Saturday, April 30, 2011

The way of marking the phonetic value of Chinese words



I have talked about the sound tag which can often have a span of phonetic values. Now, I should summarize the attributes or dimensions of the entire Chinese verbal universe.

1. It has only a total of 1,000 or less distinguishable phonetic values.

2. Each phonetic point is a part of a 4-tone group. Thus, there are a total of 250 (1000/4) 4-tone at the most.

3. As the phonetic values are limited (1,000 or less) while the written characters are unlimited (currently having about 60,000), there must have many  homophones or homonyms. Now, every phonetic point carries an average of 60 (20 to 120) characters.

4. Every Chinese character carries two or more phonetic values. The same character changes its meaning when it changes its phonetic value. This is a very special attribute in the Chinese verbal universe.

In order to make sense the above facts, we should first know how a Chinese phonetic point (distinguishable sound) is defined. Every Chinese phonetic point is defined with two variables, the (similar to consonant) and the (similar to vowel). With alone, it cannot define a phonetic point. On the other hand,   alone can define a phonetic point.

Yet, how can “we” know the phonetic value of any phonetic point without already knowing them all? There is a way to resolve this issue. We can zero in the phonetic value (pv) of a phonetic point (pp) with two other points. Thus, by knowing only a few starting points, we can map out the entire set. This is called (reverse checking or engineering).

So, the sound (phonetic value) of a Chinese word (character) is “checked” out by two other words, by using the  of the first word + the of the second word to get its own  (the phonetic value). Now, the phonetic value of every word can be recursively defined, which is an axiomatic operation.  That is, by only knowing a very small starting group, the entire set can be mapped out.

In the entire Chinese verbal universe, there are about “206” which forms a spectrum. And, a   can easily go one step to its left or to its right, and this we call (rotate or change) .

By allowing the sound tag rotates or changes  ( )  one or more steps, it will increase the expressing power of the sound tag greatly. And, there is no need to have a sound tag for every phonetic point. Thus, the number of sound tags needed decreases, perhaps from  1,000 to 500 or less.

With the spectrum in place, a span of phonetic values for a sound tag will no longer cause any confusion.  For the words  [  (qún),   (jùn),   (qún)] ,  (jūn) is the sound tag while that sound tag has a span of phonetic values. This issue will be discussed more later.

Tienzen (Jeh-Tween) Gong

Friday, April 29, 2011

Comparing our own design to the Chinese language system



In my last post, I showed a 4-step design for constructing 60,000 distinguishable cookies. In fact, the current computer cookies are designed in a similar way. Yet, the Chinese character set has a finer design.

Instead of attaching a sound tag on a finished cookie, the sound tag  is playing a part at the beginning of its construction. As every sound tag has both the semantic and the phonetic values, it can make contributions in many different ways.

1. Its phonetic value plays a major way while its semantic value makes a minimum contribution, such as,
(鴨 、 鸚 、 鵡 、 鵬 、 鶯 、 鷗) and ( ,   ,  ). This makes the     (phonetic loan) word group.

2. Its semantic value plays a major way while its phonetic value makes a secondary contribution. This group can be further divided into two subgroups. This makes the   (sense determinators) word group.
a. The sound tag keeps a single phonetic value,  such as,
(妻 、 悽 、 棲 、 淒 、 ) and   (志 、 誌 、 痣 ).  
The words in each group has the identical pronunciation, the same as the sound tag.

b. The sound tag has a span of phonetic values, such as,
( ),
( )
and ( )

The pronunciation of each word in its group is defined by its sound tag while it has a span of values. Please see the webpage below for more information.

On page 112, The Columbia History of the World, ISBN 0-88029-004-8, it states,
"Structurally, the Chinese writing system passed through four distinct stages. No alphabetic or syllabic scripts were developed, but each word came to be denoted by a different character. The earliest characters were pictographs for concrete words. A drawing of a woman meant a woman, or of a broom a broom. Such characters were in turn combined to form ideographs. A woman and a broom became a wife, three women together treachery or villainy. The third stage was reached with the phonetic loans, in which existing characters were borrowed for other words with the same pronunciation. The fourth stage was a refinement of the third: sense determinators or radicals, were added to the phonetic loans in order to avoid confusion. Nine-tenths of the Chinese characters have been constructed by the phonetic method. Unfortunately, the phonetics were often borrowed for other than exact homophones. In such cases, the gaps have widened through the evolution of the language, until today characters may have utterly different pronunciations even though they share the same phonetic. The written language, despite its difficulties, has been an important unifying cultural and political link in China. Although many Chinese dialects are mutually unintelligible, the characters are comprehended though the eye, whatever their local pronunciation. One Chinese may not understand the other's speech, yet reads with ease his writing."

