Monday, May 2, 2011

The dimensions of Chinese Characters

Now we know that the   (the rhyme book) describes and encompasses the entire Chinese verbal universe. With the 韻  (the rhyme book) of different periods, the evolution of the Chinese verbal universe is also understood.

However, there are, at least, 8 subsystems (Mandarin, Cantonese, Hakka, Northern Min, Southern Min, Hsiang, Kan, Wu, etc.) which are, in general, mutually unintelligible in the Chinese verbal universe. Then, which subsystem is the 韻  mentioned above describing? The answer is “All”, all subsystems.

The book of 切   (check rhyme, published during the 隋 朝 [Sui Dynasty, around 580 a.d.]) was based on the Wu (Southern China) system. The book of 唐  (published during the 唐 朝  [Tang Dynasty, from 618 to 907 a.d.]) was based on the “Northern Min” system. Yet, the difference between the two was a minimum. Then, the book of 廣   (published during the 宋  [Song Dynasty, around 960 a.d.]) encompassed all 韻  before and including some of the ancient sounds.

Today, there is only one 韻 (the rhyme book), the 廣  (the unified rhyme book).  All subsystems, however mutually unintelligible, describe their system with the same   . That is, these eight subsystems are eight clones, with different bodies while having the identical DNA.

Creel (1936:91-93) says: “That Chinese writing was pictographic in origin does not admit of question. On the other hand, Chinese is not, and was not three thousand years ago, a pictographic language in the sense that it consisted of writing by means of pictures all or most of which would be readily understood by the uninstructed. ... The Chinese early abandoned the method of writing by means of readily recognizable pictures and diagrams. ... It was in part because the Chinese gave up pictoral [sic] writing that they were able to develop a practicable pictographic and ideographic script, with comparatively little help from the phonetic principle. To draw elaborate pictures of whole animals, for instance (as is done on some of the Shang bones), is too slow a process. The course taken in many parts of the world was to conventionalize the picture, reduce it to a simple and easily executed form, and then use it to represent homophonous words or parts of words. The course the Chinese have chosen has also been to conventionalize and reduce, but they then use the evolved element for the most part not phonetically, but to stand for the original object or to enter with other such elements into combinations of ideographic rather than phonetic value. This parting of the ways is of the most profound importance.”

Creel’s insistence that the Chinese words having a pictographic origin is not entirely wrong. There are only 70 pictographic symbols in the entire Chinese word system. But his insistence that “they [Chinese] then use the evolved element for the most part not phonetically, but to stand for the original object or to enter with other such elements into combinations of ideographic rather than the phonetic value” is wrong. Chinese words are constructed with a root-based axiomatic system which consists of two dimensions.

1. Semantic dimension --- the meaning of each word arises from an inferring process of its composing radicals.
2. Phonetic dimension --- the phonetic value of each word arises from its sound tag.

(妻 、 悽 、 棲 、 淒 、 ) have the sound tag 妻.

悽 (sorrowful or deeply heartfelt) is 心 (heart)  +  妻 (wife, the beloved), the heart on the beloved.

棲  (perch, to stay or to inhabit) is 木 (tree or wood) +  妻 (wife, the beloved), with wood (or tree) and wife, one can make a habitat in the ancient time.

淒 (intense cold or mournful) is 水 (water) +  妻 (wife, the beloved), wife with tears is mournful.

The same for the words (遛 、 瘤 、 餾 、 、 溜 、 榴), they have the sound tag 留 (to stay or to keep), and their meanings can be easily read out from their faces.

遛 (to linger / to stroll)
瘤 (tumor)
溜 (slip away / to skate)
榴  (pomegranate tree)
餾 (reheat by steaming)
(soughing of wind)

Tienzen (Jeh-Tween) Gong

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