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/

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