The two major statements made by the authors of “The Columbia History of the World” are,
1. Nine-tenths of the Chinese characters have been constructed by the phonetic [loan]method.

2. Unfortunately, the phonetics were often borrowed for other than exact homophones. In such cases, the gaps have widened through the evolution of the language, until today characters may have utterly different pronunciations even though they share the same phonetic.

Both statements are wrong. They have mistaken that all   (sense determinators) words which carry a sound tag as phonetic loan words. Again, they do not know that a sound tag has a span of phonetic values, especially, in the case of    (sense determinators) words.

I will discuss more about this sound tag span values in the next posts.

Tienzen (Jeh-Tween) Gong

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Constructing a merging system ourselves, continue


In my last  post, I outlined the objective (merging Chinese written system with the Chinese verbal system seamlessly), the initial and the boundary conditions, etc.. Now, let me rephrase them in more understandable terms.

Our objective is similar to making 60,000 distinguishable cookies which carry unique sound and meaning,  by using only a set of lego pieces (220 pieces in this case) while there are only 1,000 distinguishable sound available.

I will call these lego pieces as roots, and each root has a unique shape and meaning. Thus, it is not too difficult to make 60,000 distinguishable cookies by the different combinations of those 220 roots. As every  root has its own meaning, the meaning of every cookie can be read out from the meanings of  its composing parts. Yet, how can we attach a sound to each cookie with these roots?

Seemingly, we can assign a sound (phonetic value) to each root, and we can sound out the sound of the cookie from its composing roots. However, there is a problem for this special case. We have only 220 roots while there are about 1,000 distinguishable sound. That is, we must assign 4 to 5 different sound to every root, and this will cause a major confusion for the sounding out process. In fact, we must make a new set of sound tags in order to achieve our objective.


Thus, our first design strategy is “not” to assign any sound to the roots. In the making cookie process, the roots will always keep silent.

Our second design strategy is to construct 1,000 small cookies as sound tag, and each of them is assigned with one unique sound. Now, we have enough sound tags to cover the entire phonetic universe according to our design specification.

Our third design strategy is to make 60,000 distinguishable cookies with those roots any which way we prefer, to our heart’s content.

Our fourth design strategy is to attach a sound tag to each of those 60,000 cookies.

Now, our design is complete, a great success.
1. We can make as many cookies as we like, not just 60,000. And, they can be all unique.
2. The meaning of each cookie can be read out from its composing roots.
3. The sound of each cookie can be read out from its sound tag.

However, there is one problem in this system, that is, many cookies share an identical sound, the homophone or the homonym.  Yet, this problem can be resolved easily, and I will discuss it in the future posts.

Now, let’s review the following words again and to see whether those ancient Chinese had a similar idea the same as ours.
Case one: words in the group have the identical pronunciation.
 (妻 、 悽 、 棲 、 淒 、 )
(志 、 誌 、 痣 ),
(貽 、 怡 、 詒 ).

Case two: words in the group have “slightly” different (still related) pronunciation.
( )
( )
( )
( )
( )
( )
(佳 、 哇 、 詿 、 桂 、 鮭 、 閨 、 奎 、 崖 、 涯 、 洼 、 卦 、 封 、 硅 、 )
(曉 、 膮 、 嘵 、 撓 、 嶢 、 僥 、 、 獟 、 嬈 、 、 燒 、 澆 、 )

Case three: words in the group have “completely” different  pronunciations.
(鳳 、 鳩 、 鳶 、 鴆 、 鴻 、 、 鴿 、 鴨 、 鸚 、 鵡 、 鵬 、 鶯 、 鷗 、 鷙 、 )

Tienzen (Jeh-Tween) Gong

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Constructing a merging system ourselves



Instead of analyzing how Chinese written system merges with the verbal system, it will be fun for us to make such a design ourselves and to see who is smarter, us or the ancient Chinese. Of course, we must first outline our objective and list out what is available (including the limitations) for such an objective.

A. The objective --- merging Chinese written system with the Chinese verbal system (which encompasses, at least, 8 subsystems) seamlessly.

B. The initial and the boundary conditions
1. There are about 60,000 Chinese characters which are the result of a root based axiomatic system. The root set has n members, while the n is a finite number. In our case, I make n = 220.

2. There are only 1,000 distinguishable sounds in the entire Chinese verbal universe. 

3. Every Chinese word (character) has four dimensions.
   a. word form
   b. word sound
   c. word meaning
   d. word usage
Note: the word usage is very much about the relations among words. Thus, I will exclude it from this analysis. That is, every Chinese word will be viewed as a three-dimensional particle (form, sound, meaning).

4. Two functions
   i. Every distinguishable sound  carries many written words.
   ii. Every meaning can be expressed with many different written words.

