as wife.
The upper part serves as the phonetic while the bottom part is the radical.
By using the same sound component and adding different meaning components gives a lot of different words.
Each word has a different meaning but they all have similar sound.
The difference in sound lies in the four tones (for Mandarin).
Here’s an example of the radical ma3 as the sound component.
马 Ma3 + 口—〉吗(ma) ， 石—〉码(ma3) ， 女—〉妈(ma1) ， 王—〉玛(ma3) ， 虫—〉蚂(ma3)
It’s interesting to note that even though many Chinese characters have a sound part, Chinese never became a phonetic language.
Because the Chinese characters retained their symbolic meanings.
So a Chinese character is a unit of sound and meaning.
Whereas, an English word is a unit of sound. The alphabets themselves don’t have meaning.