From the past 2,000 years to the present, no one (including me) in China learns Chinese characters as a root based axiomatic system. In 2005, I searched the Library of Beijing University. It had over 3,000 books on Chinese written characters. Not a single book describes Chinese characters as a root word set, let alone an axiomatic set. Furthermore, not a single book used 六 書 (six ways of constructing Chinese words) as a part of a book title.
Yet, the Chinese character set was matured 2,000 years ago before my publication of this new Chinese Etymology. The concept of 六 書 (six ways of constructing Chinese words) was also mentioned 1,900 years ago while there was no further elaboration at all beyond the six sentences in the book of 說 文 (So-Wen). That is, I cannot make Chinese character set to become an axiomatic set if it itself was not already one 2,000 years ago. Although my new Chinese etymology is much more complicated than the 六 書 can encompass, 六 書 does form the foundation for this new etymology. Thus, I will describe this new etymology beginning from discussing the 六 書.
Note: in the ancient time (before Qing dynasty, 210 b.c.), the young students learned Chinese words by learning the 六 書 first.
As there is no elaboration “at all” on 六 書 available beyond the six sentences mentioned above now, my description of them is, in fact, a reinvention from me. Of course, we should check my invention against those old canonic sentences. The followings are those six canonic sentences.
- 指 事 者 (pointing or assigning)， 視 而 可 識 ， 察 而 見 意 。 上 、 下 是 也 。
- 象 形 者 (pictographic)， 畫 成 其 物 ， 隨 體 詰 出 。 日 、 月 是 也 。
- 形 聲 者 (phonetic loan)， 以 事 為 名 ， 取 譬 相 成 。 江 、 河 是 也 。
- 會 意 者 (sense determinators)， 比 類 合 誼 ， 以 見 指 偽 。 誠 、 信 是 也 。
- 轉 註 者 (synonymize)， 建 類 一 首 ， 同 意 相 受 。 考 、 老 是 也 。
- 假 借 者 (borrowing)， 本 無 其 字 ， 依 聲 托 事 。 令 、 長 是 也 。
These six are divided into three groups,
Group 1 --- 指 事 者 (pointing or assigning) and 象 形 者 (pictographic). This group creates 文 (a pattern of something). That is, 文 is a pictograph symbol.
Group 2 --- 形 聲 者 (phonetic loan) and 會 意 者 (sense determinators). This group creates 字 (a word). 字 is composed of, at least, two 文.
In fact, this concept of 文 and 字 forms a composite model, 文 as the root while 字 is a composite word. That is, the ancient Chinese did know that Chinese character set is a 文 (root)-based composite system.
文 (pattern of …) is Root 97 [meaning heavenly or heavenly virtue, which is the shared radical of (亢, 六, 玄, 文, 亡, 亦)] over 乂 (the crisscross pattern). Thus, 文 is a heavenly sign, an image.
字 (word) is Root 121 [roof or a house, which is the shared radical of (室, 安, 宓, 家, etc.)] over 子 (child). Thus, the original meaning for 字 according to my new etymology is a child under roof, the descendants. Here, 字 is the descendant of 文.
Yet, there are two types of 文.
1. 象 形 文 (pictographic) --- an image (pictograph) points out or to a concrete object, such as 日 (Sun), 月 (Moon), 山 (hill), 牛 (cow), etc.. In fact, there are a total of 70 象 形 文 in the entire Chinese word set, and no more.
2. 指 事文 (pointing or assigning) --- an image (pictograph) points out or to a concept (not object), such as 夕 (night), 白 (white color), 卜 (divination), etc.. There are a total of 87 指 事 文 in the entire Chinese word set, and no more.
These two 文 (70 + 87 = 157) account 71.4% of the total Chinese 220 word roots.
Group 3 --- 轉 註 者 (synonymize) and 假 借 者 (borrowing). This group does not truly create new word but create a new meaning or new usage for an existing word. This group causes the most troubles on decoding the words from their faces as the original meaning of those words were changed by these two operations.
Tienzen (Jeh-Tween) Gong