Monday, April 18, 2011

Wasting young student’s life, 誤人 子 弟

After knowing the difference between the two Bibles of Chinese characters   [ 文 (So-Wen) and 康 熙 字 典 (Kangsi dictionary)], we now are able to examine the doctrines of the old schools from both Chinese philologists and Western sinologists. Then, we can truly begin to discuss this new Chinese etymology.

There are two different views of the old school.
1. Chinese characters are ideographs. 
The first Western account of the fascinatingly different Chinese writing was the comment made by the Portuguese Dominican Friar Gaspar da Cruz in 1569:    “The Chinas [Chinese] have no fixed letters in their writing, for all that they write is by characters, and they compose words of these, whereby they have a great multitude of characters, signifying each thing by a character in such sort that one only character signifies "Heaven," another "earth," and another "man," and so forth with everything else.” [Boxer 1953:161-162] 

Then, Father J. J. M. Amiot in a longer article in which he described characters as “images and symbols which speak to the mind through the eyes -- images for palpable things, symbols for mental ones. Images and symbols which are not tied to any sound and can be read in all languages. ... I would be quite inclined to define Chinese characters as the pictorial algebra of the sciences and the arts. In truth, a well-turned sentence is as much stripped of all intermediaries as is the most rigorously bare algebraic demonstration.” [Mémoires 1776:282-285]

Thus, ideograph has the following attributes.
      a. It is a symbol or image.
      b. It is not tied to any sound and can be read in all languages.
      c. It is an ideal algebra, which conveys thoughts by analogy, by relation, by convention, and so on.

This view was accepted by Dr. Northrop, 胡 適 (Hu Shih) and 林 語 堂 (Lin Yu Tang) with the conclusion that Chinese written language (Chinese words) is denotative and solitary -- no logical ordering or connection the one with the other.  And, the consequence of such a language is that there is no chance of any kind to formulate scientific, philosophical and theological objects.

2. Chinese characters are morphosyllabic.   
Dr. John DeFrancis wrote, “Ideographic writing, however, requires mastery of the tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of symbols that would be needed for ideographic representation of words or concepts without regard to sound. A bit of common sense should suggest that unless we supplement our brains with computer implants, ordinary mortals are incapable of such memory feats. … We need to go further and throw out the term itself. … Chinese characters represent words (or better, morphemes), not ideas, and they represent them phonetically, for the most part, as do all real writing systems despite their diverse techniques and differing effectiveness in accomplishing the task. … One reason for the pervasiveness and tenacity of the myth, I am now convinced, stems from the use of the word "ideographic." The term itself is responsible for a good deal of the misunderstanding and should be replaced, since its repetitious use, as in the big lie technique and in subliminal advertising, insidiously influences our thinking. … Only the adoption of some such term as "morphosyllabic," which calls attention to the phonetic aspect, can contribute to dispelling the widespread misunderstanding of the nature of Chinese writing.” 

In Dr. DeFrancis’ writing, he did not mention about (Kangsi dictionary) which is, indeed, centered in the phonetic aspect of Chinese characters. Thus, his idea of morphosyllabic is correct but nothing new. In fact, there is a premise 4 for the Chinese characters, as follow,

Premise 4 --- all (each and every) Chinese characters carry a sound tag, either explicitly or implicitly.
This premise 4 plays a major part in this new Chinese etymology.  However, Dr. DeFrancis’ strong opposition on the concept of ideograph is wrong, as the three attributes of the ideograph are, indeed, correct for Chinese characters. These seemingly contradictory attributes are, in fact, the essence of this new Chinese etymology.

While Dr. DeFrancis was not all wrong, some of his followers have made a partial truth into a ridicule teaching material which is wasting many young people’s life.  Dr. J. Marshall Unger (linguistics professor of Ohio State University) wrote in his textbook, “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?” 

 Seemingly, Dr. Unger has redefined the term “ideograph” which must be readily understood by the uninstructed,  that is, intuitively without any knowledge, such as a newborn infant. 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? Those American Heritage ideographs can be known only with a certain culture or knowledge stimuli.
With enough such textbooks around, there is no chance for any student of Chinese language to avoid the suffering of humility and agony. We call this in Chinese “誤 人 子 弟.”

(wrong or wrong to someone) is 言 (speech or words) +  (the last name or leaning the head on one side). So, is words not centered,  being not upright or being wrong.

Furthermore, the sound of is wu4 (the 4th tone of wu sound) while the sound of is wu. Obviously, the word carries a sound tag . Many people mistook 誤 is a phonetic loan word, and it is wrong. For phonetic loan word, the sound of the sound tag makes a major contribution to its word meaning.  Yet, the meaning of arises mainly from the meaning of its composite parts, not from their sounds.

Tienzen (Jeh-Tween) Gong

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