Project 02: Final Proposal

Title of Project Chinese Etymology

What is Chinese Etymology? Chinese Etymology is the study of the components making up a Chinese Character, which component gives it a sound and which gives it its meaning. It looks into the pictograph of the Chinese Character which is the archaic way of writing the letter.

What is the project about? Through the use of Chinese Etymology and the study of culture neutral pictographs, launch a design solution to cause Singapore Students to embrace the language and identify with it. 

Why is this project important? Chinese is a declining language in Singapore even though it is most Chinese Students’ Mother Tongue. The Speak Mandarin Campaign is the longest running campaign in Singapore—which shows how important this language is to the government.

Why is this project interesting? Chinese Etymology is not commonly recognized in teaching Chinese to students. Not only children, but adults too are unfamiliar with Chinese Etymology. It will be an entirely new way of teaching Chinese to Children.

Keywords: Language Education, Experiential Design, Culture-Neutral Pictograms


  1. Knowledge through Information
  2. Interest: through something that aids children to learn + using something children enjoy

Possible Outcomes: Exhibition involving activities to help Children learn in a fun and engaging way

Location: Asian Civilizations Museum 

Deliverable for VC4: Poster Design Showing the details of the exhibition and illustration which is used to attract attention of the kids but at the same time helps to bridge the gap using the culture-neutral illustration. The catch-phrase also creates a sense of curiosity to know what the meaning of the character is.

Moving Forward: Decide on a context so that the children will be able to process the information faster and more effectively. 

FYP Research

Idea: Chinese Etymology



Three aspects of the chinese character:

Semantic: Most modern Chinese characters are semantic-phonetic complexes, meaning one component hints at the meaning while the other hints at the sound. Semantic components are often called “radicals” but this is a misleading term.

Phonetic: Phonetic components exist in over 85% of characters today and are nearly as reliable as English phonetics. The phonetic approach is of great value in learning Chinese and greatly under utilised.

Apparent: With simple phonetic/semantic compounds, the apparent components are often the actual components. However, with many non-standard characters the original components are unrecognisable in modern characters. The apparent components provide an easy way to find characters. 


Archaic > Ancient > Traditional > Simplified

There are usually 4 progressive versions of a character since it was first discovered, starting from archaic to simplified. Something interesting is that usually, archaic forms are almost pictorial. Archaic Forms are also known as Pictographs—picture graphics.

Why I picked this topic: 
The Chinese character is one of the oldest languages in the history of mankind. And the most interesting thing about it is that most of these characters come from pictograms (Picture graphics). Which means, before it became a Chinese cultural symbol or language, it was made up of culture-neutral symbols that could communicate meanings of sentences or objects without the language barrier. Also, there is a huge bank of symbols and pictograms to be analysed in the development of the character from archaic to ancient and to simplified/ traditional.
Important Questions to guide the exploration:
Can the study of chinese etymology create new relevance for the written chinese character in the world today?
Can it change the way we design? (is there a contemporary way of treating chinese characters now that we know of these pictograms that are culture/language-neutral?)
Problem 01:
Dilution of the Chinese chacter in Singapore today
In Singapore, the government has been pushing singaporeans to learn and speak chinese where possible. It is Singapore’s longest running Campaign all the way till this year, 2017, the government is still pushing for this movement amongst youths. This means the dilution of this language is a problem and it is a relevant problem to research and dive into.
Target Audience:
Schools under Ministry of Education, Children and Teenagers alike
Through the study of chinese etymology (language-neutral pictrograms), can it bridge the gap between a westernized generation of students and their traditional chinese roots?
Problem 02:
Chinese or Western Design? Where do Singaporean Designers Stand? Like Hong Kong, we have a very interesting mix of western and chinese influences on design? But why is it that we are studying western graphic design, adhering to principles of western art and gd, but we are not applying what we know in Chinese art and gd into our practices?
Research paper talking about chinese graphic design and its influences, how to move forward etc:
Target Audience:
Singaporean Designers
Through the Study of Chinese Etymology, make chinese typography / characters relevant to Singaporean Designers.
These are just two rough contexts I picked out as to why the study of Chinese etymology is important or relevant to people who will see my work. The deliverables are not confirmed yet because I have yet to really look at what will work, what makes a design relevant (is it through creating typefaces or through a publication or application etc) and can only be confirmed through more research.

YellowBridge / ChineseCharacter / Chinese


Speak Mandarin Campaign / Parent Child Talent Competition / Chinese Graphic Design Paper