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The vast majority (some 80%) of Chinese characters are phonetic-semantic compounds, that is they contain both sound elements and meaning elements.

So it's actually very useful to study phonetic groups in when learning Chinese characters!! Even when there are tone or vowel shifts, the phonetic groups can really help you match a character to its sound.

It's kind of like the situation where English spelling usually diverges from an exact phonetic representation, but it still provides an approximation of the actual pronunciation of the word which is enormously helpful in matching it to its spoken form.

A funny story about that. When I was a kid, I had two different words in my head: one which was pronounced "muh-sheen", and another which I found in The Way Things Work, that was spelled 'm-a-c-h-i-n-e' and pronounced "match-ayn" (rhymes with chime). That's what I got from sounding out the word. I had two parallel concepts in my head growing up, one rather technically oriented that involved inclined planes and levers, the other being machines like toasters, or whatever was on This Old House, probably. This ended when one day, I read something else that used the word and realized, rather excitedly, that there was no such thing as a match-ayn.

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