Wednesday, April 20, 2011

形 聲 (phonetic loan) and 會 意 (sense determinators) , part one


After knowing two of the  (six ways of constructing Chinese words),     (pointing or assigning) and     (pictographic),  we can discuss the 2nd group,     (phonetic loan) and    (sense determinators) now. 

From the face meaning of the phrase,   (sense determinators) is that the word meaning of this      procedure arises from an inferring process between two or more composed radicals. That is, at least, the word meaning of this group of words can be and should be read out from their faces, by definition. Thus, the ancient Chinese already knew the two premises,

i. Premise one ---- Chinese words are composed of roots.
ii. Premise two ---- The meaning of Chinese word can be read out from its face.

However, the book  (So-Wen) did not point out them, and no one truly understands the following statement in the past 1,900 years.

(sense determinators)

For the process of    (sense determinators), this sentence is all that was said for it in the past 2,000 years. 

Yet, this   process is not limited for a small group of the words but is a general principle for “all” Chinese words. That is, even the ancient Chinese did not describe the system correctly, mistaken a general principle as a rule for a small group only. Thus, I will discuss  this     process later.

Today, I will talk about the    (phonetic loan) only.  is a special group of    process.
1. For a   process word, it has 2 or more radicals. For  word, it has two and only two radicals. One defines a category for some concrete objects, such as fishes, dog-like animals, cat-like animals, etc.. The sound tag acts as an identifier to distinguish one object from the others in the category.

2. While every Chinese word carries a sound tag explicitly or implicitly, the word carries a sound tag “explicitly.” 

3. For a    process word, its sound tag, often, get involved in the meaning inferring process. For a word, it has no inferring process. The sound tag is acting as differentiator to distinguish one word from the others in the group, such as, 鰱 pronounces as 連 , 鱔 as 善 , 鯉 as 里 . They are all 魚 (fish), and their differences are pointed out with the sound tags.

4. For two    process words with identical sound tag, this sound tag can pronounce differently while keeping the same vowel  (韻 母), that  is, with different  consonant (聲 母). Yet, for  phonetic loan words, they pronounce exactly the same as their sound tag.

With the above understanding, we can revisit the two statements of  “The Columbia History of the World, ISBN 0-88029-004-8 (On page 112), “
1. Nine-tenths of the Chinese characters have been constructed by the phonetic 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."

If the statement 1 is talking about the phonetic loan words, then it is completely wrong. Phonetic loan words account only a very small portion of all Chinese words. Furthermore,  as all (each and every) Chinese words  have phonetic values, it is 100% constructed  with phonetic value, not 90%. 

The statement 2 is also wrong as the sound tag of   word can have different phonetic values. Thus, the gap is not caused mainly by the evolution but is an intrinsic part of the language although the evolution could make some contributions.

Li and Thompson (1982:77) wrote, “Who refer to Chinese writing as 'semantically, rather than phonologically grounded' and consider that a character 'does not convey phonological information except in certain composite logographs where the pronunciation of the composite is similar to one of its component logographs.'”

Thompson’s statement is, again, terribly wrong. While   word is, indeed, a semantic word, it does carries a sound tag either explicitly or implicitly, that is, it does convey phonological information , and I will discuss this next.  Furthermore, every phonetic loan word also carries semantic information.

The difference between a   and a    word is very fine.  Are these words  (志 、 誌 、 痣 )    or     words?  I will talk about it in the next post.

Tienzen (Jeh-Tween) Gong

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