C. The design criteria
   1. The meaning of every word (character) must be read out from its face.
   2. The pronunciation of every word (character) must be read out from its face.
   3. All material available for these tasks is the root set (220 in this case), nothing else.
   4. We can make up rules any which way we prefer, to our heart's content, as long as they are consistent among themselves.

With the above, can this objective be achieved? What are the best design strategies? I will discuss these in my next posts. Now, the readers should also think about these yourselves. While this is our own design, I will still provide some hints below from the works of the ancient Chinese.

Case one: words in the group have the identical pronunciation.
 (妻 、 悽 、 棲 、 淒 、 )
(志 、 誌 、 痣 ),
(貽 、 怡 、 詒 ).

Case two: words in the group have “slightly” different (still related) pronunciation.
( )
( )
( )
( )
( )
( )
(佳 、 哇 、 詿 、 桂 、 鮭 、 閨 、 奎 、 崖 、 涯 、 洼 、 卦 、 封 、 硅 、 )
(曉 、 膮 、 嘵 、 撓 、 嶢 、 僥 、 、 獟 、 嬈 、 、 燒 、 澆 、 )

Case three: words in the group have “completely” different  pronunciations.
(鳳 、 鳩 、 鳶 、 鴆 、 鴻 、 、 鴿 、 鴨 、 鸚 、 鵡 、 鵬 、 鶯 、 鷗 、 鷙 、 )

Even if you are new to Chinese language, you can still find some rules from the above list by looking up the pronunciations of each word from a dictionary. Then, we might be able to borrow those ideas for our own design.

Tienzen (Jeh-Tween) Gong

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Accommodating Chinese verbal universe by the written system


What is the implication for a written system being an axiomatic system? It must be a constructed and a designed system. That is, it cannot be a direct derivative from a verbal system. Thus, how to accommodate a verbal system by that designed written system became a major engineering challenge.  The merging of Chinese written and Chinese verbal systems  is, indeed, a linguistics wonder. Now, we should look into what the Chinese verbal system is all about.

Chinese verbal system has, at least, 8 major subsystems  (Mandarin, Cantonese, Hakka, Northern Min, Southern Min, Hsiang, Kan, Wu, etc.) while each subsystem has a few more dialects. Yet, the Chinese written system must and did accommodate all those systems. This is a fact, and it becomes a major guideline for our analysis.

How can this be done? Yet, it becomes a non-issue if all those subsystems are completely isomorphic to one another although they are mutually unintelligible phonetically. And, this is, indeed, the case. I will provide proofs on this later. Yet, with this understanding, I will use the Mandarin as the representative for the Chinese verbal system in our analysis of how Chinese written system merges with the verbal seamlessly.

First, we should outline the Chinese verbal universe. How many phonemes are there in the Chinese verbal universe? The answer is 1,000 maximum.  And, every phoneme is a member of a 4-tone family.
That is, there are only a total of 250 (1000/4) 4-tones.  For the issue of 4-tone, please visit the webpage
      http://www.chinese-word-roots.org/prl020.htm  
Note: another way of counting the phonemes results a number of 37, that is, 15 vowels and 22 consonants.  Yet, the combination of these 37 results a total of 250 4-tones, that is, 1,000 distinguishable sounds.

Indeed, the entire Chinese verbal universe does not go beyond these 1,000 distinguishable sounds. As there are about 60,000 distinguishable written words, each sound must carry an average of 60 words (from 20 to 120). That is, every single Chinese word has, at least, 20 homophones or homonyms. How to resolve this tangled mess become a major engineering design challenge for  the Chinese written system. And, this issue has three dimensions.
1. How to accommodate 60,000 written words with only 1,000 distinguishable sounds?
2. How to distinguish homophones or homonyms in the written forms?
3. How to distinguish homophones or homonyms in the verbal cases, without the helping of the written forms?

The solution for the first issue is to make the easily distinguishable words with an identical sound, such as,
(妻 、 悽 、 棲 、 淒 、 萋)

(志 、 誌 、 痣 ),

(貽 、 怡 、 詒 ), 

And  (撤 、 澈 、 徹 … ).

The words above in their group are having identical pronunciation. This way, indeed, provides a partial  solution for the first issue. Again, these words with the same sound are composed of different radicals, and  they can be easily distinguished with their written forms. Thus, the second issue is resolved at the same time. How about the issue three? Without the helping from the distinguishable written forms, how can homophones be distinguished in the verbal situation? This becomes a new engineering challenge, and I will discuss it later.

Tienzen (Jeh-Tween) Gong

Monday, April 25, 2011

More about 六 書 (six ways of constructing Chinese words)



If you are new to Chinese language, you will not have known  the following words. Yet, can you still  find some rules or relations among those words in their word group?

