Beyond Logography The Phenomenon of zhuānzì 專字 in the Chinese Writing System

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Marian Olech



Zhuānzì 專字 are often defined as graphs representing a “special meaning” of a word, manifest in the choice (i.e., addition or alteration) of a semantic component. This article approaches the zhuānzì phenomenon in the broader context of the logographic nature of the Chinese writing system. It first identifies and discusses several thematic categories of zhuānzì, including both historical examples from unearthed and transmitted corpora and instances from the Chinese script as used in the linguistic environment of modern Mandarin. The article then seeks to compare and describe different kinds of information conveyed by different zhuānzì and suggests a terminological shift toward defining zhuānzì as “representing a subset of the word’s denotation,” a phrasing more suited to the complex reality of the phenomenon in question.

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