Monday, April 11, 2011

Chinese language in the eyes of some great Western Sinologists

I have showed that the two premises below are attributes of Chinese word system.
i. Premise one ---- Chinese words are composed of roots.
ii. Premise two ---- The meaning of Chinese word can be read out from its face.

Then, many people said, “It is widely known that characters are composed of parts and that parts of characters carry meanings and that other parts carry phonetic information.”  In a sense, the above statement is true. But, what was the understanding of that statement?

The 熙 (Emperor Kangsi) leading radicals ( ) were known for two thousand years.  The dictionary was published in 1680s, that is,  330 years ago. Was anyone  able to  read out the meaning of Chinese characters by using the radicals?

In 1920s (during the May 4th movement), the slogan in China was (if not abandon Chinese character system, China as a nation will disappear from the Earth). Chinese character system was deemed as the culprit for China's backwardness and high illiteracy rate at that time. This was why Chinese characters were simplified in 1958. If radicals showed that the  Chinese character set  is an axiomatic system, then it had no reason to do the simplification. With radicals, Chinese words can never be dissected correctly, and there is no chance to decode them correctly.

Well, in addition to the above historical facts, we should look into the writings on this subject from the great scholars (both Chinese and Westerners) in the history (from 2000 years ago to the present time).

Dr. F.S.C. Northrop was one of the greatest Sinologist in the recent time. In his book, The Meeting of East and West -- an Inquiry Concerning World Understanding (The Macmillan Company, 1968 by Dr. F.S.C. Northrop), Dr. Northrop wrote, "The Easterner, on the other hand, uses bits of linguistic symbolism, largely denotative, and often purely ideographic in character, to point toward a component in the nature of things which only immediate experience and continued contemplation can convey. This shows itself especially in the symbols of the Chinese language, where each solitary, immediately experienced local particular tends to have its own symbol, this symbol also often having a directly observed form like that of the immediately seen item of direct experience which it denotes. For example , the symbol for man in Chinese is , and the early symbol for house is . As a consequence, there was no alphabet. This automatically eliminates the logical whole-part relation between one symbol and another that occurs in the linguistic symbolism of the West in which all words are produced by merely putting together in different permutations the small number of symbols constituting the alphabet. (page 316).

"In many cases, however, the content of the sign itself, that is, the actual shape of the written symbol, is identical with the immediately sensed character of the factor in experience for which it stands. These traits make the ideas which these symbols convey particulars rather than logical universals, and largely denotative rather than connotative in character.

Certain consequences follow. Not only are the advantages of an alphabet lost, but also there tend to be as many symbols as there are simple and complex impressions. Consequently, the type of knowledge which a philosophy constructed by means of such a language can convey tends necessarily to be one given by a succession of concrete, immediately apprehendable examples and illustrations, the succession of these illustrations having no logical ordering or connection the one with the other. ...

... Moreover, even the common-sense examples are conveyed with aesthetic imagery, the emphasis being upon the immediately apprehended, sensuous impression itself more than upon the external common-sense object of which the aesthetic impression is the sign. Nowhere is there even the suggestion by the aesthetic imagery of a postulated scientific or a doctrinally formulated, theological object. All the indigenously Chinese philosophies, Taoism as well as Confucianism, support this verdict." (page 322, ibid).

Dr. Northrop was not simply discussing Chinese culture but was giving a verdict. His verdict has the following two points.
  1. About the Chinese written language (Chinese words): Denotative and solitary -- no logical ordering or connection the one with the other.
  2. The consequence of such a language: No chance of any kind to formulate scientific, philosophical and theological objects.
Dr. Northrop's view was not his personal opinion.  (Hu Shih, ) and (Lin Yu Tang, ) who were the two greatest Chinese philologists at the time were Dr. Northrop's colleagues. And he quoted both of them many times in this book.
  • Hu Shih -- page 340, 364, 384, 426, 434, 506, 508
  • Lin Yu Tang -- page 318, 319, 323, 325, 327, 330, 339, 356, 391, 423, 424, 505, 507, 508
And, this book of Dr. Northrop was read by both of them.
That is, three the most respected Chinese philologists in our recent time did not know that Chinese word set is an axiomatic system.

In my last post, I introduced the concept of root-fusion which did prevent people to recognize the roots which form the word. However, it always becomes obvious when it is pointed out, and I will, again, show two such cases  here.

1. (side by side) is the fusion of .  means “standing.”
2. (holding both) is the fusion of .  means “holding.”

Tienzen (Jeh-Tween) Gong

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