I have talked about the views, from both the native Chinese philologists and the Western sinologists, on the Chinese characters. Although they were disagreeing in many issues among themselves, none of them knew about the fact that the Chinese character set is a root based axiomatic system.
However, what it surprises me is that none of them used the two Bibles, [ 說 文 (So-Wen) and 康 熙 字 典 (Kangsi dictionary)], of the Chinese characters as their supporting sources on their arguments. Yet, do these two books knew that Chinese word set is a root based axiomatic system?
A. 說 文 (So-Wen) was written around 140 a.d., about 1,900 years ago. It consists of three parts.
1. It listed about 9,000 Chinese words under 540 radicals (部 首, leading radicals).
2. It discussed 六 書 (six ways of constructing Chinese words) --- that is, Chinese words were “constructed” with six ways. And, these six ways are as follow:
- 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 。
However, in 說 文 (So-Wen), there is no further description and discussion on these six ways beyond these six sentences above. And, it did not use or apply these ways (except the pictograph and pointing) in its explanations of the words in the book. In the next 1,900 years, no one made any advancement beyond these six sentences. In 2005, I searched the Library of Beijing university. It had over 3,000 books on Chinese written characters. Not a single book used 六 書 (six ways of constructing Chinese words) as a part of a book title.
Furthermore, the description of these six ways are not exactly correct, and I will discuss this in the future posts.
The key point here is that the author of 說 文 (So-Wen) did not truly understand these six ways although they must be developed before him.
3. Among 9,000 words in the book 說 文 (So-Wen), 90% of them was classified as pictographic words, that is, the meaning of those words are mainly arising from their pictographic images. For the past 1,900 years, “all” Chinese believe that Chinese words are pictographic symbols. Of course, this is not true. Again, obviously, the author of 說 文 (So-Wen) did not truly understand the 六 書 (six ways of constructing Chinese words) which is almost a precise description that Chinese words are root based axiomatic system, but again no cigar.
B. 康 熙 字 典 (Kangsi dictionary) was published around 1680s, about 330 years ago. It consists of two parts.
1. It reduced the 540 部 首 (leading radicals) of 說 文 (So-Wen) into only 214 and placed about 48,000 words under those 214 leading radicals.
2. While it did not dispute the claim of 說 文 that most of Chinese words are pictographic symbols, it did not use that concept as a part to provide meaning for those 48,000 words. The meanings of words in the 康 熙 字 典 (Kangsi dictionary) are almost solely provided from the phonetic values of the words. In fact, almost all Chinese characters have more than one phonetic values, and the different value of that word points out the different meaning for that word. Again, the 康 熙 字 典 did not apply the 六 書 (six ways of constructing Chinese words) in its editorial process. That is, 六 書 did not play any part for providing the meaning for the words listed in the dictionary.
However, 說 文 (So-Wen) and 康 熙 字 典 (Kangsi dictionary) are two Bibles for the Chinese characters, 說 文 as the Old Testament and 康 熙 字 典 as the New Testament. Yet, these two Bibles are completely different.
a. 說 文 --- the meaning of words is mainly arising from their pictographic images.
b. 康 熙 字 典 --- the meaning of words is mainly arising from their phonetic values.
Obviously, both of them are just partial truth, and the unification of them should give a complete picture about the Chinese character system. My new Chinese etymology is, in fact, such a unification. I will discuss these issues (especially, the 六 書) one at a time in the upcoming posts.
Tienzen (Jeh-Tween) Gong