史, ,  使

,  ,  ,  

 ,  ,  

,  ,  

,  ,  ,  

,  ,  ,  ,  

,  ,  ,  ,   , ,  

,  ,  ,  ,  .

While Dr. F.S.C. Northrop was one of the greatest Sinologist in the 20th century, can you (a new comer) make a judgment  on his saying, “Chinese written language (Chinese words) is denotative and solitary -- no logical ordering or connection the one with the other.”? Of course, you can. Dr. Northrop was simply wrong regardless of his great academic stature and reputation. There are obvious logic connections between the words (and  使), also (,  ),  (,    ), etc..

Yet, the ignorance of Dr. Northrop was not an  isolated case.  All (each and every) great Sinologists are not better than him. 

Dr. John DeFrancis (another great Sinologist of our time) wrote, “The concept of ideographic writing is a most seductive notion. There is great appeal in the concept of written symbols conveying their message directly to our minds, thus bypassing the restrictive intermediary of speech. And it seems so plausible. Surely ideas immediately pop into our minds when we see a road sign, a death's head label on a bottle of medicine, a number on a clock. Aren't Chinese characters a sophisticated system of symbols that similarly convey meaning without regard to sound? Aren't they an ideographic system of writing?

The answer to these questions is no. Chinese characters are a phonetic, not an ideographic, system of writing, as I have attempted to show in the preceding pages. Here I would go further: There never has been, and never can be, such a thing as an ideographic system of writing. How then did this concept originate, and why has it received such currency among specialists and the public at large?”

Dr. J. Marshall Unger (Professor of Linguistics, Ohio State University) wrote in his book (Ideogram: Chinese Characters and the Myth of Disembodied Meaning), “Try this "thought experiment": suppose a couple really smart little green guys from outer space showed up one night in a suburb of Tokyo, just like in a Japanese science-fiction movie. Would they instantly understand all those store-front Chinese characters as soon as they saw them?
It's pretty obvious that cousins of E.T. would be as clueless about Chinese characters as you would be staring at street signs in Baghdad (unless, of course, you happen to be literate in Arabic). But that hasn't stopped generations of writers who really ought to know better from insisting that Chinese characters somehow convey meaning to brains through some mysterious process completely detached from language.”

Can “a death's head label on a bottle of medicine and a number of a clock” be intuitively understood by Tarzan (an archetypal feral child raised in the African jungles by the Mangani "great apes")?

Can “cousins of E.T. instantly understand all those store-front Chinese characters as soon as they saw them”? In the American Heritage Dictionary, @, #, $, %, &, *, {, ] are ideograms. Can any of those ET green guys instantly understand all those ideograms as soon as they saw them?

If the term “ideograph” is defined as above, must be understood intuitively without any instruction, then, Chinese characters are, of course, not ideographs. However, I think that both Dr. DeFrancis and Dr. Unger are wrong.  The meaning of @, #, $, % and & can be understood only by an agreement among a language community. And, that agreement must be learned.

Aren't Chinese characters a sophisticated system of symbols that similarly convey meaning without regard to sound?”
The answer is Yes. Every Chinese character similarly conveys meaning in all languages which use it, such as, in Japanese, Korea and in all different Chinese dialects (Mandarin, Cantonese, Hakka, Northern Min, Southern Min, Hsiang, Kan, Wu, etc.).  That character conveys similar meaning while pronounces differently in a different language.

“Chinese characters are a phonetic, not an ideographic, system of writing, as I have attempted to show in the preceding pages.” 
Chinese characters are, of course, phonetic, as I have said that all (each and every) Chinese characters have one sound tag either explicitly or implicitly. The only thing is that those sound tags can be pronounced  differently in different languages, the same as the English alphabet A is pronounced as (Ar) and B as (Bei) in German. 

Thus far, I have discussed 六 書 (six ways of constructing Chinese words), and we can get the following conclusions.
1.  六 書 were known in the ancient time.

2. With 六 書, I  have showed the validity of two premises below via both the existential introduction and the existential generalization.
i. Premise one ---- Chinese words are composed of roots.
ii. Premise two ---- The meaning of Chinese words can be read out from their faces.

3. No one in the past 2,000 years knows about the content and the substance of 六 書.  Thus, many great Chinese philologists and Western Sinologists made all kinds of ignorant statements about Chinese characters. 

4. Yet, 六 書 did not mention that every Chinese character has a sound tag either explicitly or implicitly. In fact,  六 書 discussed very little on the verbal part of the language.

5.  六 書 did not address the mutation process of Chinese word system at all. 

Thus, the point 4 and 5 will be the center of my future discussions.

Tienzen (Jeh-Tween) Gong
http://www.chinese-word-roots.org/