The illustrations below of the various ways the character for horse is used in Chinese give you an idea of how the Chinese script works.
You can see below how the character for horse has evolved since it first appeared in the Oracle Bone Script during the Shang Dynasty (c. 1400-1200 BC).
The character 马 [馬] is pronounced mǎ in Mandarin and máh in Cantonese. It means horse and is also used as a family name.
The character is used in horse-related compound words, such as:
About 90% of Chinese characters contain a semantic component or radical (bùshǒu), which gives you a clue to the meaning of a character, and a phonetic component, which hints at how to pronounce the character. The character for horse is used both as a phonetic compontent and as a semantic component.
The charcter for horse is used as a phonetic component in the following characters, some of which are only used in compound words, and some of which are rarely used:
The charcter for horse is used as a semantic component in the following characters:
The character for horse is also used for its phonetic value alone when writing foreign loanwords or the names of foreign people or places.
The few foreign loanwords that exist in Chinese come mainly from English but the word mǎhū comes from the Sanskrit मोह (moha) - ignorance. The syllables of mǎhū are usually doubled to make it mǎmahūhu. This is a common way to intensify the meaning of adjectives.
Chinese Etymology - shows all known forms for each character (including horse): http://www.internationalscientific.org/CharacterEtymology.aspx
Chinese-Characters.org - shows modern and some ancient forms of characters: http://chinese-characters.org
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