I have discussed 六 書 (six ways of constructing Chinese words) and the way that Chinese character system merged with the Chinese verbal universe. Now, it is the time to make a summary.
For native Chinese, they learn the Chinese language as a living habit, without truly knowing its linguistic issues which are the concerns of Chinese philologists. On the contrary, for the Western sinologists, they must learn Chinese language as a linguistic subject and must investigate its linguistic principles. Thus, I will summarize the views of the Western sinologists first. In general, there are two opposing schools.
A. School one --- Chinese characters are ideographs. The key members of this school are,
1. Portuguese Dominican Friar Gaspar da Cruz (in 1560s)
2. Juan Gonzales de Mendoza (in 1600s)
3. Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci (1552-1610)
4. Father J. J. M. Amiot (in 1700s)
5. Jesuit missionary Alessandro Valignani (in 1600s)6. Herrlee Glessner Creel [(January 19, 1905-June 1, 1994), note 1.
7. Paul Mulligan Thompson (10 February 1931 – 12 June 2007), note 2.
8. Joseph Needham ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Needham )
The above scholars are the most reputable sinologists in the history and of our time. In their views, the Chinese characters are ideographs, and the key features of the ideograph are,
a. It is a symbol or an image. Thus, Chinese character set consists of innumberable multitude of exceedingly intricate unique symbols.
b. It is an ideal algebra, which conveys thoughts by analogy, by relation, by convention, and so on. It, without the intervention of words, conveys ideas through the sense of vision directly to the mind.
c. It is not tied to any sound and can be read in all languages.
Creel wrote, “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.”
Paul Thompson ‘s view, “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.”
These views led to the conclusion of Dr. Northrop (Filmer Stuart Cuckow Northrop: Nov 27, 1893 in Janesville, Wisconsin – Jul 21, 1992, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/F._S._C._Northrop ) that Chinese character system is denotative and solitary -- no logical ordering or connection the one with the other. And, the consequence of these views was the despising Chinese word system movement that began in the 1920s in China. Finally, it led to the introduction of simplified word system in 1960s in China.
B. School two --- Chinese characters are mainly phonological in nature. And, the Ideographic idea is a Myth. The key members of this school are,
1. Peter Alexis Boodberg (April 8, 1903 - June 29, 1972), note 3.
2. Peter S. DuPonceau [(in 1930s), http://www.jstor.org/pss/2718025 ]
3. French sinologist J. M. Callery (in 1880)
4. John DeFrancis (August 31, 1911 – January 2, 2009, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_DeFrancis ) was an American linguist, sinologist, author of Chinese language textbooks, lexicographer of Chinese dictionaries, and Professor Emeritus of Chinese Studies at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa.
5. J. Marshall Unger (linguistics professor of Ohio State University, http://people.cohums.ohio-state.edu/unger26/Ideogram.htm )
DuPonceau wrote, “The idea of ideographs which is entertained in China, and may justly be ascribed to the vanity of the Chinese literati. The Catholic at first, and afterwards the Protestant missionaries, have received it from them without much examination. “
Their key points are,
a. That the Chinese system of writing is not, as has been supposed, ideographic; that its characters do not represent ideas, but words, and therefore I [DeFrancis] have called it lexigraphic,
b. That ideographic writing is a creature of the imagination, and cannot exist, but for very limited purposes, which do not entitle it to the name of writing,
c. That among men endowed with the gift of speech, all writing must be a direct representation of the spoken language, and cannot present ideas to the mind abstracted from it,
d. That all writing, as far as we know, represents language in some of its elements, which are words, syllables, and simple sounds.
These points led to a conclusion that Chinese word system is the most difficult language to learn, as each phonetic value of the language is represented with a unique symbol which cannot be reduced to a small set of alphabets. This view is summarized with the article “Why Chinese Is So Damn Hard?” (by David Moser, University of Michigan Center for Chinese Studies).
In fact, the conclusion of the both schools is that “the Chinese written language is too Damn Hard.” This is completely opposite of this new Chinese etymology which makes the Chinese written language the easiest one in the world.
Tienzen (Jeh-Tween) Gong
Note:1. Herrlee Glessner Creel [(January 19, 1905-June 1, 1994), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herrlee_Glessner_Creel ] was an American sinologist and philosopher, and authority on Confucius. He was the Martin A. Ryerson Emeritus Distinguished Service Professor of Chinese History at the University of Chicago. Creel was regarded as a giant among specialists on early Chinese civilization, and was described in various circles as "the doyen of American sinologists".
Creel established the University of Chicago as a leading center of East Asian Studies. His career was marked by the longevity of his publications. Although he published for half a century, most of his major books remained in print at the time of his death. The quality of his scholarship was accompanied by a prose style that was deemed to have high levels of cogency, lucidity, and grace that made his work easily accessible to the reader.
2. . Paul Mulligan Thompson (10 February 1931 – 12 June 2007, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Thompson_%28sinologist%29 ) was a British sinologist and pioneer in the field of Chinese computer applications.
Paul Thompson was born at Xingtai in Hebei province, China, where his Northern Irish parents worked as missionaries with the China Inland Mission. He attended the Chefoo School, a Christian boarding school at Yantai in Shandong province, until November 1942 when the staff and students were interned at the Temple Hill Japanese Internment Camp. A few months later, in the summer of 1943, Thompson and his family were moved to the Weixian Internment Camp in Shandong (modern Weifang city), where they remained until liberated by American paratroopers in 1945. His family then moved back to Northern Ireland, and Thompson completed his schooling in Belfast.
After leaving school he travelled widely, and studied at the Free University of Amsterdam, the University of Minnesota at Minneapolis , and the U.S. Army Language School at Monterey, California, but he did not obtain a degree from any of these institutions. He also worked for several years as an interpreter in Japan and a teacher in Taiwan. In 1959 he was accepted into the University of Washington at Seattle, where he obtained a BA in 1960, and studied for his PhD on the lost book of Shenzi under Hellmut Wilhelm.
After receiving his PhD he taught at the University of Wisconsin from 1963 to 1970, and then in 1970 he was appointed to a position at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London, where he remained until his retirement in 1996. He was a key figure, together with D. C. Lau, Angus Graham and Sarah Allan, in making SOAS a world-renowned centre for the teaching of Chinese philosophy during the 1970s and 1980s.
3. Peter Alexis Boodberg (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_A._Boodberg ) in American spelling, (April 8, 1903 - June 29, 1972) (originally Baron Peter A. von Budberg, Russian: Пётр Алексеевич Будберг) was an American sinologist of Russian origin.In 1915, he and his brother were sent for safety to Harbin in Manchuria, where he began the study of philology. From there, he went to the Oriental Institute in Vladivostok and studied Chinese. In the summer of 1920, he left Russia and moved to San Francisco, where his family soon joined him; he enrolled in the University of California, Berkeley, getting a B.A. in Oriental Languages in 1924 and a Ph.D. in 1930. In 1932, Berkeley hired him as an Instructor in Oriental Languages; he became Chairman of the department in 1940, winning Guggenheim Fellowships in 1938, 1956, and 1963, in the latter year becoming President of the American Oriental Society. He continued to teach until his death (of a heart attack) in 1972, influencing several generations of sinologists, notably Edward H. Schafer, who wrote a long obituary article in the Journal of the American Oriental Society that was followed by a full bibliography by Alvin P. Cohen.